ST. PAUL, Minn. — There was a longer walk for Minnesota Wild coach Mike Yeo to the postgame press conference on Saturday at the Xcel Energy Center, displaced from the auxilary locker room which usually holds his postgame conferences with the media because of the ongoing Big Ten tournament being held in the building.
Instead of just walking across the hall from Minnesota’s locker room, Yeo had to travel down the hall to the current set-up, perhaps giving him more time to think about what he wanted to say about the Wild’s 3-2 loss to the Detroit Red Wings.
Yeo knew the question that was inevitably coming following Saturday’s loss. He was prepared to rebut any questions about his team’s slump with the playoffs drawing every closer.
Armed with plenty of research, Yeo was ready as soon as he was asked if the Wild need to start winning games.
"How did I know that that was coming?," Yeo asked in response. "It’s a matter of perspective, too. You could also say that we’ve got a point in nine of our last 11 games. You could also say that that was our first regulation loss in 11 games at home. You could also say that we’re 7-3-4 in our last 14 games."
Gustav Nyquist’s goal 5 minutes, 19 seconds into the third ended up as the game-winner in Minnesota’s 3-2 loss to Detroit.
The Wild received scoring from Mikko Koivu, his first goal in 14 games, and Charlie Coyle, just his second goal in 24 games. Darcy Kuemper made 27 saves, but it wasn’t enough in losing the first of home-and-road, back-to-back games against the Red Wings.
"Uh, yeah, you don’t want to play tight," defenseman Ryan Suter said of being in a playoff spot currently. "You don’t want to be stressed out about things, but we have to play with some urgency. I thought we did in the third period in Jersey and then the third period tonight we had that urgency, we just couldn’t capitalize."
Kuemper agrees with Yeo and doesn’t see any panic in the locker room.
"We could easily be getting down on ourselves, but we’ve been playing good," Kuemper said. "It’s just a break here or break there that’s kind of breaking us right now. No time to feel sorry for ourselves, we just got to keep sticking to what works."
Minnesota has points in 13 of its past 15 games since the start of February. The Wild are still in the Western Conference wild-card lead, four points ahead of Phoenix, which hosts Eastern-leading Boston later Saturday.
In its past nine games, though, Minnesota has come away with two wins. Included in the stretch are three regulation losses and four overtime or shootout losses. Of the last 10 losses in regulation, overtime or a shootout, nine have been by one goal.
"Well, there’s frustration when we lose this game, there’s no question," Yeo said. "Again, we’re not completely there yet. But law of averages tells me that it’ll come."
Yeo has one big reason he believes the "law of averages" will even out. He sees a different team than he’s coached the past two seasons.
"We’re not completely happy or satisfied, believe me," an almost defiant Yeo said. "But at the same time what I hope is that we don’t try to turn this into a big story of ‘Oh, no, here we go again?’ Because I can tell you that inside the room that we don’t have that feeling. . . . We’re a different team. We’re a confident team, and we feel good about where we’re going. We just have to jump-start things a little bit right now."
The Wild have added more talent in recent seasons with Suter, Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, Matt Cooke and Matt Moulson. Young players like Coyle, Mikael Granlund and Jonas Brodin are playing key roles.
The playoff drought had reached four seasons before Minnesota earned a postseason berth last year. Even still, the Wild had to win on the season’s final day in Colorado to clinch a spot in the playoffs. This time around, they are soundly in a playoff spot with 11 games left to play.
Minnesota is eight points up on ninth-place Dallas, which hosts Ottawa on Saturday night. Being in position for the postseason, instead of clawing for every point, is a big difference, Yeo said.
"There is a completely different feeling," Yeo said. "And that’s probably some of what I’m talking about here, that we’re not satisfied with just getting a few points here or there; we’re not satisfied with just being a playoff team at the end of the year. We want to be a team that every night goes out and dictates the game and controls the play, and we want to carry that momentum into the playoffs. Like I said, we have to work to build that, for sure."