Calgary, Alberta - The schedule eventually will even out and every team will log the same 82 games, but when the Wild was idle for the start of this week, sitting for three days while the rest of the NHL continued to toil, the team got a glimpse of what happens when it doesn’t gain points.
It gets passed in the standings.
Just last Sunday, ahead of its last test before this break, the Wild was only three points behind the Jets for the second wild-card berth in the Western Conference.
But after laying low, the gap has widened to five.
Now the rift is up to six, with two teams jumbled in between — a fast-moving race to the finish line that the Wild can’t afford to fall behind.
And that reality became clearer after the team was tripped up 2-1 by the Flames in its return to action Thursday in front of 18,634 at Scotiabank Saddledome.
The loss had the feel of a game that could ultimately help separate the pack.
“Are we going to look back [at] Game 82 and say, ‘It was this Calgary game in Calgary that cost us?’ goalie Alex Stalock said. “I don’t know. But it’s to the point we’ve got to go on a little run here. We go back home now. We’ve got some conference games. This is our chance.
“We can’t keep saying it. It’s time that we’ve got to do it.”
This was the fourth game the Wild has dropped in its past five; a 5-4 shootout loss to Calgary last Sunday at home might have been the most cringe-worthy of that bunch since the Wild led four times in that contest.
But this one will also ring up as a missed opportunity.
The Wild threw 43 shots on net, its second-highest total this season, but it only sneaked one puck behind goalie Cam Talbot.
At the other end, Stalock was just as steady — posting a season-high 35 saves.
“It’s tough when you lose games like this,” winger Mats Zuccarello said.
“You feel like you work hard, you show up and you kind of deserve more. … They gotta go in. We gotta score. Easy as that. You don’t win hockey games scoring one goal.”
Just 4 minutes, 39 seconds into the first period, Calgary opened the scoring on a power play when Derek Ryan tipped in Noah Hanifin’s shot.
Calgary ended up 1-for-2 on power plays, while the Wild blanked on its two chances.
The Wild’s only tally came early in the second period soon after a Wild advantage expired.
Stalock’s stretch pass sent Zuccarello into the Flames’ zone on a partial breakaway, and he wired the puck past Talbot at 38 seconds.
The assist was Stalock’s first of the season, fourth of his career and third with the Wild.
“He’s done that many times in practice, and we talk about it,” Zuccarello said. “That was great.”
But it was the extent of the Wild’s offense even though the team had plenty of other looks.
Most of those missed opportunities came after Johnny Gaudreau put the Flames up 2-1 at 9:38 of the second when he flung a puck five-hole for his 12th goal of the season.
“We had lots of net and we missed,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “Those are the frustrating ones.”
Defenseman Matt Dumba, who hasn’t scored in his past 26 games, was among the most dangerous players on the ice with six shots on goal, but he couldn’t solve Talbot.
One of his slickest stops came in the first period when Victor Rask fed Dumba for a redirect in front for what looked like a slam-dunk goal, but Talbot flashed his glove for the highlight-reel save.
Dumba’s six shots on net tied for the game high and he had another five that were blocked or missed the net.
“It was a game that definitely could have went our way,” Dumba said. “Just didn’t get the bounces.”