Roughly two hours after Wild players skated off the ice Thursday, the final blow of the night landed: a win by the Arizona Coyotes that grew their cushion over the Wild for the second wild card spot in the Western Conference to three points.
The result confirmed the sentiment that hovered over the team in the aftermath of a 4-1 letdown to the Stars at Xcel Energy Center, that it must find a solution to its three-game slide in a hurry or the damage could be permanent.
“These are must-win games for us,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said. “I think we all expect more. We just have to find a way to do it.”
What was missing against Dallas to flip back into the win column was the urgency to match the situation; not only could the Wild have remained a point shy of the Coyotes with a win, but it also could have pulled within a point of the Stars.
Now, though, it’s five back of its Central Division rival – which jumped up to third in the division.
“It’s stepping up and looking a little more urgent than we have,” winger Marcus Foligno said. “It’s wanting the puck. I think we had some guys that just were hoping that it would be on their sticks tonight. You’ve got to get aggressive. You saw them: they win battles. They backchecked. We gave up a lot of 4-on-3s in the first period, and it just looked like that was how we wanted to play.”
The Wild’s start was poor, setting a tone for the entire night.
Not until 6 minutes, 51 seconds into the first did the team register a shot on goal; in the second, it took 7:40.
“Our puck movement’s not very good,” winger Zach Parise said. “It just felt like tonight it was tough to get up the ice.”
What looked like it might jumpstart the Wild’s offense – which has scored just once in the last 142:05 – is a change in Dallas’ crease.
Starter Ben Bishop left the game after the Stars’ third goal 6:33 into the second with a lower-body injury and did not return, this after he set the franchise record for longest shutout streak in the first period. His run was put on hold at 230:53.
“When we saw [Anton] Khudobin go, in your mind you’re thinking, ‘Let’s attack the net. Let’s get some shots,’” Parise said. “It didn’t really feel like that was the case.”
This loss was the Wild’s ninth in the last 10 on home ice. In its past 23 contests in St. Paul, the Wild has dropped 17 of them.
“It's been frustrating, no question,” center Eric Staal said. “I don't know what it is. It's something that we need to correct.”