EDMONTON, Alberta – Offense is what helped the Wild get to Edmonton and the NHL’s postseason tournament, its second-half goal surge boosting it up the standings and into playoff contention.
Now it could be why the team’s bubble bursts.
After getting shut out 3-0 by the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday afternoon in Game 3 at Rogers Place, the Wild trails 2-1 in the best-of-five qualifying-round series and is facing elimination Friday when the puck drops on Game 4.
The Wild went 0-for-7 on the power play to sink deeper into a 0-for-14 funk, and the team still hasn’t scored a goal at 5-on-5 in the series. To make matters worse, defenseman Ryan Suter didn’t play the final 6 minutes, 51 seconds, and Wild coach Dean Evason didn’t have an update on Suter’s status after the game.
“They blocked a lot of shots,” Evason said. “The chances that we did get, we didn’t get to the inside as far as getting second or third opportunities. We thought we directed enough at the net to do that, but we weren’t finding those rebounds and those loose pucks.”
Canucks players did do their part to ease goalie Jacob Markstrom’s workload, getting in the way of 22 shots, but the Wild didn’t exactly make life difficult for Markstrom. Goal-mouth pressure was spotty at best, allowing Markstrom to track all 27 pucks sent his direction for the first shutout of his playoff career.
“It was frustrating,” said Kevin Fiala, who registered four shots and had another 10 attempts blocked or miss the net. “I’ve got to get pucks through.”
The Wild seemed comfortable with the scoreless staring contest that began in the first period and carried over into the second, but the parade to the penalty box that picked back up from the 4-3 loss in Game 2 looked like it would come back to haunt the Wild. And it did.
With Jordan Greenway off for slashing — his second infraction of the game and the Wild’s seventh overall at that point — Burnsville’s Brock Boeser flipped a rebound from his backhand past Alex Stalock while falling to the ice 13 minutes, 49 seconds into the second period.
And after Antoine Roussel doubled Vancouver’s lead 2:18 into the third, catching up to a puck that bounced behind Brad Hunt at the Wild blue line for a breakaway goal, the Wild still didn’t stop giving the Canucks power plays.
The team took four more penalties in the third, three by Fiala. He got a double-minor for roughing after he bumped Alexandler Edler and Markstrom, interactions that led to a melee in the corner.
Later in the third, he was also dinged for slashing Boeser and Vancouver capped off the scoring on the ensuing power play on a one-timer from Elias Pettersson at 18:38. The Canucks finished 2-for-7 with the man advantage.
“I can’t take those penalties,” Fiala said. “They got to me [Thursday]. I was six minutes on the penalty box. That’s too long. Just have to focus on the game and focus on helping us.”
That was one of the key questions surrounding the Wild’s potential, whether Fiala would be just as dynamic as he was before the season stopped.
He has been, emerging as arguably the most dangerous player when he’s on the ice.
Goaltending was another mystery, but Stalock has given the Wild the steadiness it needs — blanking the Canucks 3-0 in Game 1 and racking up another 26 stops Thursday.
Yet despite these developments, the Wild is still in a hole — and is potentially operating shorthanded if Suter isn’t available.
“They’re doing a pretty good job boxing us out, but we gotta get the inside and we gotta beat Markstrom,” Marcus Foligno said. “He’s playing well, but we know we’ve scored. Kev has scored a lot of goals against him so far.”
The Wild had the top offense in the Western Conference since mid-January, its 81 regular-season goals from then on tied for the second most in the NHL.
It needs that production to be its saving grace again. The Wild’s season now depends on it.
“We have an opportunity to tie the series [Friday],” Evason said. “That’s our thought process. That’s our mentality, and that’s what we’re going to gear up to do.”