Mouth agape, staring up to the rafters and checking the video replay, winger Jason Zucker was the epitome of just how close the Wild came on a handful of occasions to scoring – missed chances that stung the team in a 3-1 loss to the Avalanche Tuesday at Xcel Energy Center.
But that Zucker was even on the ice, skating and shooting, was impressive considering what happened to him over the weekend.
During the team’s 5-2 win over the Rangers Saturday, New York defenseman Brady Skjei fell on Zucker’s right leg – twisting it awkwardly.
Zucker remained down on the ice for a few minutes and had to be helped off the ice since he wasn’t putting any weight on his right leg. But despite how grim the sequence looked, Zucker returned to the game – that same second period – to help the Wild close out the victory. It was a remarkable show of resilience, especially considering Zucker feared he was in trouble initially.
“The second [Skjei] landed on me, he was apologizing,” Zucker recalled. “He knew the way he landed on me was weird. Obviously, it wasn't his fault. He didn't do anything wrong. He just kind of fell, and it was an odd play. Yeah, I think right away I kind of had that feeling like, 'Oh this isn't good.' Luckily, it's just been a little bit sore and other than that really, really good.”
Once he got checked out Saturday during the game, Zucker knew relatively soon that he’d be able to keep playing.
“Sometimes you get numb feelings throughout and once that starts going away, you're like, 'OK. This is alright,’” he said. ‘There's a few tender spots. You do X-rays and the doctors look at that kind of stuff to make sure that it's stable, and I can't hurt it any worse.
“At that point, it's a matter of playing with a little bit of pain, which everybody in this league does. Then it's fine, and time to get back out there.”
Against Colorado, Zucker played 19 minutes, 33 seconds. His five shots were tied for the most in the game.
“It hasn't affected me,” he said. “I feel it a bit after games. I mean, every guy has a million things going on right now. I'm not the only one. I'm just lucky it wasn't worse.”
Only one puck out of 37 shots ended up in the Avalanche’s net, but the Wild did get a break when a second-period Colorado goal was overturned due to goaltender interference.
It was a no-brainer call, since center Carl Soderberg was draped over goalie Devan Dubnyk when winger Colin Wilson converted on a wrap-around.
“I was frustrated to watch the replay, and [the referee’s] standing right behind me,” Dubnyk said. “I always feel like maybe they should call it off and have the other team challenge it if they want to, but things happen fast. All I know is I was staring at a guy’s pants, and the puck shot off my head and in. So I was just happy it went the right way.”
This was the second straight homestand that the Wild whiffed on; after going 0-3-1 last month against a slate of competition below it in the standings at the time, the team went 1-3-1 during this season-long five-game challenge.
“It’s very unfortunate that we haven’t had the success at home this year that this team has had every year almost in its existence,” coach Bruce Boudreau said.
Perhaps, then, this is a good time for the Wild to return to the road where it’s enjoyed the bulk of its success this season; the team is 19-15-2 as the visitor and dropped to 15-16-7 as the host.
“We're excited to hit the road here and try to get some points,” center Eric Fehr said. “We obviously still believe in ourselves, and I thought the guys had good energy. It's key for us to score early, I think, make teams come out of their shell a little bit. When we do that, it's a lot easier for our team to control the puck and to move forward."