'This is not us,' Andrew Brunette says as Wild's winless streak hits 8
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ST. PAUL, Minn. - The melting snow on the streets outside Xcel Energy Center can hardly match the meltdown going on inside the rink these days.
Fresh off an 0-4-0 road trip, the Minnesota Wild's quiet exit from the playoff race continued on Saturday as the team capped an 0-3-1 homestand with a lifeless 6-3 loss to the St. Louis Blues.
But on this night, the post-game reaction went way beyond the normal mumbling about disappointment and bad puck luck. The door to the Wild locker room stayed closed for a full 30 minutes afterward, as players and coaches spoke in private. Coach Todd Richards emerged, eventually, and addressed the media, and players were tight-lipped about what had happened behind the closed door, but this has clearly become a team where simple survival, and not the playoffs, is now the goal with seven games to play.
"We're in a tough spot, without question. Not playing good hockey, at the time where you don't want to be playing bad hockey," Richards said. It was a rough day for the second-year coach, who woke to a headline in the Minneapolis paper stating that the time is running out on his job security. "We need to turn this thing around. It's not going to be one gigantic step forward. It's going to be some little things."
After an early lead on Saturday, the little things all broke badly, as Minnesotans like David Backes and T.J. Oshie had a much better time than the fans in attendance - many of whom were long gone before the final horn sounded. While the Blues were peppering Niklas Backstom with 47 shots on goal, the Wild managed just 16. Team captain Mikko Koivu said he was unable to focus on what had happened on the ice, and was more focused on the bigger picture and the gravity of the situation for the Wild right now.
"It's serious. It's a serious situation," he said. "I know it's a game of hockey, and in life there's a lot more serious things happening. You've got families and health and things like that off the hockey. But this is what we get paid for. This is our job and it's a huge part of our lives. We're responsible for that. We're responsible for each other in the room. We're responsible for the organization. We're responsible for the fans. Like I said, it's a real serious situation right now."
It's clearly most serious for Richards, who is looking more and more likely to take the fall for the team's late-season collapse. He denied thinking that the team has quit, talking about character and leadership. That will need to come from the veterans if anything is to be salvaged. John Madden said the realization has hit that the playoffs are out or reach, and the new focus is on a strong finish, and playing for pride - sentiments that teammates echoed.
"For us going forward, we have to hit the reset button and finish this," said Andrew Brunette. "This team, this is not what this team is. We are not what we played like on the ice the last little while. This is not us. We need to find that and finish the season off the right way, playing the way we're capable of for our teammates and this organization."
The Wild gets another crack at the Blues, and another chance to win a game, right away, traveling to St. Louis for one on Tuesday.