SAINT PAUL, Minn. – When the Wild traveled to Winnipeg to play its first game against the new-look Jets in mid December, it was on top of the hockey world.
The Winnipeggers beat Minnesota 2-1 that night, sending the Wild on an epic tailspin that has seen it go from first place in the NHL to 12th in the Western Conference.
After Thursday’s rematch, the Jets might have put the proverbial nail in the coffin.
Winnipeg took advantage of several key errors and lapses by the Wild, held on in a crazy third period and escaped St. Paul with a 4-3 shootout victory in front of 19,060 at Xcel Energy Center.
Sure, the Wild earned a point to stay within four of the final playoff spot in the West. But it was a game in which they could have – and probably should have – added a pair of precious points.
“You can’t get frustrated, but right now its tough to swallow. Tonight you sit on it, but you come back again tomorrow, and you got to keep your spirits up,” said Devin Setoguchi, who tallied a pair of goals. “Once again it’s just one or two plays where we could of put one in, could have scored a goal, could have stopped one. Obviously its disappointing when those situations are happening.”
Those situations seemed like the norm during a stretch from the middle part of the first until the start of the third. The Wild only managed to record a handful of shots during that phase, gave up two goals on defensive breakdowns and was reeling to keep Winnipeg from pulling ahead.
“When you play a team like that, there is going to be times where you turn the puck over, there’s going to be times where it looks less than pretty,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said. “We had a tough time generated any kind of speed through the neutral zone, got a little flat footed, and we started to turn over a few too many pucks.
Setoguchi’s goals on either side of two Evander Kane markers somehow kept the Wild in it.
When the third began, it looked like Minnesota was going to be saved from its casual play. Mikko Koivu scored just 63 seconds in on a second-effort to give the Wild a 3-2 lead following a glorious shift from the top-line.
After that, the Wild fans were into it, the building was rocking and it appeared as though Minnesota would prevail.
But another breakdown gave Alexander Burmistrov free reign in front of Niklas Backstrom’s crease, and he batted home the tying goal after Nick Schultz failed to connect with a clearing attempt.
The Wild pressed tirelessly for the go-ahead goal late, but got robbed by Chris Mason.
Kane sniped Backstrom in the shootout after Eric Christiensen forced extra rounds, and that was that.
So where does the Wild go from here?
“We’re coming I think. We just got to start gripping the stick a little looser,” Wild forward Nick Johnson said. “It’s coming along. We don’t really have a whole lot to lose. It’s going well, everyone’s happy.”
“You think ‘We didn’t get the extra point tonight, we’re out of the playoffs.’ What’s the point of that? We can’t lose a couple in a row, but we just need to play good hockey down the stretch.”
Minnesota, which is on a six-game skid, plays in St. Louis on Saturday.