ST. PAUL — My non-hockey loving friends (that’s you Patrick Reusse and Phil Mackey) enjoy poking fun at the fact that many of us puck heads often place an emphasis on effort when dissecting why a team lost.
“Why can’t it be one team simply played better?” Reusse has asked on more than one occasion.
Well, Patrick, on Tuesday night at Xcel Energy Center that was exactly the case. The Minnesota Wild’s 3-1 loss to Colorado had nothing to do with a lack of effort or not showing up. It had everything to do with the fact that the Avalanche were the quicker team that capitalized on more of its chances than the Wild.
A loss that dealt a major blow to the Wild’s playoff chances was as simple as that.
The Wild opened their five game homestand a week ago Monday with a lackluster 3-0 loss to the San Jose Sharks and followed that with a pathetic performance in a 4-1 loss to Dallas. The Wild simply did not show up for that game.
Minnesota bounced back with a 5-2 victory over a poor New York Rangers team on Saturday and then lost 3-2 in overtime on Sunday to the New York Islanders. The Wild played a solid game against the Islanders, who are second in the Metropolitan Division with 91 points, but New York is an excellent team.
The Wild entered Tuesday with a chance to move a point ahead of Arizona and into the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. But the Avalanche were only three points behind Minnesota. By the end of the night, the Wild remained out of a playoff spot and the Avalanche were breathing down their neck.
Defenseman Tyson Barrie (first period), center Tyson Jost (second period) and defenseman Ian Cole (third period, into an open net) scored for the Avs. Zach Parise’s 26th goal of the season, which came early in the second period on the power play, had tied the score at 1-1 and ended up being the Wild’s only goal of the night.
There were scattered boos from those who remained in the announced crowd of 18,785 at the X as the final horn sounded, but those jeers likely were for a season filled with frustrating performances. While the Wild ended up picking up only three of a possible 10 points on their longest homestand of the season, the lack of success did not come as a shock.
The Wild have been a lousy team on home ice this season. Tuesday’s loss dropped them to 15-16-7 at Xcel Energy Center, including 2-7-4 in their past 13 at home. Last season, the Wild finished 27-6-8 on home ice en route to compiling 101 points. That gave the Wild their sixth consecutive playoff berth and gave Boudreau consecutive 100-plus point seasons in his first two years behind the Minnesota bench.
That streak will come to an end this season and there appears a good chance so will the Wild’s run of playoff appearances. Minnesota will play in Washington on Friday and Carolina on Saturday before closing the season with a home game against Nashville, road games at Vegas and Arizona, home games against Winnipeg and Boston and then a road game at Dallas. Each of those teams currently holds a playoff spot.
The Wild must begin capitalizing far more than they did in being outscored 15-9 in the past five games. Especially since five of those goals came against the Rangers. The Wild had numerous chances on Tuesday, but Avalanche goalie Philipp Grubauer was outstanding — a fantastic pad save on Pontus Aberg with 8:27 left in the third might have been his best stop — and he also got some help when Jason Zucker had the puck on his backhand with a wide open net but slid the puck past the goalmouth.
Zucker, Parise and Ryan Donato finished with five shots apiece. It wasn’t enough. The Avalanche were able to score when it mattered and clearly had more speed than Minnesota.
But for those who get tired of hockey fans blaming losses on lack of effort, Tuesday was a night to rejoice. The Wild did not lose because their effort was lacking, they lost because Colorado was simply the better team.