DENVER – The Wild clapped back at the adversity that sapped its lineup last game, responding with its gutsiest performance so far this season in a 4-3 overtime win over Colorado on Sunday.
But when the team lost yet another player to injury — and an important one in captain Jared Spurgeon — the shorthanded Wild didn't have an answer this time and faded 2-1 to the Avalanche on Tuesday night at Ball Arena to drop to 1-2 in the four-game series that will wrap up Thursday.
"We were exhausted at the end," Wild coach Dean Evason said. "We got caught a couple of times in our zone, softer clears didn't get it out when we had opportunities and resulted in expending a lot of energy down there. We still had a couple of real good looks at the end. But from the back end, no question, [having only] five hurt us there at the end."
Spurgeon didn't play in the third period, leaving the game because of an upper-body injury, and Evason isn't sure how long Spurgeon will be out of commission.
The defenseman joins an already lengthy list of absent Wild players, with fellow blue liner Matt Dumba (lower body) and winger Marcus Johansson (upper body) also out because of injuries. Winger Marcus Foligno is sidelined because of the NHL's COVID protocols.
Winger Kevin Fiala also didn't suit up Tuesday, still serving a three-game suspension for boarding, but he'll be eligible to return Thursday.
"It's hard," defenseman Carson Soucy said. "Those guys are obviously elite players."
Spurgeon's exit coincided with the Wild's best push of the night.
After getting behind by a pair of goals — the first a Logan O'Connor shot off goalie Cam Talbot 17 minutes, 45 seconds into the first period, and the second a rebound buried by Valeri Nichushkin at 7:09 of the second — the Wild stole momentum away from the Avalanche.
The turning point came when taxi squad call-up Kyle Rau crunched Colorado's Cale Makar into the boards and was immediately challenged to a fight by J.T. Compher. Both players received fighting majors, but Compher received an extra two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct for initiating the bout.
"Anytime someone steps up and lays their body on the line like that with a good hit and a good fight," Soucy said, "it's going to get the boys going."
On the ensuing power play, rookie Kirill Kaprizov registered his first career power-play goal — a one-timer as he was falling to his knees at 13:05 of the second — that counted as the Wild's third power-play goal of the season in 42 tries. Overall, the Wild went 1-for-3 with the man advantage and the Avalanche was 0-for-3.
But when the Wild had to rely on only five defensemen in the third, fatigue set in. The team did generate some quality looks, but it lacked the finish to pull even with Colorado. Talbot totaled 29 saves, and Philipp Grubauer had 27 for the Avalanche.
"It was a really hard-fought hockey game that we felt could have went either way," Evason said.
The Wild will get a day to rest up and regroup before its last test against Colorado until mid-March, and it might have to assemble another patchwork lineup if Spurgeon can't play. Matt Bartkowski and Dakota Mermis are the defensemen on the taxi squad.
"Anytime you lose pieces of your team, especially huge pieces of your team like Spurge, it's tough," defenseman Ian Cole said. "There's obviously a huge hole there and you're not going to fill the holes of the guys that we've lost with just one guy. No one's going to step up and be Matt Dumba or Spurgeon or Marcus Johansson or Kevin Fiala.
"But we can do it by committee. We can step up and play a little bit better."