Three or four years ago, clinching a playoff spot was celebrated in these parts.
Not anymore. Mere playoff berths don’t call for a parade, which is why the Wild didn’t plan any celebration if it could take care of its own business and win Thursday night.
“My expectations are a lot higher,” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said hours before the Wild suffered a 3-1 loss to Philadelphia Flyers in one of its most troubling defeats during a hideous month.
The Los Angeles Kings beat the Winnipeg Jets 5-2, so the earliest the Wild can clinch a fifth consecutive playoff spot is Saturday. But Boudreau’s objective is for the Wild to play into June. The way the Wild has played in March, it will be lucky to play into May.
One game after the Wild beat the San Jose Sharks to halt a five-game losing streak, the Wild took a giant step back.
“They were faster than us, and they were on top of us at every move,” Boudreau said. “We looked very tired.”
In front of an understandably restless crowd, the Wild once again lacked any similarity to the fast, exciting team that climbed up the standings from December through February. Players reverted to turning pucks over, playing sloppily in their own zone, overpassing maddeningly and not converting on glorious chances to fall to 3-9 this month.
“It felt like we were pretty flat for a lot of the game,” said Zach Parise, who scored the Wild’s only goal 2:07 into the game. “They played hard. They checked us all over the ice — we didn’t have a lot of room. But our passing was off. We had guys open and we just missed them for no reason. A lot of one-and-done’s in the offensive zone.
“Any time there was a loose puck, it felt like they jumped on it quicker than us. Any time there was a 50-50 puck, they came out with it the majority of the time.”
Playing against a down-and-out opponent, with a permeable goaltender and the seventh-most goals per game allowed in the NHL, the Wild couldn’t — or wouldn’t — muster up the fight needed to penetrate the middle of the offensive zone en route to its eighth loss in 10 games.
Trailing by a goal in the third period, the Wild managed two shots in the first 15:03 and four for the period. There was zero push.
“We didn’t get any traffic, any rebounds, anything pretty much the whole game,” said captain Mikko Koivu, who has two goals in the past 22 games. “That’s where you score goals and we’re outside right now.”
After Parise’s 17th goal, Erik Haula missed the net on a breakaway and Nino Niederreiter, who has one goal in the past 18 games and none since Feb. 27, and Jason Zucker, who has one goal in the past 11 games, couldn’t execute wraparound attempts.
The missed chances hurt because one soft shift resulted in a tie game with 2:01 left in the first. Then, 21 seconds into the second, former Bemidji State product Matt Read pounced on Martin Hanzal’s turnover and Matt Dumba’s indecision with the puck for the only goal Philadelphia would need until Jakub Voracek’s empty-netter.
In the game, Boudreau split Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon for the first time by reuniting longtime partners of yesteryear, Marco Scandella and Spurgeon, and played Suter alongside Dumba, the Wild “didn’t have a lot of energy in any category,” Boudreau said.
“We just quit moving our feet and it caught up with us,” Suter said.
Most concerning is the fatigue Boudreau keeps mentioning this month. Boudreau admittedly doesn’t have answers as to how to reenergize his players.
“If fatigue is the answer, if they are tired, if they think that they’re in that area where they can’t go up and they can’t go down [the ice], it’s a tough, tough go at that point.
“You’ve got to find it from your inner self. The competitive juices got to come from inside. … You’ve got to will it, I guess, when you’re in this situation.”