Wild push playoff hopes to the brink of extinction
The Minnesota Wild set the tone in the wrong way Friday against the Edmonton Oilers at the Xcel Energy Center.
The Wild fell behind early and couldn’t stop the bleeding in a 6-1 loss with a chance to clinch a playoff spot.
The Oilers (18-22-7) scored 27 seconds into the game, but feel of the game was set two seconds from drop of the faceoff.
Oilers head coach Ralph Krueger decided to start his fourth line, complete with goon Mike Brown. Mike Yeo’s response was to start his fourth line with Zenon Konopka. The two team’s leaders in penalty minutes dropped the mitts as soon as the puck was dropped.
“That’s the way they wanted to start the game,” Yeo said about the decision to start his fourth line. “We’re at home and we’re not going to be pushed around on our own ice. That isn’t why we lost. I just want the focus to be on tomorrow.”
The fight gave the Oilers, losers of nine of their last 10 games and out of playoff contention, life and a reason to play.
Immediately after Corey Potter got the Oilers on the board, forward Ryan Smyth went to the penalty box and applauded his line mate’s bout.
The Wild (25-19-3) have another win-and-in situation Saturday in Denver against another non-playoff team with very little to play for.
“Not the way we wanted to do it, but we always seem to make things harder than we need to,” Ryan Suter said. “We’re still in a good place. We win (Saturday) and we’re in the playoffs. That was our goal. Then once you’re in the playoffs, you set another goal. We control our own destiny. We have to go in there and play our best game of the season.”
The 19.090 fans that showed up at the Xcel Energy Center Friday let their frustration with the team’s performance, most notably its two goaltenders, with boos at the end of both periods and several “Bronx cheers” after saves.
“If you’re sitting at your desk and 19,000 people are around your desk booing, you’d hear it too,” Suter said when asked if they can hear the boos.
Starting goaltender Niklas Backstrom stopped just two of the five shots he faced through in 18 minutes and 38 seconds of action before being pulled. Josh Harding entered and struggled early before finishing with nine saves on 12 shots in his first NHL action since Feb. 7.
Yeo will come back with his workhorse goaltender in the must-win game Saturday. Backstrom has played in 41 of the team’s 47 games (87 percent).
“I’ve got total confidence in (Backstrom),” Yeo said.
The Wild outshot the Oilers had a territorial edge, but could not take advantage of them. However, the Oilers took full advantage by scoring six goals on its first 11 shots.
“It was one of the weirdest games I’ve ever played in,” Matt Cullen said. “Obviously, one of the most disappointing games I’ve ever been in.”
The Wild avoided the shutout midway through the third period when Mikko Koivu one-timed a pass from Charlie Coyle past Nikolai Khabibulin for his 11th goal of the season.
No. 3 – Corey Potter. The Oilers defenseman scored two goals.
No. 2 – Taylor Hall. The Oilers forward recorded a goal and two assists.
No. 1 – Jordan Eberle. The Oilers forward recorded a goal and two assists.
Edmonton…..3 3 0 – 6
Minnesota…..0 0 1 – 1
First Period – 1, Edmonton, Potter 2 (Smuth, Eberle), :27. 2, Edmonton, Hall 16 (unassisted), 8:02. 3, Edmonton, Potter 3 (Eberle, Gagner), 18:38. Penalties – Brown, Edm, major, (fighting), :02; Konopka, Min, major, (fighting), :02; Smid, Edm (holding), 8:18.
Second Period – 4, Edmonton, Eberle 14 (Smyth, Gagner), 4:09. 5, Edmonton, Yakupov 13 (Hall), 10:13. 6, Edmonton, Yakupov 14 (Hall, Smid), 13:55. Penalties – Petry, Edm (holding), 16:38.
Third Period – 7, Minnesota, Koivu 11 (Coyle), 9:42. Penalties – Konopka, Min (roughing; served by Bouchard), 14:11; Konopka, Min, misconduct (10-minute), 14:11; Rupp, Min (roughing; served by Setoguchi), 14:11; Rupp, Min, misconduct (10-minute), 14:11.
Shots on goal – Edmonton 5-9-3 17. Minnesota 15-13-11 39.
Goalies – Edmonton, Khabibulin (38-39). Edmonton, Backstrom (2-5), Harding (9-12). A – 19,090. Referees – Paul Devorski, Tom Kowal. Linesmen – Don Henderson, Mark Shewchyk.