ST. PAUL — Bruce Boudreau appeared to be wound tight following the Wild’s victory over the New York Rangers on Saturday night at Xcel Energy Center. The Wild coach was asked in various ways about the importance of a victory that had ended a three-game slide and ended up pulling Minnesota within two points of Arizona for the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference wild card race.
“How do I bottle it?” Boudreau said, repeating a question about the Wild’s performance. “I don’t know. I’ll be intense tomorrow. I’m hoping the players are, too.”
Count Boudreau among those who have watched the Wild enough to never assume anything. A hot streak can turn into a losing streak, a quality performance can be followed by an atrocious one and a team that appears desperate one night can look like a bunch of slackers the next. Knowing this, Boudreau already was nervous about which version of the Wild would show up on Sunday evening to face the New York Islanders at Xcel Energy Center.
So what did he get?
After a bit of a slow start, the Wild found their skating legs and took the game to the Islanders for much of the final two periods. The problem is the Islanders are not the Rangers — in other words they are good — and Brock Nelson’s goal 1 minute, 4 seconds into overtime gave New York a 3-2 victory after the Wild had rallied to tie the score on a power-play goal from Jared Spurgeon in the third period.
Boudreau was upset because Nelson’s goal came after Islanders center Mathew Barzal, who set-up the winner, jumped on the ice before teammate Cal Clutterbuck had reached the bench. Yet, there was no call.
“We played good, we played like we cared, we played like we wanted to win, the crowd was great,” Boudreau said. “The only thing is we didn’t get was the extra point, especially (since it was) 40 feet, too many men (on the Islanders). Who are we kidding here? If you look at it, the guy was at the top of the circle when the other guy came on the ice. So they obviously didn’t see it. So (it’s a) mistake.”
The Wild pulled within one point of Arizona for the last playoff spot in the conference but there are only nine games left in the season. Boudreau might have been frustrated with the officials, but his real angst has to be with a team that seems never to be satisfied unless it’s facing adversity.
The Wild might have been able to put a happy face on getting three out of four points over the weekend, if they had bothered to show up for their game a week ago Friday in Florida (a 6-2 loss) or last Thursday against Dallas (an embarrassing 4-1 loss). There was another loss sandwiched in between — a 3-0 defeat last Monday against San Jose to open a five-game homestand that will end Tuesday against Colorado.
The Avalanche beat New Jersey on Sunday and are sitting three points behind the Wild in a playoff race that looks as if it will go down to the wire. That’s why the second point on Sunday would have been so valuable and why Boudreau clearly remains nervous about how his players will respond. Who can blame the guy? The day before looking absolutely awful against a Florida team that won’t make the playoffs, the Wild went into Tampa Bay and shut out the best team in hockey.
“(The loss) stinks,” said Wild winger Ryan Donato, who lost a goal in the second period when it was ruled he interfered with New York goalie Thomas Greiss after he appeared to have tied the score at 1-1. “A lot of the guys put a good effort in. We’re not happy with it. We know we left a little bit on the table there. We made it to overtime. We did come back, we did battle back, we did play well at certain points. I think we can’t be satisfied with playing well at certain points. We’ve got to play well the whole game. … I think, for us, we’ve got to make sure we use that momentum we gained by playing that certain style of hockey and try to play a full 60 minutes of it.”
Donato began the game playing on the third line with Victor Rask and Pontus Aberg but eventually was shifted to the second line with Luke Kunin and Jordan Greenway. Donato, who had two goals on Saturday against the Rangers and now has four goals and nine assists in 13 games since being obtained from Boston for Charlie Coyle, also was moved to the first power-play unit during the game and assisted on both Minnesota goals with the man advantage.
Donato wasn’t the only member of the Wild who impressed against an Islanders team that is tied in points with Washington (91 apiece) atop the Metropolitan Division.
Spurgeon, as he has done so often, was outstanding all game, not only scoring the tying goal by coming down low to knock in the puck, but he also saved a goal by using his stick to block a shot by the Islanders’ Ryan Pulock that had gotten past goalie Alex Stalock and was headed for the open net. Spurgeon also helped to foil a breakaway by Barzal early in the third period by racing back after Suter was trapped in the New York zone.
Parise also was at his hustling and gritty best. His 25th goal of the season in the second period came on a nifty shot on which he managed to put his stick between his legs and knock the puck past Greiss. The 34-year-old Parise’s legs never stopped moving as he equaled his goal production from the 2015-16 season.
“It’s tough,” Parise said of only getting the consolation point that comes with an overtime loss. “I thought we played a great game. I felt like we spent a lot of time in the offensive zone. We had good legs, we moved the puck really well. I thought we controlled a lot of the game, so it’s difficult to not come away with two points out of that one.”
“The lost point hurts. I guess it’s that time of the year where you’ve got to get them. At the same time, that just feels probably as well as we’ve played in a while. You go through the game, I don’t think there’s that many things you can say we did poorly and that we need to do differently. They got that one in overtime and, unfortunately, with the standings there’s just not that breathing room. We need to get those.”
The issue is it’s difficult to get those against good teams like the Islanders. The Rangers are a non-playoff team that had played on Friday night in Calgary and were more than happy to go away when the Wild pressed them. The Islanders lost a one-goal game in Detroit on Saturday and were that much more motivated to play well on Sunday. Want proof? The Islanders gave up 34 shots to the Wild but they also blocked 22 and made it difficult for Minnesota to find good shooting lanes.
“I feel like the last two games we’ve been way more aggressive,” Parise said. “Before, sometimes, I felt like we played not to lose and we played just to defend and we’d wait and wait. I feel like the last couple games we’ve been way more aggressive on the offensive side. Sometimes we give up an odd-man rush, but that happens. You have to take some chances and try to score some goals, and I think there’s a reason why we drew six power plays tonight. We’re spending more time in the offensive zone. That has to do with being more aggressive.”
So is that the Wild team that will show up Tuesday to face Colorado? That more aggressive, hard-working bunch? Not even Boudreau knows for sure.