If only the Wild could play every game on the road.
Winners of a franchise-record eight consecutive away games, the Wild returned to Xcel Energy Center on Thursday night and found the full, beautiful arena to be a place of frustration yet again.
Alex Ovechkin looked right at home, however.
The NHL’s leading goal-scorer struck twice with a couple of daggers, including the winning goal in the third period off a set faceoff play, and the Washington Capitals took a 3-2 victory against a Wild team that has more road wins (20) than home (19).
The Wild, which plays six of its final 11 games at home, has lost four of its past six in St. Paul.
“It’s a similar trend in all these games,” coach Mike Yeo said. “It’s a one-goal game, and I find that a lot of these games we’re making one big mistake or a couple breakdowns that we haven’t been making on the road.”
The Wild’s seven losses since Jan. 19 have all been by one goal. In a league where playoff contenders routinely force overtime to get at least a point (Winnipeg rallied on St. Louis to get two Thursday and pulled one point behind the Wild for the top wild-card spot), not at least tying these games for a potential “loser point” hurts.
The Wild is 7-7 in overtime. The Jets are 11-12. Anaheim is 14-7, Nashville 13-8, Calgary 13-5, St. Louis 13-6 and Chicago 12-6. The Kings, who fell three points behind the Wild into ninth, have gotten a point in 14 overtime/shootout losses.
Just like last week’s home loss to the Ducks, the Wild, after Jared Spurgeon’s power-play goal with 5:56 left, peppered Braden Holtby in the final 83 seconds with Devan Dubnyk off for an extra attacker. The Wild held the zone, crashed the net, attempted seven shots. None got past Holtby and the Caps skated off with their first victory in St. Paul in eight all-time visits.
“Last couple losses at home, watching from the bench those final seconds, it’s just crazy we can’t find the back of the net,” Dubnyk said of the terrific looks the Wild’s getting to no avail.
The Wild’s No. 1-ranked penalty kill went 4-for-4 against the Capitals’ No. 1-ranked power play, but it was the 4-on-4 that doomed the Wild.
Not much was happening in a scoreless game until 5:15 left in the second period. It started with Zach Parise taking a check along the glass in the Capitals zone by fourth-liner Tom Wilson. Parise responded by slashing Wilson coming out of the zone. The two tangled near center ice, and Parise turned and floored Wilson with a two-point takedown. As Parise went for a line change, a big skirmish followed with Wilson punching Parise in the face.
Wilson drew his second 4-on-4 of the game. Against the Wild, that often favors the opponent, and this one turned the game upside down.
“It’s not necessarily easy to make that happen, but when it does happen, our guys do a good job of capitalizing,” Wilson said.
Dubnyk had been so good to that juncture, but Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov scored 39 seconds apart. Ovechkin scored off his own rebound after going into the zone 1-on-3, then Kuznetsov scored off that “one big mistake” Yeo referred to as a common theme at home lately.
Against Anaheim last week, Matt Dumba coughed up the puck on a 4-on-4 for an eventual game-losing turnover. This time, Jonas Brodin committed the hiccup. The normally reliable defenseman was pickpocketed en route to a beautiful Kuznetsov goal for a 2-0 lead.
Christian Folin trimmed the deficit to 2-1 with 8.2 seconds left in the second, but just 3:05 into the third, the NHL’s leading assists man, Nicklas Backstrom, won a draw, sent the puck to Ovechkin and he whipped home his 47th goal for another two-goal lead.
“That’s obviously the play they’re looking for and he’s got a few that way,” Dubnyk said.