Wild lose again, but players feel step was taken in workmanlike effort

Wild forward Jason Zucker scored Thursday against the Blackhawks to take over the team lead with 15 goals this season.

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Emotion had overcome the Minnesota Wild for many reasons in the past week.

From head coach Mike Yeo’s eruption after a sluggish start to practice, to the team being without one of its emotional leaders in Zach Parise and trying to rally behind their teammate who lost his father, J.P. Parise, to lung cancer on Wednesday night. Before realities of life hit with the Parises, frustration was the operative emotion in a string of disappointing losses.

Thursday’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks could have been the relief Minnesota has long needed. Mixed feelings followed a 4-2 loss to Chicago.

"I think both," center Mikko Koivu said when asked if the team comes away pleased or disappointed with a strong effort against Chicago in a loss. "I believe you keep doing that for a lot of games in a row — I don’t know how many shots we got, you’re not exactly going to get that — but just the battle, the effort and the passion we had tonight, you got to be satisfied with that. But at the end, like I said, we still fall short and we got to find a way to get two points and start building that. But it’s a good step to the right direction."

Passion, an important response to the emotion for the Wild, was uttered be a few players following the loss. Playing one of its best games since late November, Minnesota outshot the Blackhawks 44-20 in the loss, and controlled play in the second period in outshooting Chicago 19-5 in that stanza.

The emotions of the past week were displayed in passion on the ice. 

"It’s tough (to lose)," said forward Jason Zucker, who scored to take over the team lead with 15 goals this season. "We played the right game. We played hard. We played with passion. We battled. If we play like that, we’re going to win a lot of games. It’s obviously tough not winning. You always want to win games, but we’re taking a step in the right direction with that game tonight."

Losing nine of the past 11 games in regulation or overtime, the Wild are trying to dig themselves out of a hole that saw them fall to last place in the Central Division after the Colorado Avalanche beat Ottawa. Yeo and his team have talked about controlling what they can: how they play each game and not worrying about the final results.

Blackhawks 4, Wild 2

A month’s stretch of struggles can’t be resolved in one night, which is just what Yeo told the media following the team’s morning skate Thursday and then followed up with in his message to the team.

"It doesn’t come overnight," Zucker said. "Like coach Yeo was saying, you can’t make the playoffs tonight and you can’t be out of the playoffs tonight. So you got to make sure that you’re battling hard every night. We have a tough stretch of games right now and we just got to keep battling hard."

Minnesota was concerned about building its game, showing effort — and passion — each game.

"We could play our best game of the year and we could win, but it doesn’t mean we’re going to make the playoffs, and vice-versa if we’re going to lose," Yeo said. "But what’s important is we get back to just kind of the idea of the process of what it takes to make the playoffs, and it’s about showing up and having a good attitude. It’s about showing up and having a great work ethic. Those are the things that are in your control, and I thought those two things were there. 

"Looking at the game, it’s obviously very disappointing to lose, but I think that if we play like that night after night, which is what it takes to make the playoffs, that kind of consistency, then we give ourselves a great chance."

Minnesota put the most shots on goal against a Chicago opponent this season. Zucker scored to bring the Wild within 2-1 and Jason Pominville scored on a 5-on-3 to draw within one goal again at 3-2 late in the third period.

But for all the shots on goal, Minnesota couldn’t solve Corey Crawford, who made 42 saves for the Blackhawks.

"That was a goalie win," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "They were the better team tonight for sure, and we dodged a bullet.

The Wild lost, but felt they took a step in the right direction and had an important response after a tough, emotional week.

"I liked what happened in practice," Pominville said of Yeo’s expletive-laced speech Wednesday. "It was good. He wasn’t happy with what he saw, and he let us know. I’ve seen worse than that and it’s been a big story, but I think it’s good. We need that. I think guys responded the right way and came to work. Go back to work tomorrow and try to put in the same type of effort in a couple days."