SAINT PAUL, Minn. — For Minnesota Wild fans who are used to seeing their team swoon inexplicably in February or March in recent seasons, it must have seemed like things were going too smoothly.
Before a two-game road trip to Arizona and Colorado, the Wild were one of the hottest teams in the NHL and seemed on a mission to clinch a playoff spot sooner rather than later.
But their confidence has taken a hit after lopsided losses to the Coyotes and Avalanche, and they return home to face the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday with some newfound urgency in their game.
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“If you’re going to get down and think negative thoughts and not be positive about your abilities, you’re going to lose before you start. That was pretty well just the message,” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said after an ugly 7-1 loss in Denver on Friday.
“I’m disappointed that we’ve given up 11 goals in the last four periods. That’s not something you want to do. I’m disappointed because any time now that you lose one or two in a row, teams are gaining on you all over the place.”
Indeed, the statistics websites say the Wild’s playoff odds dropped from 94 percent to 82 percent courtesy of the two losses, as Colorado and Dallas nip at their heels.
“It’s not a good feeling right now, but we’ve got to get back at it,” said Wild forward Eric Staal, who was named the NHL’s First Star for February. “It’s one game, and we’ve got to respond on Sunday. We’ve got to get back home and be ready to play Detroit.”
Staal has been kept off the scoresheet for the last two games after totaling 13 goals and 21 points in 13 February games.
The Red Wings have not been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention but are starting to look more and more like a team playing out the string after back-to-back one-goal losses to the St. Louis Blues and the Winnipeg Jets.
It’s frustrating for all of us … We need to find ways to win games, not lose,” Wings goalie Jimmy Howard said after stopping 38 Winnipeg shots in a 4-3 loss Friday. “We can’t be satisfied. It’s frustrating. I think we’re all frustrated with the way it’s unfolding, but we just have to bear down.”
With two games in loud buildings versus likely playoff teams this weekend, Detroit coach Jeff Blashill said the pressure is clearly on his team to play near-flawless hockey and not sulk about the close losses or the dwindling playoff hopes.
“We’d better come out ready to play extraordinarily hard against Minnesota,” Blashill said. “You’re not always going to get rewarded. You’ve got to keep getting back up. Everybody gets knocked down and you have to make sure you keep getting back up, so we’re going to have to answer the bell on Sunday.”
It will be the second and final meeting of the season, and the first since the opening week of the season. Minnesota was the guest for the first regular-season game at Little Caesars Arena in October, with Detroit prevailing 4-2.