Mike Yeo feared Thursday’s game two nights earlier in Columbus.
The Wild, in the midst of its busiest stretch of hockey to date, returned from four road games in six nights and looked and played like a tired team against the Philadelphia Flyers.
But after the Flyers took a two-goal lead with goals 52 seconds apart in the second period, Yeo called time out and barked at his team that the fatigue was “all mental.”
“The energy is there right now, but you just have to look harder to find it,” Yeo said.
The Wild responded by rallying to force overtime. It was good to get the point, but the NHL’s new 3-on-3 overtime has rarely been kind to the Wild, and the Flyers took a 4-3 decision.
Despite five overtime shots, including Grade A chances from Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and Mikko Koivu, the Wild fell to 1-8 (includes one shootout loss) in overtime this season.
“We had the chances. That’s been the theme of the majority of them,” said Parise, whose goal with 6 minutes, 24 seconds left in regulation forced overtime. “We get three or four good looks and don’t score. You’re going to give up chances. That’s what 3-on-3 is. But we’ve been on the losing end of it too much — way too much, I guess.”
For a team with 50 points through 40 games, the Wild has left eight points on the table. Facing a Flyers team that had lost five consecutive road games, a tired Koivu riskily went for a line change from the Flyers blue line with the Flyers holding the puck near center.
That led to a 3-on-2 down low and Jakub Voracek fed defenseman Michael Del Zotto for the winner with 37 seconds left.
“It’s pretty hard to say we should play that OT differently,” Yeo said. “They scored a goal, but, I mean, we dominated overtime and then they scored one. … We have a long way to go to make the playoffs, but hopefully we’re saving some magic for the playoffs in overtime.”
Luckily for the Wild, playoff overtime is 20 minutes of 5-on-5, not five minutes of 3-on-3.
The Wild had a decent start but suddenly looked like a different team when Sean Couturier made it 1-0. Michael Raffl’s move behind the net left Matt Dumba (minus-2 on the night, minus-3 on his first seven shifts) in his wake, and he centered to a wide-open Couturier.
Marco Scandella eventually answered, but the Flyers got second-period goals from Del Zotto and Ryan White.
The Wild made it 3-2 when Zucker stole a pass and chipped the puck into open ice behind Radko Gudas en route to a breakaway goal. Parise tied the score when Steve Mason and Nick Schultz fouled up an exchange behind the net after Parise’s dump-in.
Here’s the concern: The Wild is in the midst of playing eight games in 13 nights, playing three in four starting Saturday in Dallas, the division leader that has beaten the Wild three times (twice in overtime). The Wild made tired plays all night with Yeo admitting some occurring because the “brain’s not turned on” because of fatigue.
How does the Wild fight through this?
“It’s part of the job. We’ve got to get it done,” Zucker said. “I don’t know any guy in this room that’s going to make an excuse about it. We’re here to play hockey, and you have to make sure you find your legs and battle hard.”
Yeo hopes Thursday’s rally was a “good lesson” that tiredness is mental.
“Once we addressed it, I thought the guys started to feed off each other’s energy,” Yeo said. “It takes a lot of character to come back with the schedule that we’ve had. We could easily be sitting here with two points.”