Playing from behind every single game is going to catch up with a team at some point. It doesn’t matter how soon the comeback starts or the final result. Or if a team ends up with a three-game winning streak.
The Minnesota Wild pulled out another comeback victory Saturday night in St. Paul with a 5-4 overtime win over Eastern-Conference foe Tampa Bay. Mikael Granlund netted the game-winner, with an impressive assist from Wild goaltender Alex Stalock. For the second Saturday in a row, the script was similar: A 5-4 overtime game on home ice, only this time they won; last week they lost to Carolina.
That’s all fine and good, but the Wild also had to claw back from a 1-0 deficit for the sixth straight game. Being able to come back and win games is fine, and often necessary, but it shouldn’t become a habit either. The Wild have yet to play a dominating, 60-minute game where the result isn’t in doubt. Four of their eight games have gone into overtime, with one getting decided in a shootout.
At the risk of over-analyzing trends just eight games into an 82-game season, let’s go ahead and do that anyway by diving into the four extra-session games the Wild have played so far.
Vegas Golden Knights 2, Wild 1 – Shootout – Oct. 6
The Wild fell in the season opener in Colorado and hoped for a pick-me-up in the home opener against the defending Western Conference Champion Vegas Golden Knights. Like the first game, the Wild actually got on the board first, though the trend ended there. Defenseman Matt Dumba sent his blast of a shot into the net for a 1-0 lead at the 9:23 mark of the first period. The Wild held onto that slim lead, nearly going onto the win, but Max Pacioretty tied the game with about a minute-and-a-half left in regulation to spoil the party.
The big concern in this game for the Wild was the slow-to-start offense out for the second game to start the season after scoring just one goal in Colorado. That slump extended to the shootout where all three Wild shooters – Zach Parise, Jason Zucker and Mikko Koivu – failed to score. Former Wild player Erik Haula was the third Vegas player in the shootout and gave them the 2-1 victory, with a little help from Devan Dubnyk in goal.
Wild 4, Chicago Blackhawks 3 – Overtime – Oct. 11
The Wild had a few days of practice, thanks to that NHL scheduling, before hitting home ice again to face divisional-foe Chicago. Slow starting once again, the Wild found themselves down 2-0 at the first intermission. Not being able to start games with any offense or momentum was the growing trend, highlighted by falling behind early which began with this game.
On the comeback trail, Eric Staal got the Wild on the board in the second before Zucker tied it with three seconds left in the second frame to provide some of that much-needed momentum. The Zucker-Staal line was rewarded for their solid effort that night.
But when a team is always trailing and coming back to tie, a letdown is just another goal away. Alex DeBrincat scored just 2:29 into the third period to put Chicago back on top, 3-2. It would have been a regulation loss for the Wild, not to mention a winless start three games into the season, without Ryan Suter’s game-tying goal in the final minute of the third period while the Wild were shorthanded.
Zucker capped his productive night with the game-winner at the 3:25 mark of overtime for an exciting, sigh-of-relief type of win for the Wild. Getting that first win certainly lifted the spirits of fans and Wild players. Again though, they had to dig out of a 0-2 hole after a rough first period and gave up a point to a divisional opponent.
Carolina Hurricanes 5, Wild 4 – Overtime – Oct. 13
This one was a bit of a back-and-forth affair that didn’t end up benefiting the Wild in the end, other than getting a point and not surrendering a pair to a Western Conference team.
At 8:12 of the first period, Jordan Staal, Eric’s brother, got the Hurricanes on the board for that 1-0 lead. Charlie Coyle scored a power-play goal before the break, but Carolina went back up 2-1 through two periods before Jared Spurgeon tied the game just 1:20 into the third. Then Zucker gave the Wild its first lead a few minutes later before Carolina tied the game once more. Then Granlund and Justin Williams traded goals to end up at a 4-4 score at regulation’s end.
Sebastian Aho scored his second of the night 2:57 into overtime for a Carolina victory.
Wild 5, Tampa Bay Lightning 4 – Overtime – Oct. 20
Two-goal leads are said to be the worst in hockey, and Tampa Bay proved that rule in this one after scoring first and holding a 3-1 lead through the first 20 minutes. The Wild kept the Lightning at bay until Parise tied the game in the middle of the third, with Zucker getting the first lead of the night a few minutes later. Anton Stralman spoiled that about two minutes after that by tying the game 4-4.
Stalock couldn’t be faulted for each tally, with a couple perfect deflections from the Lightning. Then in overtime, Stalock earned the second assist on the game-winning goal when he chucked the puck off the boards and onto Coyle’s stick at the blue line. Coyle passed the puck up to Granlund who fired in the goal, the Wild’s only shot on goal in the overtime.
Looking at the numbers
The Wild had three more games in which they failed to score the first goal. In Nashville, the Predators went up 1-0 in the first before a brief 3-1 lead and eventual 4-1 win. Back home, the Wild also trailed 1-0 to Arizona before getting a 2-1 victory, and found themselves in a 0-1 hole 36 seconds into the third period after a pair of scoreless frames before coming back with three unanswered goals.
It’s a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the ability to pull out close games or come back to win after trailing or even force an extra session to guarantee at least a point in the standings is certainly a good thing. Getting to overtime or the shootout and having a positive record to show for it is important. However, no team can consistently be successful if it does things the hard way by giving up the first goal, falling behind or needing to rely on a goaltender standing on his head night in and night out.
Yes, it’s early in the season, but that just seems like an excuse to not consider little issues that could turn into big issues if they’re not addressed. The third periods have been proven to be the best so far for the Wild, just by watching their style of play and energy and by the numbers.
The Wild have 10 third-period goals this season, compared to five each in the first two periods. They’re also pretty even with opponents in scoring, except the first period is the outlier. The Wild have allowed nine goals in the first compared to just the five they’ve scored. When it comes to shots on goal, the third period also shines for the Wild. They’ve outshot opponents 98-70 in the final frame, compared to being outshot 65-99 in the first and 79-113 in the second period.
Waiting until the third period to turn on the jets and fire up the comeback may work sometimes, but it’s not a long-term solution over the course of a season.
Staal played in his 1,100th career game Friday in Dallas, making him the seventh active and 188th player all-time to reach the milestone. Three more goals will give him 400 for his career.
After a couple more home games this week, the Wild will play a season-long seven straight on the road, starting in Vancouver on Monday and visiting St. Louis twice during the stretch. They return to Xcel Energy Center to face the Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals on Nov. 13.
With Suter’s game-winner and an assist in Dallas, he scored his 499th and 500th points of his career, the sixth active NHL defenseman to reach 500 points. He’s scheduled to skate in game No. 1,000 this week.