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For struggling Wild, the beatings go on

Ben Goessling, Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn. –

DENVER – Of all the things Mike Yeo expected to be doing in his first year as the head coach of the Wild, explaining to fans on March 6 why they should stick with the team was not on the list.

Not for a coach whose convictions are as strong as his, and not for one whose team had the best record in the NHL three months ago. But there Yeo was, after his team lost by a half-dozen goals for the second time in four days, trying to rekindle hope.

“I don’t know what I can say to them, to be honest,” Yeo said. “We feel for our fans, and we want to have a good product on the ice for them. We want to give them something to be proud of and something to believe in. I can assure you these guys care. … If you want to get excited about

something, I can guarantee you this is a group that will keep on fighting.”

The results make Yeo’s case a difficult one to plead. The Wild lost 7-1 to the Avalanche on Tuesday night, getting drilled in a building where they’d won nine of their previous 11. They have been outscored 13-1 in their past two road games, and in their last five games – all losses – they’ve been beaten 23-5, playing 169 minutes and 44 seconds between goals until Devin Setoguchi scored on a penalty shot in the third period on Tuesday.

Those are statistics that can bleed the hope out of even the most optimistic fan. And inside the Wild’s dressing room on Tuesday night, answers seemed just as hard to find.

The Wild were playing without four of their top six

forwards, after Cal Clutterbuck’s illness put him with Mikko Koivu, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Guillaume Latendresse in the ranks of the team’s unavailable players. They used Kurtis Foster for just 1:02 in the first two periods after his lower back strain flared up, and they had to pull Matt Hackett – making his first back-to-back starts a day before his 22nd birthday – in the second period after he’d allowed four goals.

That list of injuries would be enough to derail most teams. But there’s little in hockey to explain two six-goal losses in less than a week.

“This is our life. This is what we do,” center Matt Cullen said. “You have to bring your best effort every night, no matter what. … Injuries are a fact of life. You have to find a way to make the right plays and do the right things and at least give yourself a chance. That’s the frustrating part – that we haven’t done those basic things that you need to do even to give yourself a chance.”

The Wild certainly had moments where they showed some grit. They battled the Avalanche to a standstill after giving up an early goal, and Yeo was encouraged when Kyle Brodziak got into his first fight of the year, going after Jamie McGinn after the forward leveled Marco Scandella with a check.

But Erik Christensen took a tripping penalty in the second period, and the Avalanche’s ensuing power-play goal was followed by three more in the next 5:41. That put the Wild in a place where it’s tough to keep moving forward.

“I thought we came out pretty hard in the third period,” Hackett said. “But it was one of those games where everything was going in.”

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