The Wild was steamrolling one of the NHL's hottest teams so easily Tuesday night it could have sleepwalked to the finish line.
Figuratively, though. Not literally.
A three-goal, third-period lead and certain three-game winning streak disintegrated into a devastating loss when the Wild fell asleep at the steering wheel and all but stood around and watched the Nashville Predators roar back and deliver a stunning, throbbing 5-4 loss in regulation.
"I'm in shock still," defenseman Justin Falk said.
"There's no way in 100 years we should have lost that game," goalie Josh Harding said.
"If you've ever been punched in the stomach really hard, that's pretty much what that one feels like," coach Mike Yeo said.
Somehow, in a game the Wild did so many good things to build a 3-0, then 4-1 lead, it managed to melt down when it mattered most.
Patric Hornqvist and Mike Fisher scored 21 seconds apart to tie the score with three minutes left. Then, with the Wild playing like it was praying for overtime, Fisher intercepted Clayton Stoner's chip up the wall and ended things with 20.8 seconds left. A harmless-looking shot somehow got by Harding.
"Awful goal. Probably one of the worst I've given up in my life," Harding said. "No excuses, no nothing. That one's on me. ... Just inexcusable. I lost this one for the team."
"It's hard to put it one person's shoulders," Yeo said. "The way we were just allowing them to attack and get to our net, you look at the goals, and believe me, I've looked at them many times since the game has ended, and I'm still kind of shaking my head. This is not us."
Dany Heatley's first two-goal game as a Wild gave Minnesota a 2-0 first-period lead, then Cal Clutterbuck scored 1 minute, 29 seconds into the second against a team that had won nine of 10 and against a goalie, Pekka Rinne, that had won nine in a row without surrendering more than two goals.
Kyle Brodziak made it 4-1 16 seconds into the third.
"And then things just seemed to tighten up. It just snowballed on us," Falk said.
With 10:38 left in the third, Brandon Yip and Halischuk crashed the net and Yip scored. The Wild was in a shell, but a minute after Rinne robbed Matt Cullen, Harding looked to freeze a puck under his right pad. But referee Don VanMassenhoven, on the other side of the net with whistle in mouth, never blew it dead. Hornqvist jammed it home for another greasy goal.
"That's why teams put pucks to the net and get it rattling around in the blue paint," Heatley said.
The next shift, Colin Wilson dropped a pass for Martin Erat. Falk went down to block it, Erat sent the puck down low and Wilson centered past Nate Prosser to Fisher, who lost Cullen, for the easy goal.
The Wild now must erase the loss from its mind as it embarks on a three-game road trip.
"Huge challenge for us ... because it stings," Yeo said. "What we have to do is make sure this is a story today and not a story at the end of the year."
Good point. The last time the Wild blew a three-goal lead to lose was Feb. 14, 2009, against Ottawa. The Wild finished ninth in the West -- two points behind Anaheim.
"There were a lot of positives ... early, and unfortunately one incredibly huge negative [late]," Yeo said. "I guess the one thing we can do is look at what we were doing earlier in the game and use that as our blueprint going forward."