Wild winger Jason Zucker isn’t planning on watching the Avalanche take on the Golden Knights on Wednesday.
His wife, Carly, is expected to give birth that day to a daughter.
But Zucker, like others with the Wild, will be keeping tabs on the score of that game — a result that could keep the team just two points behind Colorado for the second and final wild-card berth in the Western Conference or expand its deficit to as much as four with an Avalanche victory.
“Regardless,” Zucker said, “it doesn’t change the fact that we have to win.”
That, however, isn’t the only reality that faces the Wild with five games to go and the team loitering outside the playoff picture with 79 points.
The group also needs its competition to lose since its recent up-and-down record has relinquished some control of its fate, a tough consequence that becomes magnified with the Wild idle until Friday.
“It is a helpless position,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “There’s not much we can do about it. Again, the dominoes have got to fall in the right area. As long as there’s a breath in our body and we have an opportunity, we’re going to go out and try to play like we did [Monday].”
A 1-0 loss to the Predators that night was the Wild’s latest blown opportunity to move closer to Colorado, but the outcome wasn’t indicative of the Wild’s effort.
With 69 shots, the team was in complete control for stretches of the action and had more than enough looks to cruise by Nashville. But its inability to execute, a costly theme of late, allowed a first-period shorthanded goal by the Predators to stand up as the difference maker.
“The energy’s there,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said. “The chances are there. When pucks aren’t going in, guys get frustrated. It’s impossible not to. We are doing a lot of good things, and unfortunately that doesn’t make anything feel any better at this time of the year when we need wins. I think the guys are doing a fantastic job of just working and doing their best to get the scoring chances and goals.”
While the Wild will have plenty of reasons to bemoan if it fails to secure a playoff spot — such as injuries, home-ice struggles and setbacks against lowly opponents — this offensive plight will take a chunk of the blame.
In the past 19 games, the Wild has scored more than two goals only seven times. What’s made that problem look even worse is the team’s defense has been mostly stingy; it’s surrendered three or more goals (not including the shootout) in just nine of those 19 contests. But mix those outputs together, and the Wild has gone a ho-hum 8-8-3.
“We’re doing the job in that respect,” Boudreau said of the team’s defending. “But we just can’t score at this point.”
Targeting what Boudreau calls “ugly goals” will be the focus when the team resumes play Friday in Vegas, a simplified approach that hopes quantity rather than quality is the solution.
“Just try and get it there,” center Luke Kunin said. “You never know how those will go in, and that’s the way it’s going to happen for us. It probably won’t be pretty ones all the time. It’s going to be ones where you’re going to the net. Maybe one will bounce off you, or you get the rebounds.”
Overcoming this scoring rut is key for the Wild to have a chance at closing the gap on a playoff spot. But that improvement still may not be enough, the grim truth of the team’s current situation.
“We obviously are going to need help, but we need to win,” Zucker said. “That’s the only thing we can worry about.”