ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Wild provided another lesson Tuesday night about why they are such a difficult team to trust and why those who buy into them so often come away disappointed.
Sitting in a second place tie with Colorado in the competitive Central Division, five points behind the Nashville Predators, the Wild were 20 minutes away from finishing off the Arizona Coyotes at Xcel Energy Center. Arizona was 2-6-2 in its past 10 games, trailed by two goals after two periods, had one shot in the second and seven shots through 40 minutes. Oh, and the Coyotes had to replace injured goalie Antti Raanta after the second with recently recalled Adin Hill.
Somehow, though, the Wild gave up three third-period goals to the Coyotes in an embarrassing 4-3 defeat that is sure to leave a mark. Looking for the guilty parties in this one? You could have picked almost anyone in a green jersey.
Goalie Devan Dubnyk stopped only 10 of 14 shots. The defensive pairing of Jonas Brodin and Matt Dumba were on the ice for all four goals by the Coyotes and finished the night as minus-4s. The fourth line of Eric Fehr, Nino Niederreiter and J.T. Brown were all minus-3s. None of this can happen against a team like the Coyotes and yet all of it did.
“I don’t know if we got complacent or what but that shouldn’t happen. Period,” said Wild winger Charlie Coyle, whose first-period goal tied the score at 1-1.
The loss continued a troubling third-period trend at home for the Wild. The Buffalo Sabres trailed the Wild 2-1 in the third on Nov. 17, but got goals at 12 minutes, 58 second and at 18:30 to leave with a victory.
The Wild lost the following night in Chicago, but then held a 4-1 lead entering the third period against Ottawa on the night before Thanksgiving at the X. The Senators scored three goals in the first 12:55 of the period to tie the score before Wild coach Bruce Boudreau pulled starting goalie Devan Dubnyk in favor of Alex Stalock. The move worked as Eric Staal quickly scored to give Minnesota the lead back en route to a 6-4 victory.
Minnesota trailed 2-0 against visiting Winnipeg the day after Thanksgiving but rallied for four goals in the final period for an impressive victory. That created a false sense of security that everything was fine, but that proved to be far from the case on Tuesday.
“We can’t keep letting that stuff slip away,” Coyle said. “These points are too important. It might not look like a big deal now but we know it is. We need to set ourselves up here and we can’t do it playing like that, finishing a game like that.”
Coyle is right. The Central Division and Western Conference are extremely competitive and the two points the Wild gave away on Tuesday easily could come back to haunt them in the spring.
So what happened?
“I think they got that goal in the third and they looked around and said, ‘Holy crap, we’re in the game! Let’s win it,'” Boudreau said. “Because they hadn’t been in a game in a long time. So they picked it up, they were playing for their young goalie, and we stood around and did nothing.”
The Wild had only five shots in the final period — the Coyotes had seven — and lacked any of the spark with which they played against the Jets.
“Well it probably got them into overconfidence, if anything,” Boudreau said of the Wild’s dominating second period on Tuesday. “They said it’s going to be a 6-1 game. There’s a young goalie who’s never played before, or played one period before, and coming in we’ve got a 3-1 lead. We’re just going to take this. It’s the NHL, you can’t sit back and you can’t play like that or you’re going to get beat every single time.”
Although there was plenty to be concerned about, the main topic afterward was the play of Dubnyk. The veteran goalie is one of the biggest reasons the Wild was able to get so many points early in the season and he singlehandedly held the team in many games. But he was clearly flustered after being lifted against Ottawa, missed the Jets game because of illness and looked like he was fighting the puck on Tuesday.
Dubnyk was at a loss for words following the defeat. Asked to explain what had happened, he responded “I don’t know,” three times.
Arizona took a 1-0 lead at 4:49 of the opening period on a Lawson Crouse shot off a faceoff in the Wild zone that beat Dubnyk to the blocker side. The Coyotes pulled within 3-2 early in the third period on Josh Archibald’s shot from the slot that also beat Dubnyk high to the blocker side. That goal came as a result of a terrible turnover by Brodin in his own end.
Michael Grabner tied the score at 3-3 at 7:02 of the third on the Coyotes’ 12th shot of the game when he was left alone in front and shoveled the puck past Dubnyk. Arizona’s final goal came with the Wild sound asleep on defense. Alex Goligoski moved to his left behind his own net and sent a long pass to Archibald at the Wild blue line.
Archibald had a step on Dumba and came flying into the Wild zone as Dubnyk attempted to come out and make a sprawling play. The only problem was Dubnyk never came close to the puck and Archibald buried it past him.
Boudreau said there was never a point in the game when he considered pulling Dubnyk, although it certainly would have been justified, even if it had been for the purpose of waking up the rest of the team.
Dubnyk, meanwhile, attempted to downplay any confidence issues he might be having.
“To be honest, everybody is asking me about the (Ottawa) game. I felt fine,” he said. “It was a couple of quick plays and what happened, happened. I wasn’t too worried and then it was 3-1 going into the third period tonight. It’s frustrating.
“The most important thing is to not … you start letting it get to you, you start letting it change what you’re doing or change your thought process … I felt extremely good all year just as far as plays and different situations in the game so it’s a strange little three-game stretch here. The worst thing you can do is let it affect the things that have been going well all year. It becomes a challenge, that’s part of sports and you’ve got to work a little harder to make sure you don’t go changing anything but that’s part of it.”
Boudreau said he’s “always concerned” when asked about Dubnyk’s recent play, before adding, “I’m concerned by more than one player at this point. There was a couple defensemen that were minus-4 tonight. We talk about making bad decisions … ”
Boudreau’s reluctance to single out one player was understandable considering the fact this was a complete meltdown. The issue now will be what the Wild learned from this. Of course, Boudreau had hoped blowing the lead against the Senators and then rebounding to win would have been the only lesson this group needed. He should have known better.
“I was hoping the Ottawa game would be the teaching … thing,” he said. “This was just, not giving up in the sense of giving up, but I mean, taking everything for granted that you think you’ve got things going and you don’t. It was a horrible third period.”
It was a horrible loss and just the latest lesson in why it’s so difficult to trust this team.