SUNRISE, FLA. – The Wild won the faceoff.
Kevin Fiala raised his stick and wound up, hurling the puck toward the net.
Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky nabbed the shot with his glove and then flung the puck into the corner.
"Good play," Fiala said. "Didn't work out."
Still trailing after twice cutting a two-goal deficit in half during the final minute of the third period, the Wild had one more crack at the equalizer with 3.4 seconds to go but time ran out. The result was a 5-4 loss on Saturday in front of 13,854 at FLA Live Arena before the team could complete another comeback.
"We did it in Pittsburgh," Jonas Brodin said, referring to the 5-4 shootout win on Nov. 6 that saw the Wild tie the game with 3 seconds left. "We've scored a couple 6-on-5 goals, so I think that it's a good vibe. I think everyone thought we still had a good chance to score. It's tough to be down two goals, but we tried."
This outcome dropped the Wild to 4-1 when scoring in the last minute of regulation, which it's done a league-high six times.
But a photo finish looked unlikely at the beginning of the game when the action was lopsided.
The Panthers bulldozed their way around the ice in the first period, racking up almost as many hits (14) as shots (15) and opening the scoring when a wide-open Owen Tippett eluded goalie Cam Talbot with a backhander at 17:45.
"When the puck gets turned over, they take off and we got caught," coach Dean Evason said.
To make matters worse for the Wild, captain Jared Spurgeon left the first period with a lower-body injury and didn't return. He also won't play Sunday at Tampa and will be evaluated.
The Wild will call up Calen Addison from the minors, Evason said, but it's unclear if Addison will arrive in time to play.
"You don't have your captain and arguably your best player against the best team in the league, it's tough," Evason said.
At 8:23 of the second period, Frank Vatrano kept the shot on a 2-on-1 rush. But the Wild answered back on the power play just 3:23 later when Joel Eriksson Ek capitalized to extend his point streak to a season-high three games and snap a 0-for-13 drought for the power play, which finished 1-for-2. The Panthers were 0-for-1.
Soon after, Florida regained a two-goal lead on Vatrano's second goal of the night at 14:50.
Before the second ended, Fiala had a breakaway and one-timer stopped by Bobrovsky on the same shift.
"I had a few chances," said Fiala, who didn't log any power-play time. "Didn't work out."
The Wild eventually flung a puck by Bobrovsky 1:55 into the third period when Kirill Kaprizov wired in his second goal in as many games. With his assist on Eriksson Ek's goal, Kaprizov has six points over his last two games and 11 during the past nine.
Like in the second, though, Florida delivered a response on a Carter Verhaeghe goal at 5:42.
After the Wild overturned a shorthanded Panthers goal with a coach's challenge (offside) to keep the score 4-2, Talbot reported to the bench for an extra attacker with 5:09 to go. He totaled 32 saves.
When the final minute rolled around, the goals started to pile up: a Marcus Foligno deflection at 19:14, Sam Bennett's empty-netter at 19:23 for Florida and finally a Ryan Hartman redirect off an Eriksson Ek shot for his team-leading ninth goal at 19:51.
Then came one final play, one that led to a Wild chance despite the puck appearing to clip the referee after the faceoff.
"It hits him," Evason said. "Otherwise maybe that puck's in."
Instead, the Panthers, who lead the NHL with 29 points, improved to 10-0 at home. Bobrovsky is 8-0, finishing with 35 saves after that last-second stop on Fiala.
"We pushed back," Fiala said. "But they also pushed back right away. They're a good team. There's no secret. They play fast. It just didn't work out for us tonight, but I liked our effort in the end.
"But still, we could be better in the start. I think they dominated us in the start in both the first and second, and we can't have that."