One day after video of Mike Yeo’s practice blowup ended up on “SportsCenter,” Deadspin and other media platforms, the Wild followed the lackadaisical, sloppy, depressed practice with a lively, fast, pressure-filled effort against the Chicago Blackhawks.
And, it still wasn’t good enough.
Corey Crawford gave the Blackhawks the type of goaltending performance the Wild has rarely gotten this season. In a one-sided game from a scoring chance standpoint, the Wild constantly was stymied by Chicago’s No. 1 netminder during a 4-2 loss Thursday at Xcel Energy Center.
The Wild outshot Chicago 44-20, but Crawford made 42 saves — 35 in the final 40 minutes when the Wild outshot the Blackhawks 37-10. On the other end? When Bryan Bickell gave the Blackhawks their second two-goal lead of the game with the eventual winner early in the third, Niklas Backstrom had stopped 13 of 16 shots.
That’s par for the course this season. The Wild has allowed a league-low 26.8 shots per game, yet only Edmonton has a worse save percentage than the Wild’s .893.
“It was a goalie win,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said of Crawford. “They were the better team tonight for sure, and we dodged a bullet.”
With teammate Zach Parise home with family after the death of his father, J.P., the Wild tried to soldier on without its engine. It played desperate, it played hard, it deserved better.
Yet, the Wild fell for the ninth time in 11 games (2-5-4).
“It seems every goal we get, we have to grind so hard and work so hard to get it,” said Thomas Vanek, who had five shots and assisted on Jason Pominville’s 5-on-3 goal with 5:05 left to pull the Wild within one. “You tell yourself or each other, ‘It’s going to come, it’s going to come.’ We want to win. The passion, the effort I thought it was the best in a long time.
“We played a solid hockey game. We just have to be better finishing our chances, myself included.”
Seventeen of 18 skaters had at least one shot. Jordan Schroeder, whose speed on an all-Gophers line with Vanek and Erik Haula impressed Yeo, led with seven shots.
Jason Zucker, who scored his team-leading 15th goal in a career-high 21 minutes, 42 seconds to lead all forwards, and Charlie Coyle each had five shots. Defenseman Ryan Suter logged a hefty 33:22 (a season-high in regulation) and attempted 11 shots (seven were blocked).
“We want to put as much negative behind us as we can and tonight was a big step in the right direction,” Pominville said. “We responded [to Yeo’s fury] the right way. Our bench was positive, our room was good. We did a lot of good things to give us a chance to win.”
Added Zucker, “It’s tough. We played the right game. If we play like that, we’re going to win a lot of games. It’s tough not winning.”
One area that did kill was the power play. It went 1-for-5 but failed four times with a chance to tie.
Yeo hated losing but loved the Wild’s game. What he liked was the fact that the Wild didn’t fold when it trailed 2-0 after one period despite the better of the even-strength play. He felt the first goal by Patrick Sharp came off a lucky bounce, the second goal by Patrick Kane after a questionable five-minute major to Vanek for boarding.
But, Yeo said, “We continue to play and to me that’s the attitude that we need for our season. We fell short in the game, but we gave ourselves a great chance. We almost got there. We’re not satisfied with ‘almosts,’ but that’s what we need right now.”
There is a chance Parise returns to practice Friday and plays in weekend games. That’ll be completely up to him though.
“I’m just looking forward to having a chance to see him and give him a hug,” Pominville said.