SUNRISE, FLA. – Wild coach Bruce Boudreau searched for an answer.
Was it a lack of a morning skate?
Too much down time at the hotel?
Boudreau wasn’t sure, but he did know the display put on by the Wild that paved the way for it to get trounced 6-2 by the Panthers Friday at BB&T Center and nix its season-high eight-game point streak wasn’t a result of the group being tired.
“They flew from Boston and got in a lot later than we did, and it was a back-to-back,” Boudreau said of the Panthers. “Fatigue should not have come down to it. Obviously, we didn’t have the same jump that we had against Tampa and those are the things that make coaches go nuts because we needed it.”
The Wild skated like a completely different team than the one that cruised to a 3-0 win over the NHL-leading Lightning Thursday in Tampa. Its entire on-ice approach seemed out of sync, with routine saves coming off as challenging, passes missing their mark and an overall lack of execution that made the group appear slow.
“It was tough sledding the whole game,” center Eric Fehr said. “We just weren’t able to sustain any pressure. Pucks were bouncing. I think they took advantage of those situations. I think we took some chances that we’re not used to taking. Maybe it’s because we were behind, but we let them have odd-man rushes and really got away from the way we were playing.”
Translating what worked Thursday when the Wild was precise – especially in its defending – seemed like a no-brainer, but that template didn’t show up. The team fell behind 3-0 after the first period and never clawed its way back in the game.
“It’s demoralizing,” Boudreau said.
This loss continued an unusual trend of the Wild thriving against the NHL’s best and sagging against its worst.
The Panthers are out of a playoff spot and had five fewer wins than the Wild entering the game, but they completely outmaneuvered the Wild – in all three zones.
“When we play playoff teams, it seems like the fear of losing makes us play great,” Boudreau said. “When we play teams underneath us in the standings, we just haven’t come ready to play.”
Perhaps fortunately for the Wild, its schedule the rest of the way is heavy with teams above it in the standings. Only three upcoming opponents (the New York Rangers, Colorado Avalanche and Arizona Coyotes) are currently below the Wild.
“I guess it only has to change a couple times because our schedule is pretty good,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said. “But every game you just don’t know which one’s going to be the difference. It’s about feeling good about what we were doing and working to get to the playoffs and make sure we’re playing the right way and the way we want to play.
“We’ve been doing that for night-in, night-out here for two-and-a-half, three weeks. It’s important to understand why it didn’t work tonight but not go crazy and dwell on it and just get back to working on what we were doing.”
That seemed to be a theme among players after the game, to treat this outcome like any other loss and move on from it.
After a day off Saturday, the Wild practice Sunday before it opens a five-game homestand Monday against the San Jose Sharks.
“It doesn’t matter if we’re playing at home or on the road right now,” Fehr said. “Points are so important for us. We’ve got some tough opponents coming up. We’ve got to make sure we’re prepared for them.”