Wild squander a late lead, but still gain ground in West

The Wild were less than a minute from extending their winning streak to a season-high five games on Saturday, and pulling within three points of the final wild card playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Then it all kind of fell apart.

Dylan Cozens tied the score with 36 seconds remaining in regulation, and Henri Jokiharju scored the game winner 1 minute, 29 seconds into three-on-three overtime as the Buffalo Sabres rallied to beat Minnesota, 3-2, at Xcel Energy Center.

“It sucks,” said center Joel Eriksson Ek, who tied the game, 1-1, with a goal 4 minutes into the third period. “We know we need points. It’s tough right now.”

Declan Chisholm, acquired off waivers Jan. 29 and playing in his first game for the Wild, scored with 17 seconds left in a power play, a quick shot from above the left circle that floated through traffic and past Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen to make it 2-1 with 8:39 remaining in the game.

“I just wanted the game to end right there so we did get the win,” Chisholm said. “But a weird wave of emotions. … Obviously super happy to score that goal. It’s probably the best feeling I’ve ever had playing hockey, but it sucks to lose — and you really want to win that game.”

It stayed tied until Buffalo coach Don Granato pulled Luukkonen with just more than a minute remaining and the Sabres got a shot on goal that bounced off Filip Gustavsson’s chest. In a thick scrum, Cozens shoved the puck over the goal line to tie the game 2-2 at 19:24.

The goal was initially awarded to former Wild winger Jordan Greenway. Gustavsson said he had the puck stopped, anyway.

“I have it in my triangle, between my pads,” Gustavsson said. “So, I don’t know what they call — having (the puck) or blocking it. I don’t know. But I think we should have challenged it.”

Challenges under a minute in regulation, or in overtime, are initiated by the NHL Situation Room in Toronto. Wild head coach John Hynes said he wasn’t as concerned about whether the goal was good as he was that it was scored.

“That really hasn’t entered my mind,” the coach said. “My mind is on how we can play that situation a little bit better, more than the whistle.”
Eden Prairie’s Casey Mittelstadt put the Sabres up 1-0 just 39 seconds into the third period, and Luukkonen made 32 saves for Buffalo, which won for the second time in five games.

Minnesota has nine points in five games since returning from the all-star break, and Hynes said he was generally pleased with the way his team played on Saturday.

“I think overall it was a pretty good week for us,” Hynes said. “I thought we played some really good hockey, and the style of game that gives us the best chance to win, and so I think we got to build on that. We got another big week coming up.”

The Wild have back to backs against the two best teams in the West starting Monday against Vancouver at the X, a rare 1 p.m. puck drop on President’s Day, before moving to Winnipeg on Tuesday to start a three-game road trip that also goes through Edmonton and Seattle.

All are conference rivals ahead of Minnesota, which with the one point moved into 10th place, four in back of St. Louis for the eighth and final playoff spot.

“It’s a good challenge for us. Those are the teams we want to be able to play against,” said Eriksson Ek, who picked up a pass from Kirill Kaprizov and scored the tying goal 4:09 into the third period — his team-leading 25th goal of the season.

Gustavsson stopped 25 of 28 shots but was partially blocked on the game-winner, a one-timer from the high slot on a pass from former Wild wing Alex Tuch at 1:29.

It was a big swing for a game that was scoreless after two periods. Gustavsson made two big saves to keep the Sabres off the board late in the first, and the Wild clamped down defensively in the second.

“You’re going to win and lose some, and I think it’s more frustrating just how we lost the game today, not just that we lost the point,” Gustavsson said. “But a point can be super important at the end, and we’ll take all the points we can.”

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