No Clutter: Wild loses its hits leader and its game to Buffalo
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ST. PAUL, Minn. -- You look down the Minnesota Wild bench in tight games, with the playoffs still within reach but seemingly fading away. With games close and the Wild needing an offensive spark, you look for the likes of Mikko Koivu or Cal Clutterbuck to supply some jump -- a big hit, a drive to the net, a nice set-up pass or something in that vein.
Then you look a second time, and a third, and neither is there. And when it's all over, a point is earned but not a win. This was the case Sunday, in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Buffalo Sabres. The Wild battled back from a 2-0 hole to forge a tie and go to overtime, only to see Buffalo's Drew Stafford, the Hastings native and North Dakota alum, cut hard to the Wild net a stuff a puck past Jose Theodore.
"It was the end of a shift and I didn't have too much left, but I tried going hard to the net, and good things happen when you go to the net," said Stafford as he shuffled off to meet a few dozen friends and family waiting for him outside the locker room.
The Wild's worst break came not in this game, but two games ago. The Islanders' Trevor Gillies hit Clutterbuck up high during the Wild's 4-1 loss on Long Island last Wednesday, earning a 10-game suspension. Clutterbuck played the next night, in a win versus the Rangers, but was out of the lineup Sunday with what was termed an "upper body injury" and is more than likely a collision.
"No one hits like Clutter does in the entire league, so we're missing his physical presence," said John Madden. "That's really something we could use at this time of year. He's out of the lineup and Mikko's out of the lineup, but we've got to find ways to play and score goals. That's the bottom line.
Team officials have not revealed how long they think Clutterbuck will be out of action, and despite the player sitting in the pressbox for part of the game, he was not made available to the media. Clutterbuck is second on the team in goals with 18 and leads the NHL in hits.
"Cal was a guy that drives us," Wild coach Todd Richards said, acknowledging that others need to step up to fill those holes. One bright spark in that regard was Warren Peters, who scored his first goal as a member of the team, and just his third in the NHL, to get the Wild on the board in the second period.
"I liked his game tonight," Richards said. "I thought he brought some physical energy and he was really good on faceoffs and scores a huge goal. Not that we're looking for offense, but it's always nice when he can chip in or the guys on that fourth line can chip in offensively."
The trouble started early for the Wild, as Buffalo scored on its first shot of the game, just 83 seconds into the game. A bad turnover by Brent Burns sprung the Sabres on an odd-man rush, capped off by Jason Pominville's tap-in past Theodore, who finished with 30 saves in his first home start in nearly two months.
Down 2-0, Peters got the Wild on the board and Marek Zidlicky, just seconds after an embarrassing whiff at a set-up pass on the blue line, slapped one past Buffalo goalie Jhonas Enroth, scoring for the first time since early December to tie the game 2-2.
The Wild is now 6-2-2 in its last 10 games at home, but has lost three out of four and had fallen into 11th place in the Western Conference before the game. Still, with a messy jumble of teams between sixth and 11th, the point earned for getting to overtime moved the Wild just one win shy of overtaking the Kings for the eighth and final playoff spot.
"Not good enough. We need two points," Madden said. "We played good in stretches, but we need to step up and grab two points. That was out game to win."
The Wild's next chance for those elusive two points comes Tuesday and a home date with the slumping Colorado Avalanche.