First the mumps ravages the Wild’s blue line for a month. Then, some kind of wicked stomach beast starts running through the team the past three weeks and ends up knocking both goalies out of a critical game Saturday night against a team it must catch in the standings.
Finally, to put the cherry on top of all this madness, first-line center Mikael Granlund and top-pair defenseman Jonas Brodin are knocked out of the third period and a game-losing puck hits the glass, then the top of the net, then the third goalie’s nameplate and finally the back of the cage for a 4-3 overtime win by the Winnipeg Jets.
Coach Mike Yeo said Granlund and Brodin may be out indefinitely. Perhaps, it’s just not meant to be this season for the Wild.
“I will not accept that. No,” Yeo said after another disappointing defeat at Xcel Energy Center stretched the Wild’s points deficit to the Jets to nine. “I don’t think anything’s predetermined. We still have a lot of season in front of us and I’m not going to accept that.”
Still, this is starting to get ridiculous.
On Dec. 16, Darcy Kuemper was supposed to start at Chicago. He got sick, Niklas Backstrom got the start and wound up finishing a game he, too, got sick in. Then, Backstrom was supposed to start Tuesday against the Flyers. He got sick and Kuemper got the start.
Saturday, both goalies were ill. Kuemper, whom the Wild thinks may have food poisoning, returned from the three-day holiday break sick. But he was expected to start because Backstrom wasn’t over his stomach bug.
So, the Wild summoned 30-year-old John Curry, who made 38 saves for AHL Iowa at Rockford the night before, then bussed to Grand Rapids, Mich., afterward. Curry got the call, flew out of Grand Rapids at 2 p.m., landed in Minnesota figuring he was backing up — and found out differently once he arrived at Xcel Energy Center.
Curry, a Shorewood native, did as well as could be expected until Justin Falk, only playing so late because Brodin got hurt on a crushing Grant Clitsome check, couldn’t get the puck out of the zone. Andrew Ladd’s shot hit the glass, and the crazy caroms ended with the Jets celebrating a ninth win in 14 games (9-1-4) and the Wild dejected after a 10th loss in 15 games (5-6-4).
“Bad bounce,” said Curry, who made 19 saves in his second career Wild start. “I know what this team has gone through and they’ve had their struggles, but I thought we played really well. We deserved to win that game. I just wish I would have been able to make one more.”
Wild players weren’t shocked when they saw Curry prepping to start.
“Not surprised by anything,” Zach Parise said, alluding to three years of goalie instability.
“Since I’ve been here it’s kind of been that way where there’s been unfortunate injuries and guys sick,” Jason Pominville added. “It’s really been unfortunate we can’t have somebody that just takes the load, takes the lead and takes the net for awhile.”
Granlund, who appeared to get hurt on a Dustin Byfuglien rough-up, scored a goal and assisted on Pominville’s third-period tying goal. The Wild drew a power play soon after, and after Mikko Koivu failed to shoot, the captain turned the puck over and couldn’t catch Blake Wheeler en route to a Jets go-ahead shorthanded goal.
However, still on the power play, the Wild tied the score on Thomas Vanek’s fourth third-period tying goal since Nov. 28.
Still, the Wild’s most energetic, hard-fought, tightly-checked game in arguably weeks ended in disappointment. The Wild plays at Winnipeg on Monday.
“We cannot hang our heads right now,” Yeo said. “It would be real easy to feel sorry for ourselves, but winners don’t do that and we’ve got to make sure we handle this adversity the right way.”