Chasing the Kings worked for the Wild in Los Angeles but not so much when the season series shifted to St. Paul.
Despite following a script similar to the one from its pair of comeback wins nearly two weeks ago, the Wild botched the final act — coming up short 2-1 to the Kings on Tuesday at Xcel Energy Center to suffer back-to-back losses for the first time this season.
"We definitely had high hopes," winger Marcus Foligno said.
Although the offensive output was scaled back from the two 4-3 overtime finishes during the first head-to-head between these teams to start the season, the stage was set for an encore performance by the Wild.
Trailing 1-0, center Joel Eriksson Ek scored his team-leading fourth goal 1 minute, 9 seconds into the third — a boost reminiscent of the other tying goals the Wild scored in the final period in those previous matchups.
But instead of building on that momentum, the Wild (4-3) squandered the chance — and shoddy defense was partly to blame.
Carl Grundstrom put Los Angeles ahead for good at 5:08 when he swooped off the boards to the inside and eluded the reach of Marcus Johansson before wiring the puck past goalie Kaapo Kahkonen.
"We think the puck is going to come up the wall," Wild coach Dean Evason said. "We were trying to push the pace, and we kind of collide with each other and they get a break into the middle. We have an opportunity probably at the tops of the circles to play a little heavier game to get that puck out of that dangerous area. They do a good job, but we have to be a little harder in that area."
Similar to its late-game posture at Staples Center, the Wild applied a full-court press in the final seconds but couldn't push the puck past goalie Calvin Petersen — who was stellar amid a 32-save effort. Add in 18 blocked shots by the players in front of him, and the Kings were tough to get around in a much stingier setup than last time.
"It wasn't like we were just shoveling shots into their blocks, either," Evason said. "They were diving in order to block. We were trying to work around it. We made some nice plays to the outside of their blocks and fanned on a couple. There were plenty of opportunities for us to score."
Los Angeles was at its tightest in the first period, when it limited the Wild to six shots.
At the other end, the Kings were busy in front of Kahkonen — especially during six minutes of power play time. Kahkonen turned aside all 12 shots he faced that period, including six on a double minor against Carson Soucy for high-sticking. Kahkonen ended up with 19 stops.
"First period wasn't clean," Foligno said.
The Kings' pressure finally culminated in a goal at 4:02 of the second off another Wild breakdown, as Kurtis MacDermid reported to the net undetected and one-timed the puck over Kahkonen before Victor Rask could defend him.
The power play could have sparked the Wild, but the unit once again came up empty-handed — going 0-for-3 to sit at 2-for-30 on the season.
"We have to keep simplifying it and just getting shots and get a greasy one and get the momentum rolling in our favor and then go from there," captain Jared Spurgeon said.
Still, the Wild retaliated and it was — who else? — but the third line leading the charge.
Eriksson Ek stuffed in a wraparound for his sixth point in seven games, the most he's had to start a season, and his sidekicks Foligno and Jordan Greenway each earned assists on the play. The line now has 15 points; everyone else on the team has combined for 32.
The Kings challenged the goal to see if Petersen was interfered with, but the goal was verified — putting the Wild in position to go 3-for-3 against the Kings in come-from-behind fashion.
But history did not repeat itself.
"We just again ran into a hot goaltender and maybe didn't catch a break or two," Evason said. "But we just gotta keep grinding."