SUNRISE, FLA. – Wild goalie Alex Stalock took off for the bench, hustling so another skater could get on the ice during a delayed penalty against the Panthers.
The only problem was the Wild wasn’t getting a power play.
Not until the Panthers had chased the puck into the offensive zone and were staring down an empty net did Stalock reverse course and charge back to the crease.
By then, the whistle had blown — a decision that corrected the confusion caused by the official who raised his arm for an infraction and then changed his mind.
And while the second-period sequence had no bearing on the result, it still fit perfectly in Friday’s action because of how bizarre a head-scratching 6-2 letdown to the struggling Panthers in front of 12,388 at BB&T Center felt on the heels of the Wild’s methodical dismantling of the NHL-leading Lighting the previous night.
“We didn’t show up,” coach Bruce Boudreau said of an effort that left some destruction in its wake at the conclusion of a 1-1-1 road trip.
Not only did the Wild’s season-high, eight-game point streak end, but the team failed to gain ground on Arizona and remained just three points up for the second wild card spot in the Western Conference. The Coyotes have two games at hand.
The meltdown also rubbed some of the shine off the 3-0 masterpiece Thursday over Tampa, a jarring side-by-side that questioned how it’s possible for a team to rise to its best and then sink to its worst in less than 24 hours.
“I’m not sure exactly what happened,” center Eric Fehr said. “It seemed from the start of the game we didn’t bring any part of the game we brought last night. It’s unfortunate. This was a game we needed to win, and we let it go.”
Just 1 minute, 1 second into the first period, winger Jonathan Huberdeau slid the puck between goalie Devan Dubnyk’s pad and the near post — an early gaffe that seemed to set an ominous tone for how discombobulated the Wild would look.
Florida scored again at 11:18 when defenseman Aaron Ekblad walked in for a backhander, but the goal was disallowed after the Wild challenged for offside — improving its record to 4-for-9 in coach’s challenges.
But the Panthers recovered quickly on a pair of goals from defenseman MacKenzie Weegar. His point shot bounced off defenseman Ryan Suter at 16:51 before another wind-up sailed in just 1:40 later.
“That’s hard to play the game that you want to play when you’re playing catch-up,” said Dubnyk, who finished the period with four saves on seven shots before getting replaced by Stalock, who made 19 stops in relief.
The change, however, didn’t help wake up the Wild.
Back-to-back penalties gave the Panthers a 5-on-3 setup, and they capitalized on a one-timer from winger Mike Hoffman only 3:34 into the second. Florida went 1-for-3 with the man advantage, while the Wild was 0-for-3.
“I’d like to think that after beating the best team in the league that we could come back with a better performance than we did,” winger Zach Parise said. “But that didn’t happen.”
Eventually, at 9:02, the Wild scored — a Jonas Brodin point shot that banked in off winger J.T. Brown — but the Panthers retaliated on a blistering shot from defenseman Mike Matheson at 17:40.
“We were lost,” Boudreau said of the Wild’s defense.
Only 15 seconds later, winger Marcus Foligno put a rebound past goalie Sam Montembeault — who racked up 25 saves — before Florida added a sixth on a wraparound by Matheson 10:23 into the third.
Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov recorded a franchise-record five assists.
“We put ourselves in a position where you can’t afford to take a night off like this,” Boudreau said.