That escalated quickly. Before we begin, I just want to remind you that the Wild still has the better Gabby.
Tonight’s loss in Los Angeles went from good to really bad in a matter of minutes for the Wild, a collapse that will definitely sting for a couple of days. Minnesota scored first and entered the third period with a 2-1 lead, but the Kings absolutely took over in the final frame and imposed their will, scoring four unanswered goals to roll to a convincing 5-2 victory. Pouring salt in that already stinging wound, the Wild’s all-time leading scorer, Marian Gaborik, potted two goals for LA—numbers 399 and 400 of his career—and was the star of the game, because of course he was.
The Kings entered the game atop the Pacific Division and on a five-game win streak. They had also just finished a perfect four-game road trip, so the traditional “first game back” challenge was in full effect. It should have been a great opportunity for Minnesota to take advantage in the opening period, but a dull, tight-checking first frame left plenty to be desired. The Wild did have a few chances, but nothing overly dangerous on Jonathan Quick, who only had to make relatively routine saves to keep the game scoreless after twenty minutes.
Chris Stewart dropped the gloves early with all 6’ 5” of Kings defenseman Kurtis MacDermid, and both guys got a few good licks in an old-fashioned stand-up heavyweight bout that ended with each pugilist looking a bit nicked up. Stewart and MacDermid both served their own penalties and remained in the game.
The closest anybody came to scoring in the opening period was off of a partially whiffed slap-pass to Dustin Brown in the slot, which actually deflected softly and awkwardly off of Matt Dumba’s stick. Dubnyk was sliding to his right, but the puck went against the grain to his left, and just caromed off the bottom of the post.
The second period featured a bit more action, as Charlie Coyle got away with an extremely dangerous pass across the slot in Minnesota’s zone, narrowly missing an attacking Kings player and finding Daniel Winnik on the far side. Winnik rushed up ice and gained the offensive zone, then dropped it for Stewart who fired a perfect pass back onto the tape of Coyle. Coyle had barreled his way to the top of the crease, so all he had to do was turn his stick over and deflect Stewart’s pass over the outstretched right pad of Quick to open the scoring at 10:30 of the second stanza.
Four minutes later, Drew Doughty found Jake Muzzin open at the top of the left circle. Muzzin was all alone, so he took his time to wind up, put the puck on a tee, and fire an absolute rocket that launched over the glove of Dubnyk. Dubnyk was in good position, with a clear line of sight, but Muzzin just had too much time and simply overpowered Minnesota’s netminder for the tying goal.
With Minnesota’s fourth line of Tyler Ennis, Zack Mitchell, and Matt Cullen having buzzed a few times during the course of the second, Bruce Boudreau sent the trio out to try to regain some momentum following the goal. Mitchell cycled the puck from the halfwall down low to Ennis, who tried to just stuff it under Quick. Quick was on his post to make the save, but then the puck just sat right in front of his left skate. Ennis pounced on it and took a swing, popping it straight up into the top of the net to give the Wild a 2-1 lead less than a minute after Muzzin’s goal. Dubnyk would hold down the fort for the rest of the frame, making a nice glove save on Muzzin’s next chance, and leading his team to the dressing room with a chance to get an enormous road win... Or so we thought.
In the third, the wheels fell off the wagon quickly. Anze Kopitar and Gaborik rushed up the ice on a two-on-one. Kopitar made a subtle fake to draw Ryan Suter to him, then fed a perfect pass to Gabby, who made no mistake in tying the game. Minutes later, a puck fluttered in toward Dubnyk, who calmly poked the puck away. It was a fine play, in theory, but it hit Jonas Brodin’s skate and slid right under Dubnyk to make it 3-2. Adrian Kempe got credit for the fluky own goal, and suddenly the tide had completely turned on the Wild, which now looked like it couldn’t even skate with the Kings.
When the time came for Minnesota to make its push to equalize, it instead gave up the backbreaker with exactly six minutes left to play. Kopitar won an offensive zone faceoff back to Gaborik, who cut across and quickly snapped a shot through traffic. The puck deflected off of Dumba’s stick blade and ramped off the post and in. The goal represented both the 400th marker of Gaborik’s career, as well as the 500th assist of Kopitar’s career. Talk about making them count, am I right? Kopitar would add the empty netter for good measure.
This is perennially an extremely tough road trip, and after a good first two periods tonight, this was not the result that Minnesota hoped to find to kick off this challenging journey. The Wild took five out of six points on this trip last season, but the best it can do now is four, should it figure things out against Anaheim and San Jose. The Green ‘n’ Wheats now have two days off for fun in the sun, so hopefully they can reset and bring a sixty-minute effort on Friday.