Since the pursuit of the final few Western Conference playoff berths has morphed from a race to a crawl, nothing is solidified with 20-plus games to go.
But it is clear who will be at fault if the Wild doesn’t advance.
And that’s the Wild itself.
Gifted another break in the standings courtesy a Vancouver loss Saturday, the Wild again whiffed on the chance to distance itself from the pack of teams creeping up on its second wild-card spot in the Western Conference.
Not only that, but the Wild made itself look vulnerable to be overtaken after getting bulldozed 4-0 by the St. Louis Blues on Sunday afternoon in front of an announced 19,102 at Xcel Energy Center — a ghastly flop in a Central Division battle that felt like the team’s most significant test of the season.
“We keep getting lucky, but soon our luck’s going to run out,” Wild winger Marcus Foligno said. “It’s running out right now.”
With the Wild sinking deeper into a 1-5-3 slump, this wasn’t the best time to face the NHL’s current juggernaut. St. Louis has won 10 in a row and hasn’t surrendered a goal in 187 minutes, 16 seconds — blanking its past three opponents. Goalie Jordan Binnington recorded his fourth shutout of the season.
But since the Blues are only one of the two teams to pass the Wild during its slide, this was an opportunity to take back some ground. Instead, the Wild revealed the gap that exists between it and the pedigree it’s chasing.
The Blues used two first-period power-play goals to take control. Their third, in the second, came after a successful penalty kill.
The decisive loss in the special-teams matchup set the tone for the Wild’s struggles.
“When you lose those battles, you usually lose the game,” coach Bruce Boudreau said.
Just 5:08 into the first, winger Vladimir Tarasenko was left wide open to crash the net and wrist a feed from linemate Ryan O’Reilly past Alex Stalock, who started instead of No. 1 goalie Devan Dubnyk. Stalock finished with 26 saves.
The goal extended Tarasenko’s point streak to 12 games, a span in which he’s recorded 22 points following his three-point effort Sunday.
After Foligno was penalized for hooking late in the period — after he was caught out of position on the Tarasenko goal — the Blues doubled their lead at 19:30 when O’Reilly walked into an open seam to wire the puck by Stalock.
It was the 14th power-play goal surrendered by the Wild in the past 12 games. Overall, the Blues went 2-for-6 on the power play.
“Our penalty killing is killing us every game,” Boudreau said.
The Wild’s power play had a chance to cut into that deficit in the second, but the unit didn’t even register a shot. And soon after the Blues killed off the chance, they broke out for a 3-on-1 attack that defenseman Vince Dunn finished with a goal at 7:27. The Wild ended up 0-for-5 with the man advantage.
“We got to figure some stuff out because it’s getting pretty ugly,” winger Zach Parise said.
Later in the second, St. Louis tacked on a fourth goal during a 2-on-1 look that ended with winger Brayden Schenn’s centering feed getting carried into the net by a sliding Nick Seeler at 12:06.
The sequence epitomized how self-inflicted the Wild’s woes have been.
“I just don’t feel like we’re really competing that hard,” Parise said. “I mean we did for a couple games, but for the most part there’s no jam. And I don’t know why. I think at this time of the year it should be, and we better find it otherwise we’re not going to get out of this thing. It’s just going to get deeper and deeper.”