ST. PAUL, Minn. — After another home loss — the Wild’s fifth consecutive — that came after his team’s third-period collapse, coach Mike Yeo had trouble finding words to explain how he felt.
Frustrating? It was beyond that.
(PHOTO: The Minnesota Wild’s Stephane Veilleux, left, tries to stuff the puck past Carolina Hurricanes goalie Brian Boucher (33) in the first period at the Xcel Center St. Paul, Minnesota, on Saturday, March 17, 2012. Carolina won, 5-3.)
Allowing the Carolina Hurricanes to score the final four goals in a 5-3 loss? Wasting nearly two periods of good hockey with a third period that evoked boos from the green-clad fans?
“I don’t care who we have out of the lineup, we cannot accept this,” Yeo said. “We’re in hell. It’s not fun. And, if you don’t accept it, the next day you come back and bring a little more.”
Cynics would point out that the Wild, which dropped to 15-15-4 at Xcel Energy Center, did itself a favor Saturday. After all, the game matched the Wild and Hurricanes, teams that were fifth from the bottom and sixth from the bottom in the NHL standings entering Saturday. Considering that only the bottom five teams have a chance at the top overall pick in the draft lottery, this loss could prove vital this summer.
But the coaches and players who are living through this aren’t thinking about that right now. They can’t.
“It’s about winning games,” said center Kyle Brodziak, who had a three-point game. He set career highs in goals (18) and points (37). But afterward he didn’t want to hear about it.
“We have to find ways to win games,” he said. “Everyone in here is sick of losing. It’s not a fun feeling, getting booed in your own rink. We know we deserve it, and we’ve got to find a way to give the fans something to cheer about, something to make ourselves proud.”
Sad thing is, the Wild did pretty much that for nearly two periods. After Clayton Stoner’s turnover led to the first of two Drayson Bowman’s goals only 1:02 into the game, the Wild got down to business. It got pucks into the offensive zone, behind the Carolina defensemen and went to work.
“Our forecheck was as good as it had been in weeks, I would say,” Yeo said.
The result: Goals. Brodziak from Steven Kampfer at 7:08 of the first. Nick Johnson off his own rebound at 12:33 of the second, followed by Erik Christensen’s one-timer of a perfect Brodziak pass for a power-play goal less than 3 minutes after that.
And then? Nobody was sure what happened. But Yeo sure could feel it coming.
“You could sense it,” he said. “I thought we had a real good first period. … We were lucky enough to grab the lead, doing it the right way. But again, it’s a bunch of little things we did wrong.”
Carolina scored to pull within one entering the third period. And then the Wild just stopped doing the right things.
Yeo was beside himself about the tying goal, which began as a 2-on-3 but ended with Brandon Sutter getting behind the defense and scoring with the Wild’s forwards acting like spectators. Only 48 seconds later, moments after their power play expired, the Hurricanes went up for good on Tim Brent’s slapshot from the blue line.
“Allowing them to tie it up as easily as they did?” Yeo said. “What’s frustrating is we win hockey games by doing all these little things right, things we know how to do. But we’re not doing them.”
As a result, the Wild has lost nine of its past 11 home games. Does that mean Xcel Energy Center has become an easy place for opponents to play?
Yeo exhaled. “We’re losing games easily right now,” he said. “Maybe it slipped a little bit that way. But that won’t be the case (in the future).”