LAS VEGAS – Ten seconds.
That’s how close the Wild was to setting up a winner-take-all third period with the Golden Knights, an encouraging situation considering the circumstances.
Not only was the Wild still without captain Mikko Koivu, defenseman Jared Spurgeon and center Joel Eriksson Ek, but winger Jason Zucker was also missing and is flying back to the Twin Cities because of a lower-body injury that’ll keep him out week-to-week. Zucker was hit with a slapshot Sunday in Chicago.
“It’ll be a big blow,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “He’s the second-leading scorer on the team.”
But instead of hanging on to close out the second period and give itself a chance to, once again, overcome adversity, the Wild’s grip slipped and Vegas pulled ahead — the decisive shift in a 3-2 outcome Tuesday in front of 18,220 at T-Mobile Arena that dealt the Wild back-to-back regulation losses for the first time since Oct. 29-30.
The result, the Wild’s first loss in Vegas after debuting 3-0, also dropped the team to 0-2 on a three-game trip that concludes Thursday in Arizona.
“When you’re on the road and you can go into the third period in a building like this 1-1, you got a real good shot,” Boudreau said. “When you’re going and it’s 2-1, then all of a sudden you’re taking chances and they’re extremely good at capitalizing on miscues. So it makes a total difference in the game.”
With the score 1-1, Shea Theodore walked into the right faceoff circle and wired a shot through traffic and over goalie Alex Stalock’s glove at 19 minutes, 50 seconds of the second period — this after Mark Stone intercepted a clearing attempt by defenseman Ryan Suter.
“I thought we put out five experienced guys, probably the most five experienced guys we had,” Boudreau said. “We don’t get it out twice. We go to the wrong guy. We turn our back on the play. Those are killers.”
At 6:16 of the third period, Vegas tacked on an insurance goal — a rising shot by Tomas Nosek that turned into the game-winner after winger Zach Parise scored at 18:45 with Stalock pulled for an extra attacker.
Other than that, goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was unbeatable in the third period, making eight of his 24 stops in the final frame. Stalock pocketed 26 for the Wild.
One of those saves by Fleury came on center Eric Staal, whose slapper was gobbled up after he got a jump in the Vegas zone. Shortly before that, defenseman Matt Dumba had a shot go through Fleury’s legs and wide of a yawning net.
“He’ll find it,” Boudreau said of Dumba, who hasn’t scored since Nov. 12. “He’s been around here long enough. He’ll get it back.”
The lone power play goal by the Wild came in the final minute of the first period, at 19:20, when the team was on a 5-on-3 advantage. Staal fed a cross-crease pass to winger Mats Zuccarello, and he buried the puck behind Fleury. Dumba also earned an assist on the play, his first point in 15 games.
A Wild lead after the first period was impressive since the Golden Knights were overwhelming for stretches, skating at a pace that looked too quick for the Wild.
But the team did its best to keep up, holding off Vegas until 11:22 of the second, when Chandler Stephenson polished off a 2-on-1 rush with Stone.
“We competed, no question, but that’s our job,” Staal said. “We’re supposed to. That’s never an option. You’re after results and tonight we were on the wrong side of it, so it was disappointing.”