Wild repeat early-season struggles in loss

ST. PAUL, Minn. — In coming back to win two straight home games, the Minnesota Wild overcame two-goal deficits thanks to gritty, confident finishes.

Minnesota tempted fate again Monday against the St. Louis Blues and received a valuable lesson. The Wild can’t afford any letdown in this shortened season with every game filled with playoff implications.

St. Louis held their two-goal lead in the third period and extended it late in a 4-1 win and had Minnesota forward Zach Parise thinking about his first few games in a Wild sweater.

“We were flat,” Parise said. “We got what we deserved. We didn’t play well at all. It was pretty similar to the team that we started the season, that’s the type of game we played tonight. Not competitive, too many turnovers, and we got away from that for a while and that’s when we started to win. Tonight, it’s kind of crept into our game. I think the last few games we’ve gotten away with it. Tonight, against a team like that, you’re not going to.”

The Wild have lost two of their past three games now, following a stretch where they had won seven in a row and climbed to the top of the Northwest Division. After Monday’s loss to St. Louis, Minnesota players understood that the recent play had caught up to them.

Wild coach Mike Yeo said Monday’s game should serve as a reminder of what Minnesota needs to do to be successful, what they had done building up a 14-4 stretch from Feb. 17 to March 27.

A wake-up call for a team in the thick of the playoffs? Sure.

“It just kind of levels us back down to earth a little bit,” forward Devin Setoguchi said. “We were getting away from the things that made us successful during our streak. When you try to cheat and take short-cuts and aren’t hard on pucks, and get pucks in and out, that’s when they start going in on you; a couple turnovers and a couple goals for them.”

Dany Heatley scored his 10th goal of the season in the second period to tie the game 1-1 after St. Louis became the third straight opponent to score first against the Wild. Niklas Backstrom started for the 18th time in the past 20 games and 20 saves. Minnesota was 0 of 5 on the power play.

“We clearly didn’t have the right preparation going into the game as far as, this is our identity, this is how we’re going to play it and we’re going to be forceful about doing it,” Yeo said. “It’s very important that we get that back quickly.”

Yeo feels the Wild should be able to regain their edge quickly if they get back to what made them successful, a relentless forecheck, strong defense and taking care of the puck.

Minnesota now has three straight road games beginning Wednesday in San Jose.

“It shouldn’t be very difficult for us,” Yeo said. “First off, we had a good reminder tonight that, both defensively and offensively, things aren’t going to go your way if we play the game that way. More importantly, the results for the team, I think at this point in the season it’s very clear to us what we’re doing when we’re successful and what we’re not doing when we’re not.”

Cullen misses third period: Matt Cullen, who had a four-game point streak snapped, missed the third period with an injury. Yeo said he had to talk further with the team’s trainers and didn’t have an update on Cullen’s status after the game.

“Obviously, we’re hoping that it’s not too serious,” Yeo said. “Obviously that was a tough game. I’ll have a better read for you later.”

Cullen has 19 points in the past 20 games. He was replaced on the second line by fourth-line center Zenon Konopka.

“You guys know as much as I do,” Setoguchi said. “He’s a big part of our team. I don’t know. I noticed he wasn’t out there when we started the third, so I haven’t seen what’s wrong, but obviously he’s going to be a big missing key to our team going forward if he’s not going to be able to play.”

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