CALGARY, Alberta – The second half is only three games old, and the schedule has yet to hit the All-Star break.
But already the Wild is starting to feel a sense of urgency to assemble a win streak to stay in the Western Conference playoff race after it fell further behind with a 2-1 loss to the Flames Thursday at Scotiabank Saddledome Calgary in its return from a three-day break.
“Just seeing how the West is, we don't want anyone to pull away,” defenseman Matt Dumba said. “We have to do our part to just bear down.”
After being mostly steady from mid-November through December, the Wild has been uneven in recent weeks.
It’s dropped four of its last five, a 1-3-1 stretch that has put it six points out of a playoff spot – this after the gap was just a few points last week.
Now, though, the Wild isn’t just further behind the playoff pace in the conference but it has another team to contend with; Nashville jumped it this week. Before that, the Wild was zeroing in on Winnipeg and Calgary.
“We’re not in a position where we can win one, lose one,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “You gotta put a little string together. Look at Edmonton’s putting a little string. Calgary’s now putting a little string. Vancouver’s putting a string. If you don’t put a string together, you’re going to be left last 25 games looking up with no chance.”
The practice time this week didn’t exactly repair the Wild’s special-teams play.
Not only was the penalty kill burned for a goal, the Flames’ first, but the power play came up empty-handed in two tries.
Over its last 64 shorthanded situations, the Wild has surrendered 21 goals. As for the power play, the team is 6-for-46 over its last 17 games. The Wild didn’t manage a single shot on either of its advantages, while the Flames had nine.
“Not much is working,” Boudreau said.
It looked like this might be a breakout game for Dumba, who was buzzing with the puck in Calgary.
He put six shots on net, tied for the most in the game, and had another five attempts either blocked or miss the net.
But Dumba’s scoring drought continued, getting extended to 26 games.
“He’s snake bit,” Boudreau said. “... Eventually, they gotta go in for him. It’s the law of averages that if he keeps getting those chances, he’s going to get goals.”
Although he had just one shot on net, center Victor Rask was one of the most engaged Wild forwards – regularly setting up Dumba for his chances.
One of his best feeds came in the second period when he passed off to Dumba for a redirect in front, but Calgary goalie Cam Talbot’s glove got in the way of what looked like a surefire goal.
“Vic has been playing very well for the last month or so,” Dumba said. “He's a good player when he gets the puck. He has that poise and that vision. I like being out there with him.”
Goalie Alex Stalock certainly did his part in net, posting a season-high 35 saves, but he also helped out on offense – setting up the Wild’s lone goal by feeding winger Mats Zuccarello with a stretch pass that Zuccarello buried off the rush early in the second period.
“On my second look, I saw they were going for a full change and Mat’s a smart player and he stayed,” Stalock said. “The big thing is he finished and made a great shot to beat a goalie that was on his game tonight. It gave us life.”