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Missed chances against rivals put Wild on shaky ground

ANAHEIM, CALIF. – The Wild are winning the games they should.

That's what's fueling their playoff push: victories against lottery teams like Anaheim, Arizona and San Jose.

But what their pursuit is short on are the afterburners that come from taking points away from their rivals in the Western Conference wild-card race.

"We continue to keep battling and putting ourselves in those positions," coach John Hynes said. "You gotta be able to kick the door down. But I think the more opportunities you give yourself to be in these games and take the lesson out of it and find ways to win, then that's going to be the difference down the stretch here."

Since resurrecting their playoff hopes coming out of the All-Star break, the Wild have succeeded just twice in a head-to-head showdown with their closest competition.

They knocked Arizona five points back on Feb. 14 and ran away from Seattle 5-2 on Feb. 24 when the Kraken were only a point behind.

Sure, the Wild have defeated other quality opponents. They held off Vegas, staged a seven-goal third-period comeback against Vancouver, dismissed Edmonton, and pulled the goalie in overtime to gain an extra attacker and outlast Nashville. But at the time, none of those teams were jostling for the last wild-card berth in the West like the Wild are.

When the Predators were in the neighborhood of that seed, they walloped the Wild 6-1 on Feb. 29.

Two nights later, the Wild lost 3-1 to the Blues to fall further behind them, too.

Fast forward to Saturday night, and the Wild had a chance at redemption.

NHL standings

A regulation win in the rematch with St. Louis would have propelled the Wild within two points of the final wild-card spot occupied by the Golden Knights while also extending the Wild's lead over the Blues to four points. Instead, they stalled 3-2 in a shootout, splitting the difference between the best and worse-case scenarios.

"This is just not acceptable right now," Marco Rossi said. "Everyone wants to win. Everyone wants to make the playoffs, so we have to be ready for 60 minutes and not show up in the third period. At least we get one point but not every time we come back. Hopefully, it's a lesson."

Although the Wild weren't dominated by St. Louis, they didn't test the Blues until two periods had elapsed.

Once they trailed 2-0, their execution improved, and they rallied on a pair of goals from Rossi and Kirill Kaprizov before going 1-for-4 in the shootout.

"The ability to handle some adversity within the game and then come back in the third period with the type of game that we played and be able to push back, I like that part of it," Hynes said, "and we gotta continue to move forward.

"We wanted two points. We got one. Now we gotta take some lessons from this one."

So long as the Wild keep banking points, they should get another crack at a matchup of this magnitude.

Fortunately for them, their next game on this road trip is against a team in a different zip code; they'll face Anaheim on Tuesday. But eventually, the likes of St. Louis and Vegas will resurface.

"Every game feels like do-or-die," Marcus Foligno said. "That's how we have to treat it."