CHICAGO – Nobody likes the bitter taste after a shootout loss, so the Wild was hardly celebrating its 3-2 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday night.
But considering the ugly way this road trip began one week earlier in St. Louis, considering how many players sounded the alarm bells seven nights earlier that they were blowing their playoff chances, the Wild was content to snag five of the remaining six points on a critical road trip.
The Wild, trying to retain the top wild-card position in the West, returned to snowy Minnesota late Thursday with a five-point lead on eighth-place Dallas and ninth-place Phoenix with five games left — four at home.
“We knew the trip was going to be a huge challenge,” captain Mikko Koivu said. “Five out of eight points, it’s pretty good. Whole picture, after that St. Louis game, it was a good effort by the whole team.”
After rallying in the third period for wins at Phoenix and Los Angeles, the Wild looked like it was going to do it again Thursday when rookie Erik Haula scored with 1 minute, 54 seconds left to force overtime.
But Zach Parise, Koivu and Jason Pominville couldn’t score in the shootout. Marian Hossa could, and the Blackhawks, playing without injured Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, got the extra point.
It wasn’t the Wild’s best performance. It, too, is banged up, having played Thursday without second-line center Mikael Granlund and young winger Nino Niederreiter.
Haula began the game on the second line between Matt Moulson and Jason Pominville. But coach Mike Yeo didn’t “think we had a whole lot going on” with the second or third lines, so he moved incessantly snakebit Kyle Brodziak to the second line and Haula to the third between Matt Cooke and Justin Fontaine.
Late in the third, after Bryan Bickell capitalized on Jonas Brodin’s turnover earlier in the period for the go-ahead goal, Haula tied the score. Fontaine swatted the puck to Haula, who waited to survey his options. When Cooke drove the net, Niklas Hjalmarsson’s legs opened and Haula fired through them for his fourth goal.
“Wasn’t our best effort,” said Haula, who had five shots. “It’s been a long road trip, but we battled hard.”
Parise said the Wild’s bench wasn’t as energetic as in past games. Whether that was a byproduct of playing eight of the past 10 games on the road or having to claw back into so many games lately, Parise didn’t know but said, “Mentally, I felt like we looked like a tired team.”
If Granlund is going to be out for a while, Yeo has a dilemma. He doesn’t want to move Charlie Coyle off the Parise-Koivu line because it’s clicking (Coyle scored his fourth goal in seven games). He’ll either have to give Haula another try or continue with Brodziak. But the veteran’s not a playmaker and has scored six goals in 77 games — two in the past 31.
“There’s no reason why Brodzy can’t step up,” Yeo insisted. “This is a guy that’s scored in this league. And his game has been coming lately.”
The Wild hopes it escaped an injury to Parise, who had a headache after the game. In the second period, he was blindsided by Brandon Bollig.
“Didn’t like it. Saw it was coming,” Yeo said. “You could see the shift before he was targeting those guys with a couple late hits.”
The Wild has lost five of its past six at home (1-2-3), so the Wild shouldn’t feel comfortable, especially with three upcoming opponents being powerhouses Pittsburgh, Boston and St. Louis.
“We have to pick up our game at home,” Yeo said. “We found a way to get a point tonight, but our game wasn’t quite where we need it to be. So we have to get reenergized and refocused for [Pittsburgh on Saturday].