The first half of the Wild’s season finished exactly how it started, with the team losing because it struggled to score — especially after falling behind.
But as much as these recent results have been a letdown, particularly in the aftermath of offensive thrillers in Arizona and Colorado, they don’t discredit the progress the Wild has made to sit 19-17-5 at the midway point after being an atrocious 1-6 after seven games and 4-9 after 13.
And that’s how the first 41 will be remembered, even after the Wild was tripped up 4-1 by the Maple Leafs on Tuesday in front 18,164 at Xcel Energy Center on the heels of getting foiled 3-1 by another Eastern Conference contender in the New York Islanders.
“We played two really good teams,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “But I’m convinced watching them the first  games that when we play our best and everybody plays their role, we usually end up on the right side of the scoreboard.”
This is the first time the Wild has suffered back-to-back losses on home ice this season, a setback that dropped it to 10-4-3 in St. Paul. But figuring out how to salvage the second half of a four-game homestand isn’t the only issue it needs to address.
The offense was no match for the Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews, William Nylander and goalie Frederik Andersen. Matthews and Nylander both scored and assisted on each other’s goals to help Toronto to a 3-0 lead, and Andersen made 26 saves. Devan Dubnyk had 25.
“When you get down 3-0 to a team like that, it’s tough to come back,” defenseman Ryan Suter said.
Just 5 minutes, 55 seconds into the first, the Maple Leafs scored on a one-timer by Alexander Kerfoot before doubling their lead with 31 seconds to go. Matthews tried to stuff the puck in at the near post, and although he was unsuccessful, the puck squirted out into the crease for Nylander to bury.
At 8:34 of the second, Toronto went up by 3 on its only power play goal in three opportunities — a backdoor shot by Matthews set up by Nylander.
“Bottom line is just we have to be better from the start,” said captain Mikko Koivu, who returned after missing 12 games with a lower-body injury.
After the Maple Leafs’ third goal, the Wild started to pick up the pace — getting more engaged after winger Marcus Foligno crushed Travis Dermott with a hit. And at 11:46, the Wild converted on the power play just for the fourth time over its last 37 looks when Suter scored on a shot through traffic for his 10th point in his last 10 games.
Overall, the Wild power play finished 1-for-3.
“Until we started to get some emotion in the game — it took them to be up 3-0 for us to get emotional and be physical on a non-physical team — we didn’t have much,” Boudreau said.
The Wild maintained that pressure until late in the second, but it couldn’t recapture that energy in the third.
Credit the Maple Leafs, who checked tightly and clogged up shooting lanes. In total, Toronto blocked 17 of the Wild’s shot attempts before John Tavares added an empty-net goal at 19:35.
“We were in their zone, finishing checks, trying hard,” Boudreau said.
“But there was nothing being accomplished.”
Despite a 15-8-5 run to reach the halfway mark, the Wild is still shy of a playoff spot even though it’s in the race after starting out as a footnote in the Western Conference.
And to continue that improvement in the second half, it’s clear what the Wild must fix.
“We have to reset here and find the mojo back that brought us that confidence that we were tough to beat at home,” Koivu said. “We gotta find that again.”