The Wild sought to take advantage of a Leafs squad without their star Auston Matthews, and wash the taste of the 2nd Period in Boston out of their mouths. No one more so than Devan Dubnyk, who was scheduled for a night off until Alex Stalock left the team to be with his wife Felicia for the birth of their second child. Mike Reilly was a late scratch for the Wild which gave Guytav Olofsson a chance to start.
The two teams played evenly for the first 10 minutes which featured a lot of dump and chase and shots from the blue lines. With 7:04 left in the 1st, one of those blue line shots from Toronto's Morgan Rielly was deflected by Nazem Kadri, ricocheted off the boards behind the net, and bounced in off the back of Dubynk's skate. It was the type of goal that goes in when you're struggling. The goal seemed to take the wind out of the Wild's sails. They allowed the Leafs in closer to the net, resulting in a couple good chances warded off by Dubnyk.
The Wild were going need either someone to step up or to have Toronto make a mistake. With about 2 minutes left in the 1st, they got the latter. A turnover forced by Chris Stewart gave Eric Staal a good shot on goal, and Jason Zucker buried the rebound for his 4th goal. The Wild went into the 2nd with a 1-1 tie and a chance to take the momentum from the home team.
The tempo of the game increased significantly in the 2nd. The teams traded odd-man rushes leading to several quality chances early on. Right after Matt Cullen nearly got one by Frederik Andersen, the Leafs went 3-on-2 the other way and Patrick Marleau beat Dubnyk glove side on a one-timer, putting Toronto up 2-1. After this goal however, the Wild picked up their pace, creating offensive zone turnovers and forcing 3 penalties. Unfortunately the Wild's Power Play struggles continued, and they were unable to even the score. Still, the Wild outshot the Leafs 14-6 in the period, and Dubnyk's play, though timid, looked stable enough to keep the game well within reach.
Sadly the 3rd period got off to a bad start. A shot from the blue line by Connor Carrick went in after deflecting off Olofsson's leg, making it 3-1. If it hadn't hit his leg it would have gone wide of the net. It was just that kind of night. You could feel frustration building from the Wild as the 3rd went on. At the 8:00 mark, Niederreiter fired a shot from the slot on one knee that was snagged calmly by Andersen. After the play was blown dead, Nino remained on his knee and looked down at the ice for a beat.
That sequence summarized the game for the Wild. The play was good, but not good enough to break through the cloud hanging over the team as of late. To their credit, the Wild did not give up or check out. With 5 minutes left and during their 4th Power Play, Jason Zucker got his 2nd goal of the game fighting out in front of the net, which brought the Wild within one. The Wild maintained their offensive pressure and saw a good number of chances through the final 5 minutes, but Connor Brown eventually burried an empty netter to seal the game for the Leafs, 4-2.
Ultimately, this was not a game the Wild should be embarrassed about especially in the wake of Boston. They out-shot their opponents 37 - 19 on the road. Were it not for 2 unlucky deflections, they would be looking at a W tonight. However, when this is your 4th loss in 5 games, it becomes a check for the team's mental fortitude, an area which has not been this team's strong suit in previous years. They have an opportunity to complete a sweep of the Habs tomorrow, a team that is experiencing their own, more dire, struggles. Can they shrug off these recent frustrations and begin to find a rhythm and identity that has been lacking so far this season? If they can overcome it now, hopefully they won't have to come January or April.