GLENDALE, Ariz. – Crunch the numbers in just the right way, and there’s a formula for the Wild to still squeak into the playoffs.
But a 4-0 loss to Arizona on Sunday in front of 17,431 at Gila River Arena felt like it was the final blow to extinguish the Wild’s hopes. The team remains four points back of the Avalanche for the second wild-card spot and three points shy of Arizona with three games left on the schedule.
“You can see the standings,” center Eric Staal said. “We’re not stupid. This was big. It hurts to lose it.”
A win by Colorado on Monday over St. Louis followed by a loss Tuesday at home to Winnipeg would eliminate the Wild. It would be the team’s first playoff absence in seven years, and a former Wild player was a major reason why the team is on the brink of that reality.
Goalie Darcy Kuemper pitched a 36-save shutout on Sunday, continuing his second-half surge that has the Coyotes legitimately challenging the Avalanche for that final berth.
Still, as steady as Kuemper was, he didn’t look unbeatable — a missed opportunity that highlights what has been a season-long problem for the Wild. This was the fourth game in the past six the team hasn’t registered more than one goal. Its 2.59 goals-per-game average ranks 27th in the NHL.
“I thought we played a good hockey game,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “I thought we outplayed them. But if you don’t score, it doesn’t mean anything.”
Winger Alex Galchenyuk gave the Coyotes a 1-0 lead after he buried a rebound 7 minutes, 48 seconds into the first period, but the Wild had more than enough chances to overcome that deficit in the second period. Late in the period, it had a relentless 3:30 push that included a shot by center Joel Eriksson Ek, two tries from winger Ryan Donato, three pucks that sailed wide and a tip by winger Kevin Fiala.
And that lack of execution proved costly. Josh Archibald lifted the puck over goalie Devan Dubnyk off the rush with 43 seconds left in the second to double Arizona’s advantage.
“That was a really tough one to give up there with a minute left in the second with the period we had going,” Staal said. “But you’ve got to find a way to score goals.”
The third period followed a similar script, with the Wild heaving pucks toward the net and Kuemper keeping them out.
Overall, the team had 78 shot attempts during its ninth shutout of the season. The power play went 0-for-3, as did the Coyotes’. Dubnyk finished with 19 saves, with Arizona’s last two goals empty-netters — from Brainerd High product Archibald at 18:10 and winger Vinnie Hinostroza with nine seconds to go.
“Morale is low,” Donato said. “… Guys are definitely not happy about their performance.
“Although we can sit here and say, ‘Oh, we had all those great chances,’ they got the win and that gets them the best chance of making the playoffs. We allowed them to do that, and we can’t put the blame on anybody else but ourselves.”
The same goes for the entire season, which likely will be remembered as hitting its expiration date Sunday — even if the math says otherwise.
“We’re not going to give up,” defenseman Ryan Suter said.
“We’re going to keep fighting until the end. We’ll play until they tell us we can’t anymore. We’re going to work and battle and do all the things we’ve been doing. Hopefully we score a few more.”