SAINT PAUL, Minn. – After Saturday’s 5-4 overtime loss to Columbus, Wild coach Todd Richards said he expected his team to play like the professionals they are in their final 10 games, even with the team’s minuscule playoff hopes fading by the second.
When the final horn sounded at Xcel Energy Center on Sunday, Richards and the Wild were lucky that the majority of the 18,595 fans had filed out of the arena and were caught in traffic. If the paying customers not adorned in Habs’ gear had stuck it out to the end, the chorus of boos echoing from the rink’s rafters might have been accompanied with a shower of debris.
Montreal slaughtered the Wild, 8-1, extended Minnesota’s losing streak to a season-long six games (0-5-1) and probably even reserved the Wild a block of tee times at a local golf club for early April.
It was the most-lopsided loss in the Wild’s ten-year history, the most goals the franchise has ever allowed in St. Paul and, according to Richards, a display of the poorest execution the second-year coach had seen in his two years behind the bench.
Little about the Wild’s play resembled that of a professional hockey team. Greg Zanon missed a check just after the opening faceoff, allowing Montreal to jump out to a 1-0 lead 31 seconds in. Cal Clutterbuck coughed up a puck to Andrei Kostitsyn in front of his own net, who wired a shot over Jose Theodore’s glove six minutes later.
“We never really got going,” Zanon said. “It unraveled.”
Brent Burns got caught pinching in the second, resulting in a 2-on-0 rush, and even Richards admitted he was at fault for a bad decision on a Canadiens’ goal.
“Execution-wise, we weren’t good at all,” Richards said.
Theodore was yanked after giving up five goals on 19 shots, even though he wasn’t at fault for any of them. His replacement, Niklas Backstrom, let in three more tallies in relief.
Several key players on the Wild were minus-3 or minus-4 and the only excitement provided by the home team came when Mikko Koivu scored on a penalty shot to make the score 7-1 in the third.
Understandably, the recent stretch of losses, which has seen the Wild slip from the fringe of the playoffs to an 11th-place group sitting seven insurmountable points behind Anaheim for the West’s final postseason birth, has noticeably worn on the players and coaches, both physically and emotionally.
“When you get to this point in the season, when there is so much on the line, the lows are very low,” Richards said. “The highs aren’t high at all, but the lows are low.”
“It’s embarrassing how we finished the game,” Koivu added. “And it’s embarrassing how we played in front of our two goalies.”
PK Subban highlighted the night for the Canadiens, notching the first hat trick by a rookie defenseman in the 100-plus year history of the club.
Alex Auld stopped everything but the Koivu penalty shot. Even ex-Wild Benoit Pouliot collected three assists.
The thousands of Haboholics in attendance turned Xcel Energy Center into their own little party, serenading the building with chants and singing. And while they left happy, their favorite team left the Wild to ponder it’s “wild” freefall.
“They’re embarrassed by this tonight,” Richards said of Minnesota’s performance. “They’re going to come back, and we’ll be ready to go on Tuesday.”