Myers: Wild lose in shootout, but stay solidly in playoff hunt
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ST. PAUL, Minn. -- On Saturday night, the Columbus Blue Jackets were back at Xcel Energy Center for the first time since a road win late last season which many have been the highlight of their year - and also may have kept them out of the playoffs.
In the end, it was a near-replay of that game a year ago, with much different implications this time. Jason Pominville got the only goal in regulation for the Wild, who lost 2-1 in a shootout after Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky once again stood on his head, stopping 32 Wild shots.
On Thursday the Wild won, snapping a three-game losing streak. On Saturday the Wild lost for the third time in four games, but have earned a point in 15 of 18 games, to stay solidly in the thick of the playoff hunt.
Confused? You shouldn't be by now, as the new world of NHL hockey, where it's frankly difficult to come away without a point if you are at all a competitive team, has been upon us for some time.
Since the radical revamping of NHL hockey after a lockout killed the 2004-05 season and the adoption of the shootout to break ties, every game is worth two points, unless it's worth three points. Winners always get two points, whether their victory comes in a regulation, in overtime or in a shootout. Losers in regulation go home with nothing, but if you lose in overtime, or in a shootout, you get a consolation point for your trouble. And those points can get you into the playoffs.
Hence, on April 13 of last season, when they Blue Jackets gutted out a 3-2 shootout win over the Wild, the 39 saves recorded by Bobrovsky are a big reason why he was named the NHL's top goalie at season's end. And the one point salvaged by the Wild for getting past regulation allowed them to finish the regular season one point ahead of the Blue Jackets, capturing the final Western Conference playoff spot.
"Bob was very good, Bob's obviously great in this building, two games in a row, he stood tall," said Columbus coach Todd Richards after Saturday's game. His team has since been moved to the Eastern Conference, and looks like a lock for the playoffs this season. "We kind of held down the fort in the third. We were competing in certain areas, we needed to be better, we needed to be harder, but in the end we got two points."
And in a bit of a rarity, it was a game where both coaches emerged optimistic.
"You lose in a shootout and it paints an ugly picture. I'm actually happy with the way our guys battled in this game," said Wild coach Mike Yeo. "I don't want to sit up here and talk about chances but I thought we generated some great quality chances tonight. I thought we defended hard. You're going to make a mistake here and there and unfortunately when you play a game and a goalie plays like that, one or two mistakes are more glaring. But that said, our guys put a lot into this game so we just have to take it."
The optimism from the Wild comes not only from the fact that they out-played Columbus for long stretches and were once again un-done by Bobrovsky - last seen by most Minnesotans giving up four shootout goals to T.J. Oshie in the Olympics - but also by the fact that getting a point (as the Wild have done in three of their last four losses) keeps them moving forward in the race for the Western Conference playoffs.
"It's weird, yeah we did lose three of four. But those are big points for us at the same time, so there's a couple ways to look at it," said Zach Parise, reflecting on the 1-0-3 homestand before the Wild heads off to play eight of the next 10 on the road. "Unfortunately, it's still a loss. You still have that losing feeling. It's too bad because we played pretty decent in a few of the games we lost."
In this "bonus point" incarnation of the NHL's way of managing the standings, playing pretty decent often gets you a point, even in a loss. And getting a point enough times gets you in the playoffs, as the Wild have proven.