VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA – Bruce Boudreau promised that the Vancouver Canucks, despite their top defensive pair being sidelined and the youngest blue line in the NHL, wouldn’t be pushovers.
He was right.
The Wild looked like a team that figured it would cruise to victory after taking a two-goal, second-period lead Tuesday night. Cheating for offense, the Wild gave up four goals before rallying with two of its own in the waning minutes to look as if it would send the game to overtime.
But as the Wild coach angrily said after a fluky goal handed Minnesota probably what it deserved — a 5-4 regulation loss, the Wild “don’t have any right to play like that. We’re not leading the league by 20 points or anything like that.”
No, not even close.
The Wild’s modest 2-0-2 point streak ended when Troy Stecher’s shot heading 10 feet wide suddenly struck Sven Baertschi’s skate and abruptly turned left to find its way past a very leaky Darcy Kuemper with 2 minutes, 35 seconds left.
In what Kuemper correctly called a “bizarre game,” after Jason Pominville scored twice to give the Wild a 2-0 lead, the Canucks rallied on Brandon Sutter and Ben Hutton power-play goals 1:59 apart in the middle period after quick penalties by Matt Dumba and Jonas Brodin.
Then, by the time the third period was 128 seconds old, Loui Eriksson and Bo Horvat scored 59 seconds apart to give the Canucks a 4-2 lead.
“It wasn’t a game where I felt bad,” Kuemper said. “Crazy goals, tips, weird bounces. Yeah, not a fun one.”
Jason Zucker scored a breakaway goal to cut the deficit to 4-3, then Erik Haula redirected Ryan Suter’s shot for a tie score with 5:49 left. But the Wild — which Boud- reau said was “horrible” in its own zone all night — finally scrambled big-time before Baertschi scored.
“I don’t know why,” Boudreau said of the Wild’s defense. “It’s not like we’ve changed anything. [We’re] a team that gives up two goals a game.”
In the arena where the Nino Niederreiter-Haula-Pominville line was created last Feb. 15 by former interim coach John Torchetti, the reunited line cashed in three times Tuesday.
The trio combined for 12 shots and was a combined plus-7.
In the third period, after Zucker scored, the Wild drew a power play with a chance to tie. Boudreau threw out Mikko Koivu’s line first, then Haula’s line, not just a statement as to how well Haula’s line was playing, but also how poorly the Zach Parise-Eric Staal-Charlie Coyle line was performing.
The trio combined for 11 shots, but Parise had only one through two periods, Coyle was turning pucks over and Staal is goalless in 10 games.
“I had to try to get them away from the Sedins because they were either 3-on-2ed all night or, in our zone, they were running around playing the whole game,” Boudreau said. “They’re supposed to be a pretty good line. We need them not just once in a while.
“If we don’t have our best players being our best players, it’s like any other team, nobody’s going to succeed.”
The Sedins are twins Daniel and Henrik, who usually roast the Wild and, as Pominville said, took over Tuesday’s game. They combined for three assists, all coming when the Canucks tied the score on the power-play goals in the second.
That’s two consecutive games in which the Wild’s penalty kill cost the team. In the first 10 games of the season, the Wild’s kill was 26-for-27 for a league-best 96.3 percent. In the past 12 games, the Wild’s kill is 27-for-37, dousing only 72.9 percent of opposing power plays.
“That burns me,” Boudreau said.
The Wild has two days off before it plays in Calgary on Friday. Boudreau likely would have scrapped Wednesday’s practice as a reward for a victory.
That won’t happen now.
“It’ll be tough to talk to somebody that was happy about this one,” Kuemper said.