Wild blow golden opportunity to get playoff advantage: ‘One we might wish we had back’

It didn’t sound like there would be any rest for the weary during the final two home games, but that especially could be the case now that the Wild allowed their 13-game home points streak and 10-game overall points streak to explode Tuesday night at the hands of the worst team in the Western Conference and one of the worst in the NHL.

“We want home ice,” Wild general manager Bill Guerin said during the “Worst Seats in the House” podcast. “Anytime you get a chance to earn something or win something or do something that could help us, we’re going to do it.”

Guerin’s comments came one night before the Wild blew a golden opportunity against a Central Division opponent that’s usually a free space on their bingo card, the Arizona Coyotes, who were winless in 10 consecutive games and hemorrhaging goals against.

But in a disappointing effort, the Wild lost 5-3 on a night when the St. Louis Blues’ 16-game points streak ended in Colorado. Had the Wild won, they would have needed just one point in their final two games to secure home-ice advantage in their first-round matchup with the Blues.

Now we won’t know where the series is starting until Friday – the final day of their regular seasons. The teams are tied with 109 points with the Wild hosting Calgary and Colorado on Thursday and Friday. The Blues host Vegas on Friday night. If the teams tie in points, the series will start in St. Louis.

“It’s a tough one, obviously, one we’re gonna do – hopefully not, but one we might wish we had back,” said left wing Jordan Greenway, who returned after missing seven games because of an upper-body injury.

Guerin believes home ice would set the stage for a great series. It would put an exclamation on a terrific season but also allow the Wild to start in front of an electric atmosphere and give them a tactical advantage, like the last change and the ability to dictate matchups.

“If we just started resting guys and not trying to get home ice, what would our players say, what would our fan base say?” Guerin said. “They’d be like, ‘What the heck? What are you doing? You’re just giving St. Louis home ice. ‘ No, we’re not going to do that. We’re not giving them anything. ”

But the Wild didn’t take care of business Tuesday night against a team they were 25-5-3 against in the previous 33 meetings and one that entered with 51 points, tied for the fewest in the NHL. Desperately missing defensemen Jared Spurgeon and Matt Dumba and playmaker Mats Zuccarello on the power play, the Wild went 0-for-6 with five shots on goal. Then, after rallying down 3-1 in the third period on goals by Joel Eriksson Ek and Marcus Foligno 24 seconds apart, the Wild surrendered a power-play goal to former University of Minnesota forward Travis Boyd midway through the period.

Coach Dean Evason challenged offside, feeling Arizona’s Nick Schmaltz forced teammate Shayne Gostisbehere over the line. After a long review by the linesmen and the NHL Situation Room in Toronto, the goal was upheld because the league said there was no conclusive video evidence to show Gostisbehere preceded the puck into the zone.

“It’s still frustrating because we just went back and watched it and it’s offside. It’s offside, ”Evason insisted. “We had a call this year where they couldn’t see the puck in the net and they said it was common sense that the puck’s in the net. Well, common sense… and we have two angles and we did both and we flipped it back. One, the puck’s not over, and the other his skate’s off. So I don’t know how they do their video, but our video shows that he’s offside. “

Regardless, Evason wasn’t using the lost challenge on Arizona’s winning goal as an excuse.

“Power play’s been good (lately). Obviously, it sucked, ”Evason said. “Listen, our whole game sucked tonight. We got what we deserved. “It’s hard to find a good player here tonight.”

One of those players who fell on the knife was goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who got a third consecutive start.

There are two ways to look at the rationale to start Fleury again: The Wild were either trying to get him into a groove to start Game 1 of the playoffs Monday or they’re giving fellow veteran Cam Talbot a rest if they’re planning on his starting the series.

Fleury, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, came to Minnesota last month with the playoff pedigree of 90 wins and three Stanley Cups. But Talbot is 12-0-3 in his past 15 starts and hasn’t lost in regulation since March 1.

Fleury is 5-2 in his past seven – but with a 3.59 goals-against average and an .881 save percentage.

“Personally, I’ve got to be better,” he said. “I feel like I’m giving up a lot of goals lately. It’s making me mad. … I feel like there’s always a goal a night that I can have. It makes a difference for our team. There’s some good saves in there. Still, it’s too many goals. I can’t be giving up this much and expecting our team to win every night. Just have to clean that. ”

He’ll obviously start one of the last two games, but one wonders if his recent erratic play will cause the Wild to start the playoffs with Talbot between the pipes.

“Everything weighs into our decision,” Evason said. “We’ll have to watch the goals again and talk as a group. We’re going to have a difficult decision. When I said there wasn’t one good player on our hockey club, we could talk to every one of the guys and say they didn’t play well. We couldn’t go through the entire lineup from the goalie to every other player on the team. “

The Wild hoped to get a boost from the returns of Greenway and Foligno, who missed the previous four games after he, his wife and kids caught COVID-19. But the Wild looked like they were skating in slush the first two periods and couldn’t build on Ryan Hartman’s 34th goal 11:05 into the first.

Power play after power play – three drawn by Kevin Fiala – was wasted as players, especially Fiala, overpassed pucks and coughed them up left and right. It’s a shame because the power play could easily have blown the game wide open.

“We started slow, didn’t win enough battles to play with the puck and they got energy from feeling they were in the game, and we let them dictate pretty much how they wanted to play the game,” Eriksson Ek said. “That’s not what we want to do.”

Or, as teammate Jonas Brodin said more bluntly, “This is a game we’ve got to win.”

After the Coyotes tied the score 1-1 late in the second period, they stunned the Wild with two goals in the opening seconds of the third period, including the first NHL goal from Jack McBain, the 2018 Wild third-round pick who snubbed the team last month by refusing to sign with the organization because he felt it was too deep at center. The Wild, at least, were able to trade his rights for a second-round pick.

But when Eriksson Ek and Foligno tied the score so quickly, it just felt like the Wild, who have mastered the art of the comeback all season, were in prime position to do it again against a fragile opponent.

It wouldn’t happen despite the Wild saying all the right things earlier in the day, like that the lowly Coyotes are still in the same league as them and they better put on their work boots later in the evening. Instead, the Wild paid for their lack of jump and intensity early in the game. Fiala’s 10-game point streak ended, while Kirill Kaprizov celebrated his 25th birthday with two assists to give him 105 points on the season.

“The easy answer is we got full of ourselves, reading our press clippings and all of that. Maybe that happened, ”Evason said. “It will be addressed, obviously. The positive thing is it’s uncharacteristic for us. We will fully expect our group to respond to the next game. ”

We’ll see if the Wild can get Dumba, Zuccarello or Spurgeon back Thursday or Friday. Spurgeon got hurt Sunday night in Nashville, and Evason said earlier Tuesday that they were encouraged by how Spurgeon was feeling and that his injury isn’t as serious as initially feared.

They’d better hope so because the Wild will need a full cast of healthy players to beat the Blues.

“This was maybe a good team for us to get two points here trying to get a little lead on St. Louis, ”Fleury said. “That’s why it’s a little more sour to lose that one.”

(Photo: Bruce Kluckhohn / Getty Images)

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