Goff: Wild hat trick: Stalock’s meltdown; disheartening loss; Kunin quietly excelling

The Wild held a one-goal lead and were less than five minutes from a third consecutive win on Monday night against Florida at Xcel Energy Center. That would have moved Minnesota within five points of a playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Coach Bruce Boudreau had said after Saturday’s shut out victory over Dallas that his team had a “conundrum” on its hands with Alex Stalock stringing together some impressive performances and it appeared he was going to continue to make it difficult for Boudreau to make a decision on who would start in goal. However, the final five minutes of Monday’s game put an end to Stalock’s hot streak. With 4:08 left in regulation, the South St. Paul native let in a soft-inexcusable goal to Vincent Trocheck.

As it appeared the game was heading into overtime, Noel Acciari’s deflection off Aaron Ekblad’s blast beat Stalock with 5.8 seconds remaining to give the Panthers a 5-4 victory.

“I want the fourth one back obviously,” Stalock said afterward. “Probably a different game. Tough bounce. Starts with giving up a soft fourth goal.”

Stalock had started three games in a row and if the script was flipped and the Wild walked out of the building with a 4-3 win, then it’s very likely Stalock remains in net Wednesday against the lowly Detroit Red Wings at Xcel Energy Center. Instead, it’s very likely Devan Dubnyk will make his first appearance since Jan. 14.

A ‘disheartening’ loss

Despite not leading until near midway through the third period, the Wild were going toe-to-toe with the best offensive team in the league. After going through a rut where they had one of the worst power-play units in the league, the Wild had 10 power-play goals since Dec. 31 to rank first in the NHL. Veteran Zach Parise has been a key cog on the man advantage. He has power-play goals in four consecutive games, including one in the third period to tie the score at 3.

So when you factor in the meltdown, a frustrated Parise acknowledged this was a tough way to lose. “Pretty disheartening,” he said. “From getting ourselves back into the driver’s seat and feeling like a few more shifts to close it out, to not getting a point out of it. That’s a tough one right now where we are. That’s a tough one to take.”

Parise is up to 19 goals on the season and is on track for another 30-goal campaign in his 15th NHL season.

Kunin flying under the radar

Although it’s tough way to lose, Monday provided another example of why Luke Kunin is easily having the most underappreciated season on the  Wild.

Kunin’s two goals on Monday gives him 12 on the season and he also has nine points (three goals and six assists) in his past 11 games. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the former University of Wisconsin captain reach 20 goals by season’s end, considering there are 33 games remaining.

After a gruesome leg injury in March of 2018 when he tore his ACL, Kunin is now getting his legs underneath him. “He’s been good for a few games now,” Boudreau said. “He’s got his legs going. I noticed a change in his skating, where it was before the (2018) leg injury. Now, it’s coming back to where it was at that point in time.”

Kunin easily could have had a hat trick Monday if it wasn’t for a spectacular save by Sergei Bobrovsky.