That’s the Minnesota Wild’s record following the All-Star break and the subsequent five-day bye after the team lost in a shootout Tuesday night in Buffalo 5-4.
Both teams were coming off losses in their previous matchups and the Wild injected a couple of fresh faces into the lineup, looking for a spark. Luke Kunin made his return to the lineup after a stint in Iowa along with call-up Kyle Rau playing in his first game up this season. On defense, newly acquired Anthony Bitetto made his Minnesota Wild debut. The fresh faces helped the Wild earn a point, but in the end, fell short in grabbing the second point.
The first period was a sloppy period for both teams. Both the Wild and Sabres looked lackadaisical. Passes were’t crisp and most skaters in both white and navy looked a bit sluggish. The first frame consisted of one goal between the two teams.
Unfortunately, the Buffalo Sabres were first to break the tie. Early in the first, forward Evan Rodrigues notched his seventh goal of the season on the power-play with the assists coming from Rasmus Ristolainen and Jack Eichel. Sabres forward Kyle Okposo was camped out in front of Devan Dubnyk when Rodrigues let go of a wrister from the top of the right circle beating the Wild net minder glove side.
Down 1-0 and about halfway through the first period, one of the Minnesota Wild’s faithful soldiers went down in the heat of battle. Mikko Koivu collided knee on knee with Sabres forward Tase Thompson in the neutral zone. Koivu exited the game and sadly did not return. After the game, Koivu was spotted leaving the arena in crutches. Not good Wild fans, not good at all going forward. The timetable is uncertain, but in the meanwhile, Joel Eriksson Ek was a late scratch for the Iowa Wild in San Jose. JEEK will be on his way back to Minnesota with Mikko Koivu injured.
Quickly following Koivu exiting down the tunnel with just under six minutes left in the first, Marcus Foligno had a great opportunity to tie the game up at one when he intercepted a Lawrence Pilut pass, giving Foligno a shot in the slot alone against Sabres goaltender Linus Ullmark. Let’s get this clear though, Foligno is not a goal scorer, if he was the goal light would have gone off. Instead, Foligno appears to get robbed by windmilling Ullmark. I must say, a great individual effort by the Sabres goaltender and not looking too shabby in the process.
The Wild finished the first period down by a goal and got outshot 11-10.
The second period was where the real fun began. The game opened up, got faster, and more competitive. Oh yeah, and the Wild scored; not one, not two but three second period goals. From the start of the period, the Wild looked like a completely different team than the one that came out in the first. I don’t know if it was a Bruce Boudreau pep talk (aka lighting a fire under the team’s ass) or something else but the Wild woke up.
Seven minutes into the middle frame Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon gave a nod to the soon to start spring training Minnesota Twins, as he batted a deflected Mikael Granlund pass out of the air past a shocked Ullmark in net. Jason Zucker picked up the secondary assist on Spurgeon’s ninth goal of the season.
The momentum from the Spurgeon’s goal didn’t last too long as the opportunistic Sabres capitalized minutes later after a horrendous defensive breakdown by Greg Pateryn and Victor Rask. Rask points to Pateryn to take the crashing Buffalo forward, but Pateryn misread the play completely. C.J. Smith took advantage of the defensive miscommunication and buried his second goal of the season on a nice dish from Sam Reinhart to get Buffalo the lead back.
Quickly thereafter, The Wild had yet another breakdown. This time it was defenseman Jonas Brodin’s turn. Brodin turned over the puck that lead to an ensuing 2-on-0 for Sabres forwards Reinhart and Rodrigues. Reinhart passed to Rodrigues, who got a shot off, but Dubnyk stood tall and came up with a big stop. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of the series following the Brodin turnover as the Wild defenseman took a slashing penalty to put the Sabres up a man for the second time in the hockey game.
And boy did the Sabres make Brodin pay. Fellow Swede and rookie defenseman Rasmus Dahlin scored a beautiful goal from the point on the power-play. Eichel slid it over and Dahlin who pump faked once, then patiently waited for more traffic in front before sending a wrister whistling by Dubnyk to put the Sabres up 3-1.
Minnesota had 10 of the first 11 shots in the second period, but Buffalo followed that up with six shots in a row, including the goals from Smith and Dahlin.
It was the Wild’s turn to answer back yet again. Jared Spurgeon scored his 10th goal of the season with a wrap-around goal, beating a sliding Ullmark. Tuesday night’s two-goal performance marked Spurgeon’s third multi-goal game of the year, while also becoming just the second defenseman in Minnesota Wild history to hit the 10-goal mark in three seasons. The other is Matt Dumba (..sigh) with four, including this season. Spurgeon’s goal also has given Wild defensemen the NHL lead with 35 goals.
Following Spurgeon’s second goal of the game, Minnesota kept rolling and scored a beautiful team goal. Following a great shift from the Rask, Foligno, and Jordan Greenway, Charlie Coyle crashed the net to bury his 10th of year with the assists going to Kunin and Pateryn. Jordan Greenway did a tremendous job protecting the puck along the boards in the offensive zone (shocker, I know..) to let Rask and Foligno change prior to the goal. With the assist, Luke Kunin made it his 3rd career multi-assist game.
The Wild outshot the Sabres 19-11 in the second period and found themselves tied 3-3 heading into the third.
The third period was a little less eventful than the second, but there was a feud between Wild forward Marcus Foligno and Sabres forward Jeff Skinner, which was fun to watch. The two got into it prior to a neutral zone face off, which led to Foligno blowing up Sabres defenseman Lawrence Pilut. That then led to Skinner rifling the puck at Foligno while going off on a line change. Keep in mind this all happened in a span of about 45 seconds. Then, the chirping began..
The Sabres got back in front again shortly following the Foligno-Skinner feud in the third period. Parise failed to clear the puck out of the zone, which led to Jake McCabe dishing a nice feed to Reinhart at the back door to give his team a 4-3 lead. Once again, the Sabres take advantage of a Wild mistake.
Jonas Brodin came close to trying the game with two minutes to go, nearly beating Ullmark. Coyle fed Brodin in the slot and he got off a rather weak shot but it came close to sneaking past the Sabres net minder. The Wild were an Ullmark toe save away from tying the game up at four a piece.
That wasn’t the end of the Wild’s night though, as Zach “The Bus Driver” Parise had a little extra gas in the tank. The Wild would tie the game up with 97 seconds left in the third period with Dubnyk pulled for an extra attacker. The power-play didn’t click all night, yet with the extra attacker six on five the wild notched the game up at four.
Three periods were not enough, so the Wild and Sabres headed to overtime.
It was a very exciting five minutes of three on three hockey. The best chance in overtime came when Zach Parise was given a stretch pass by Ryan Suter that sent him in on a breakaway. Ullmark denied Parise the chance to win it for the Wild, making a blocker save. It got even more exciting when Suter won a defensive zone face-off. Yes, you read that right.
Three periods and overtime were not enough, so the Wild and Sabres headed to a shootout.
BUF Shooter #1 – Jack Eichel missed and hit the post.
MIN Shooter #1 – Victor Rask fumbled the puck and failed to even get a shot away. He had not partaken in a shootout since 2015-16 and is now 1 for 8 all-time. Boudreau on Rask starting the shootout, “there was a reason.” followed up by the reporter asking what the reason was. Boudreau then replied with the same answer, “there was a reason.”
BUF Shooter #2 – Casey Mittelstadt missed on a backhand to forehand deke.
MIN Shooter #2 – Jason Zucker missed trying to slide it five hole going forehand to backhand.
MIN Shooter #3 – Zach Parise floated a backhand over the net.
The Minnesota Wild fall short again, but still found a way to earn a point on a night that teams like Vancouver, Anaheim, Colorado, and Edmonton all lost in regulation. The Wild currently hold a three point lead in the first wild card position and have a game in hand on the Vancouver Canucks, who are currently in the second wild card position.
The Wild’s next game is back at home on Thursday against an Edmonton Oilers team that has gone 3-5-2 in their last ten games. But without Mikko Koivu, it might be a little bit difficult to minimize superstar, Connor McDavid.