Once the Wild converted the go-ahead goal, pushing ahead 2-1 a brief 17 seconds into the second period against the Red Wings, the team had a chance to establish control after a slow start.
“That’s usually when we kick it into gear and take over,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said.
But instead of capitalizing, the Wild sagged – sticking with the theme of the night, as it appeared rudderless all game in a deflating 5-2 loss to Detroit Saturday at Xcel Energy Center.
“We just didn’t execute very well,” center Eric Staal said. “We didn’t win a lot of the battles, and they competed harder than we did. You do that in the NHL you’re going to be on the losing end of it pretty much every night. Tonight we were.”
A 7-2 loss to the Oilers last month in Edmonton qualified at the time as the lowest point of the season, but this showing undoubtedly will rival that outing for the title.
Not only was the Wild rested and in a relative groove of late, having secured four wins over its past five games, but the Red Wings were finishing off a back-to-back – in addition to being near the bottom of the standings.
But Detroit didn’t play like it, skating more like a team desperate to wrangle a playoff berth than the Wild.
Afterward, Wild players described how the Red Wings outnumbered them, limited their space and cut through the neutral zone with ease – skating while the Wild looked stuck in the mud.
“We were on our heels all night,” defenseman Ryan Suter said. “Didn't really have much. There wasn't a lot of space out there. We'd make plays and turn pucks over, and it was tough to get anything going."
And while a game plan like that deserves credit, the result might have said more about the Wild.
“It’s disappointing,” Dubnyk said. “Everyone was very frustrated.”
What made the loss sting even more was the Central-Division teams the Wild are chasing in the standings, the Avalanche and Stars, also were defeated – highlighting a missed opportunity to climb.
“You’re looking up at the scoreboard and every team you want to lose is losing, and you just throw a clunker in there,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “It’s very disappointing.”
The lone silver lining might be winger Luke Kunin finally notching his first goal of the season.
“It’s nice getting that out of the way,” he said. “Obviously, it wasn’t the best night for us, though.”
Before departing for Philadelphia Sunday ahead of his Monday’s meeting with the Flyers, the Wild will practice and it sounds like attendance will be mandatory.
“I gave an optional [Friday] because we thought the mental fatigue would do it,” Boudreau said. “But that’ll stop.”