When Eric Nystrom snapped a hellacious goal drought recently against Anaheim, he addressed his Wild teammates afterward in what was by all accounts a touching moment.
He told "the boys" how much "guilt" he's been carrying all season for not contributing more offensively.
Thursday night in L.A., John Madden was despondent, taking full responsibility for Drew Doughty's game-winner, a goal that in reality was a bang-bang, perfectly executed hockey goal.
"He felt, and I think it's unjustified, that he let the guys down," coach Todd Richards said after Friday's 3-2 overtime win at Anaheim, a game in which Pierre-Marc Bouchard scored the winner with 6.3 seconds left. "And when you have guys that feel that way, it's a team that cares about one another.
"It's definitely a different feel than what we had last year. And you can see it in the way the guys play."
A special chemistry has evolved this season among the players in this Wild dressing room.
It's the reason General Manager Chuck Fletcher vows not to do anything "to take any pieces out of there" by Monday's 2 p.m. trade deadline. The Wild, 16-8-1 in its past 25, is sixth in the West.
"[Thursday's] game in L.A. is a perfect example," Fletcher said. "I don't think a team can play any harder than we played. We came up maybe one play short. But to play a team playing as well as the Kings and you're on the road and you're without Mikko [Koivu] and Kyle [Brodziak], to see that effort sums up what this team's all about.
"It's a special group that way. They really are. We're far from perfect, but the attitude and the effort, you can't ask for much more. You've got to be really careful you don't mess around with it. You can go out and make a deal and make yourself 10 percent more talented, but if you take away from the closeness of that group and the chemistry of the room, you might be 10 percent better on paper and way worse on the ice.
"I've seen it happen lots of times going back to very early in my career."
So Fletcher said, "You've got to be smart."
Now, that's not saying Fletcher won't do anything. He's still looking for a center with Koivu injured. He'd love to add a scoring winger. But if he's not willing to subtract significant pieces from the dressing room and if he's not willing to mortgage the future, the likelihood of a headline-making trade is slim.
"If we can figure something out in the next couple days that makes sense, we'll do it," Fletcher said. "But this has been an extremely difficult season. These players have overcome a lot of adversity. They've gotten this far, they've battled this far and played for each other.
"These players deserve a chance to stay together and see this thing through. This group deserves that chance; they want that chance, and it's hard to argue with them."
Madden has won three Stanley Cups. He's played on some incredible teams.
He says this year's team is as good as it gets.
"We started off a little slow, but we've grown with one another, we've grown to trust one another and we enjoy being around each other," Madden said. "And when you get that combination, it's almost like team symmetry. There's only five guys on the ice, but it feels like six because we're working together and for each other.
"It makes a huge difference when you go the extra mile for the next guy. This is quite the team."
Brodziak and Cody Almond will presumably return Monday against Chicago because Warren Peters and Jed Ortmeyer were reassigned Saturday.
With Koivu likely out another two to three weeks, Fletcher is still looking to see if he can add a center. If so, expect it to be more of a depth move.
"There's not a player anywhere close to Mikko's caliber on the trade market. Assuming there was, I don't even know how you go about acquiring a player like him," Fletcher said. "That's why we signed him to the [seven-year, $47.25 million] deal we did. He's as close to irreplaceable as I think you get in the NHL. He's one of the 10 best centermen in the game and possibly even better than that, in my opinion."
Fletcher said the type of player he'd add would "have to have strong work ethic and lots of character that can fit right in and buy in with what we're doing. Like I said, if we can find a way to improve our team, we'll do it.
"But otherwise we like this team, we're competitive every night and we're winning more games than we're losing. We're content with our group."
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