SUNRISE, FLA. – The pregame take on the Panthers was that they like to throw pucks on net, more than most in the NHL.
But Wild goalie Alex Stalock wasn’t just fighting off rubber.
A wave of pressure that included traffic at the net — and a few collisions around it — culminated in a three-goal third-period comeback by the Panthers that sunk the Wild 4-2 Friday in front of 13,259 at BB&T Center, with one game to go before the Wild’s three-day holiday break.
“We knew we were going to have to box out, but we gave the puck away and that’s how they scored,” coach Bruce Boudreau said.
It was the ninth time this season the Wild hasn’t secured a win despite being ahead or tied in the third period, a surprising trend for a team that skated onto the ice in the final frame last season like an ace closer trotting to the mound in baseball.
This issue has led to 15 missed points, with the latest two coming after the team was up 2-1.
“That’s a good spot to be in,” winger Chris Stewart said. “We have to learn how to lock those games down. That can’t happen.”
Just two minutes into the third, Panthers winger Jonathan Huberdeau backhanded the equalizer by Stalock before Florida moved ahead for good at 11:14 when winger Connor Brickley buried a rebound.
Huberdeau added an empty-netter with 6 seconds remaining.
“That third one it was kind of a mad scramble and a shot on net, and the rebound was laying there,” Stewart said. “We have to find ways to at least come out with a point there. That’s unacceptable. No one is happy with that. We have to learn from that.”
The Panthers registered 34 shots.
Stalock was also run into by winger Evgenii Dadonov late in the second period and tripped up early in the third behind the net when center Jared McCann fell into him after he lost an edge. The first collision resulted in a penalty, but the second one didn’t — a play Stalock said was “a tough call” for the referee.
Although Stalock remained between the pipes both times, the Wild didn’t end the game at full strength.
Winger Nino Niederreiter played only four shifts, exiting the action after appearing to get hit with a clearing attempt along the boards from Florida defenseman MacKenzie Weegar. He skated off gingerly, lifting his left leg as if trying to avoid putting weight on it, and did not return after suffering what the team called a lower-body injury.
Boudreau did not have an update on Niederreiter after the game and said the team would be able to get by Saturday against the Lightning with its current group of forwards on the roster if Niederreiter was unable to play.
Before Niederreiter left, the Wild was able to find an early lead on the power play on a one-timer from defenseman Ryan Suter at 8:09 of the first period. The Wild’s power play went 1-for-5, while Florida was 0-for-3.
But the Wild’s advantage didn’t last; at 16:53 of the first, the Panthers tied it on a shot from Vincent Trocheck.
In the second, winger Daniel Winnik shrugged off defenseman Alexander Petrovic to puck the puck on net and then nudge in the rebound at 10:34 — his first goal in 26 games — against Panthers goalie James Reimer, who totaled 29 saves.
“I think I’ve been playing some good hockey as of late,” Winnik said. “Sometimes the goals don’t come. It was nice to finally get that streak busted for myself.”
But the push the Wild had in the first two periods waned in the third. Meanwhile, the Panthers paved the way for a comeback that dropped the Wild into a 1-2 hole on the brink of its four-game road trip finale.
“We made a couple mistakes, and they put it in,” Boudreau said. “Then you’re fighting from behind, chasing the game and they’re digging in in their building. It’s a blown game.”