With a minute left in Thursday night’s season opener, Torrey Mitchell sent a puck to the goalmouth and chaos ensued as Kyle Brodziak and Matt Cooke tried to bury the potentially winning goal against the Los Angeles Kings.
A pile of bodies collapsed around the crease. Slava Voynov blocked one shot, Trevor Lewis another. Pucks slid off sticks, deflecting everywhere but behind elastic all-world goalie Jonathan Quick.
“There were like eight guys crawling in the crease,” said Cooke, who had previously scored on his first shift in a Wild sweater. “The puck keeps bouncing back to us, but we can’t really get a clean shot. I thought we had it.”
The Wild scored twice in the first period and held the 2012 Stanley Cup winners to 11 shots through two. Yet somehow, the Wild’s string of 11 consecutive home-opening victories ended when the opportunistic Kings forced overtime with a third-period goal to eventually seize the extra point in a 3-2 shootout win.
“The old shootout, eh?” Wild coach Mike Yeo said. “It’s funny what that extra point makes you feel at the end of the game.”
The Wild felt it deserved better, and signs of improvement were there.
In the first 40 minutes, Wild forwards crashed the blue paint. The defensemen jumped into the play and the Wild generated continuous speed through the middle. Defensively, the Wild gave up next to nothing, other than Drew Doughty’s power-play one-timer past a screened Niklas Backstrom.
In fact, the Wild routinely forced the Kings to cough up pucks. Yet every time, especially in the second, Quick — always the contortionist — closed the door.
Zach Parise, for one, was blanked on eight shots.
“The finish wasn’t there,” Parise said. “Opportunities, you’ve got to put them in. You can’t let a team like that hang around. They’re very comfortable playing in tight games.”
Jonas Brodin gave the Wild a 2-1 lead on a first-period power play, but the Wild’s power play couldn’t convert its final three. The momentum killer was the middle one. The Wild couldn’t get set up, the Kings killed it and took control, starting to pressure before eventually tying the score at 2-2 on Jeff Carter’s tally with 6:46 left.
After a bland overtime, Parise and Mikko Koivu couldn’t beat Quick, and Anze Kopitar and Carter sliced and diced Backstrom in the shootout.
Still, reason for optimism: “We played hard, we played physical, we carried the pace of play,” Cooke said.
Nino Niederreiter had a solid debut, taking three first-period shots and setting up Brodin’s goal after digging the puck from the wall. Brodziak, looking to have a bounce-back year, was strong on the penalty kill and constantly hounded the puck at even strength. The 22-goal scorer of two years ago created multiple scoring chances.
And, as Yeo said: “I liked the way we defended. We were frustrating, hard to play against. It was tough for them to get ice, to get to our zone. That allowed us to go back at them a lot.”
Yeo did feel that starting late in the second, the Wild — particularly the second line of Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle and Dany Heatley, who had a strong first period — stopped putting pucks to the net.
“That’s what a goalie like Quick can do to you,” Yeo said. “You start all of a sudden looking for the perfect play and forget how we scored.”
Cooke, the longtime Vancouver Canuck, scored 64 seconds in when Brodziak threw a puck through the crease and it deflected in off Cooke’s skate. So one of the most reviled Wild opponents of all time was serenaded with a loud ovation by the Wild faithful one shift into his Minnesota career.
Unexpected, to say the least.
“I felt good in a green uni,” Cooke said.