NEW YORK – The two-goal lead evaporated in a New York minute. Well, technically, a minute and 20 seconds.
The Minnesota Wild had beaten New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist twice in the first period. A victory in Madison Square Garden, which hasn’t been a kind place for the Wild, could have been transformative for a slumping team.
Instead, they witnessed another blown lead after scoring first, something they had done in their previous two losses to Arizona and the New York Islanders. They witnessed another loss, 4-2 to the Rangers, their ninth in 10 games (1-8-1) and their 12th defeat in 15 contests (3-9-3).
And they’re trying to shake the notion that they’re witnessing a season slip away.
“We’re a very fragile team. They get one, and we kind of go into a shell. That’s a team that has no confidence,” said defenseman Ryan Suter. “So we have to figure it out and figure it out fast.”
Their slump has relegated them to the wild card hunt, with the Central Division’s top three teams now double-digits up on Minnesota. The Wild are one point out of the wild card with 55 points in 51 games, right behind the Nashville Predators (56 points).
Coach Mike Yeo is tired of seeing the same results for the Wild, and losses that are disturbingly similar.
“This is too familiar of a script. Good start, other team pushes, and we’re not responding the right way,” he said. “We’re afraid of losing it. We’re hoping to win and afraid of losing and the result is not good. Just because you’re up 2-0 doesn’t mean you cling to that.”
Yeo wouldn’t call out his top players, but it’s been a hell of a struggle for them, and none have been able to turn this thing around. Mikko Koivu has two assists in his last nine games. Thomas Vanek has a goal and an assist in his last 10 games. Zach Parise has one goal and no assists in his last nine games, skating to a minus-11.
“He’s incredibly frustrated,” said Yeo of Parise. “You can see that.”
The problem for the Wild, when their stars aren’t producing? The rest of the team dawdles, hoping they will.
“Guys are waiting around for someone else to do it,” said forward Ryan Carter, who had one of the Wild’s goals against the Rangers. “We have to look in the mirror and say we’re going to be the guy to change the mentality. We have to find our confidence.”
How does that happen, though? Yeo seemed out of answers, saying the team has tried a variety of meetings and changes on the ice to turn things around, to no avail.
“What it boils down to is that the actors gotta act. We can give a script, but we need guys that want to be out there in every situation,” he said.
So could the next step be a trade by the Minnesota Wild to shake up the room?
Parise said that’s the last thing his teammates should be contemplating.
“That’s not up to us. If we’re sitting here wasting our time thinking about that, then we’re jamming up our own heads. We’re making it a lot harder on ourselves. You can’t plan on that. You can’t assume that’s going to happen. Because what if it doesn’t? Then we’re just gonna quit?” he asked.
“We have to play better as a group, and as the group that’s here right now.”