It wasn’t going to have the feel of a Game 7, but Wild coach Bruce Boudreau expected a playoff-type vibe — the kind of atmosphere players simulate when they’re stickhandling on their driveways as kids.
But when the puck dropped, the Wild didn’t look like it was ready for a pickup session let alone a late-season clash with a Central Division rival that had significant implications on the standings.
And it reaped a result that matched that lack of urgency, a 4-1 dud to the Stars on Thursday night in front of an announced 18,919 at Xcel Energy Center. The loss kept the Wild out of a playoff position and uncorked frank reviews from the team about its passion, cohesiveness and go-to players.
“It’s got to come from leadership and guys playing the right way and holding guys accountable,” winger Marcus Foligno said. “Right now we’re just letting things slip away. I wish I had the answers, but at the same time, I think it’s just got to come from leadership.
“At this point of the season, at this type of playoff push, your leaders have to be your best — myself included — and right now we’re just struggling with it.”
This was the Wild’s third straight loss and ninth in its past 10 home games.
“We weren’t sharp,” Foligno said. “Passes were off. Guys were just trying to do things by themselves. Maybe it’s just the youth on this team now and just the way guys are kind of going their own way, but it’s got to stop in order to make the playoffs.”
Dallas pulled away from the Wild early in the second period with three goals in a hasty 2 minutes, 22 seconds: a deflection by center Radek Faksa at 4:11; a buried rebound from winger Roope Hintz at 5:25; and a redirect courtesy winger Joel L’Esperance at 6:33.
“It takes the winds out of your sails, if there was any,” Foligno said.
Before the ensuing faceoff, Stars goalie Ben Bishop left the game because of a lower-body injury — putting his franchise-record shutout streak, which he established in the first period, on hold at 230:53 amid seven saves.
But the Wild didn’t take advantage of the change, challenging replacement Anton Khudobin only five times the rest of the period. Only one puck ended up in the net, a shot by winger Jason Zucker at 9:14 that ended a 0-for-18 power-play funk.
“Just too many passengers,” Foligno said.
In the third, the Wild kept Khudobin busy at the outset before fading — going 13:07 between shots, this after the team had a 7:40 lull to start the second and took until 6:51 into the first to get a puck on net. Khudobin finished with 14 stops, while Devan Dubnyk had 27.
“When you don’t spend time in the offensive zone, it’s hard to get shots,” winger Zach Parise said.
Dallas winger Alexander Radulov added an empty-netter with 18 seconds left.
Afterward, Boudreau was puzzled by the display, reiterating that he wished he had answers for the questions that have become familiar.
“I don’t want to rip players at this stage,” he said.
The players took care of that themselves, with Foligno the most expressive in his critique.
“We have no heart right now,” he said.
And with only 11 games left, time is running out to find it.
“It kind of looks like [the playoffs are] slipping away,” Foligno said. “We’ve got to figure it out. We still have games left to turn it around, but we keep saying that. We’ve been saying that a lot this year.”