WINNIPEG – The Wild was up 2-1 entering the third period on opening night.
In its next test, the team overcame a rough start to be tied and, most recently, it pulled even late after a strong beginning.
All three of these scenarios can be sources of confidence for the Wild, proof that it could have flipped its fate in each of the first three games of the season.
But they also fuel frustration because the reality is the Wild blew these opportunities, a jumble of fragmented efforts that has sunk the team into a 0-3 hole after it was grounded 5-2 by the Jets on Thursday in front of 15,325 at Bell MTS Place.
Not only is this the first time in franchise history the Wild has dropped its first three contests in regulation, but it’s the first time the team’s gone winless through three games since 2013-14 (0-1-2).
Its next chance to bank its first win is Saturday when the Wild plays Pittsburgh in its home opener at Xcel Energy Center.
“We do a lot of good things right for a lot of the games,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “We just haven’t been able to complete it.”
This outing seemed like the Wild’s best chance to check that box based on the first period, which was much better than in the first two games.
Against Nashville in the opener, the Wild was overwhelmed early before clawing back to sport that one-goal lead — which it wasted in the third by collapsing into a 5-2 loss. And in Colorado, the team quickly stumbled into a two-goal deficit before orchestrating a comeback that was nixed by a costly defensive breakdown that paved the way for a 4-2 Avalanche win.
But instead of slipping into chase mode yet again, the Wild set the pace in the first. And with 6 minutes, 52 seconds left in the frame, winger Ryan Hartman capped off a workmanlike push by the fourth line by forcing the puck off Jets rookie defender Ville Heinola in front of the net and sliding the puck through the five-hole on goalie Connor Hellebuyck.
The goal was Hartman’s first with the Wild after signing as a free agent in the summer.
“We knew they had some young ‘D,’ ” Hartman said. “We knew that if we pressured them hard they were going to make some mistakes.”
Not squeezing more production out of the period ended up haunting the Wild because the Jets stormed back with two goals in the second.
Only 1:37 into the period, Plymouth native and Jets captain Blake Wheeler one-timed a Mark Scheifele pass by goalie Devan Dubnyk to even it at 1. The point was the 700th of Wheeler’s career.
Later, the Jets moved ahead when Patrik Laine finished off a 2-on-2 rush into the Wild’s zone with a blistering one-timer at 9:10.
“When you got them down, you gotta take advantage,” Boudreau said. “You leave anybody hanging around, they’re going to beat you.”
Still, the Wild had another chance to retake the lead after defenseman Brad Hunt tied it at 2 just 3:09 into the third on a rising shot.
But shoddy coverage and poor decisionmaking during 4-on-4 play sparked two goals in 28 seconds by the Jets. Kyle Connor deposited a Laine pass behind Dubnyk at 8:47 before Jack Roslovic buried the insurance marker at 9:15. Laine capped off a four-point performance with an empty netter at 17:41.
Dubnyk finished with 27 stops, while Hellebuyck had 38 on a season-high 40 shots by the Wild. Both power plays went 0-for-2.
“We work really hard,” Wild center Luke Kunin said. “I don’t doubt that anyone in this room isn’t giving it their all. We just got to execute. We gotta finish on chances and not have some mistakes.”