The Wild’s confidence grew each time it persevered, stoking the belief a victory was still possible despite the hurdles it had to clear.
So there was optimism when it faced its toughest challenge yet, a puck popping up on defenseman Ryan Suter as he wound up to simultaneously send it over the glass and the Blackhawks onto a power play that would carry over into overtime.
And although the team had maneuvered through its previous obstacle courses to pull even with Chicago, this was the one that trapped it — finalizing a 4-3 loss Saturday in front of an announced 19,114 that capped off a winless weekend in the Wild’s return from an eight-day layoff.
“Unfortunate play,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “But those are one of the times where it was a well-earned point at this stage. We wanted two, but we kept coming back, which is a good sign.”
With the Blackhawks in a 4-on-3 formation, they finally shrugged off the Wild for good 1 minute, 19 seconds into the extra period when defenseman Erik Gustafsson unleashed his second goal of the game past goalie Alex Stalock to settle the back-and-forth tug of war.
“I made a bad play,” Suter said. “But we played a solid game, and that’s how we have to play.”
One point is better than none, but the Wild can also take solace in its effort – which was much improved from the 3-1 loss to the Stars the night before in Dallas.
Although the team struggled to build off an early lead, its resiliency as regulation progressed was hard to miss – a hallmark of the teams desperately clamoring for a playoff spot, which the Wild is.
The team opened the scoring 8:22 into the first when winger Mikael Granlund threaded a slick pass to winger Jason Zucker that Zucker one-timed between the faceoff circles by Blackhawks goalie Collin Delia.
The period ended 1-0 after Stalock blocked a Brendan Perlini penalty shot, one of his 27 saves, but winger Alex DeBrincat evened it in the second when he slung a shot by Stalock just outside the left faceoff circle at 7:51.
A point shot from Gustafsson at 14:47 was reviewed after the Wild questioned if the play was off-side, but the goal stood – the Wild’s fifth unsuccessful challenge this season in seven tries.
That unfavorable ruling for the Wild, however, paved the way for its best push of the game.
“We were ready to battle,” said captain Mikko Koivu, who buried a Zach Parise feed set up by a jumping keep-in at the blue line from defenseman Jared Spurgeon at 8:11 of the third.
Chicago retook the lead at 15:25 on the power play when captain Jonathan Toews redirected in a pass from winger Patrick Kane that extended Kane’s point streak to 11 games. The Blackhawks finished 2-for-5 with the man advantage, while the Wild went 1-for-4.
But with 3:02 to go, center Victor Rask knotted it again on his first goal with the Wild since he was acquired last month in a trade from the Hurricanes — a shot over Delia, who totaled 28 saves.
“It was fun to score,” Rask said. “It’s been awhile.”
Cruising on a wave of momentum, the Wild felt primed to finally complete its comeback but the script flipped on Suter’s delay of game penalty with 19 seconds left in regulation — a fluky sequence that helped confirm a result but one that didn’t tell the entire story.
“It was a solid game,” Suter said. “Too bad we couldn’t come out on top.”