ST. PAUL -- For the Minnesota Wild, playing with a new hometown boy in front of the hometown stands at the Xcel Energy Center, the high point of their night Tuesday against the Los Angeles Kings came about 30 seconds into the game.
After controlling the opening faceoff and nearly scoring on their first couple of quick chances, the Kings came meandering down the ice and scored off an accidental tip near the right circle, taking a lead they would never relinquish in a 4-0 win against the Wild, a game less won by the Kings as much as lost by the Wild.
"We had a great first shift and we're down 1-0," said Wild coach Mike Yeo. "Definitely the way we responded was not good enough."
Like they did on Sunday against San Jose, the Wild started the game on their heels and allowed an early goal. Against the Sharks, they actually allowed two. But unlike two days ago, the Wild kept waiting for something to wake them up.
What they were looking for never came. Minnesota seemed to lack energy and urgency -- surprising considering the stakes Tuesday night. The Wild entered five points back of the eighth and final playoff spot and just three behind the Kings in the Western Conference standings.
"It was another game where we started on our heels and they took it to us," said Wild center Kyle Brodziak. "We didn't create any breaks. We didn't deserve any, we didn't earn any."
After the goal 44 seconds in credited to Justin Williams, who appeared to be a bystander on the play, Los Angeles extended its lead to two nine minutes later after a turnover in the corner in his own zone by Marco Scandella put the puck on the tape of Anze Kopitar. Tom Gilbert, playing in his first game with the Wild since being acquired Monday from Edmonton, was expecting a pass behind the net and was late to Dwight King in front, who redirected a pass from Kopitar past Backstrom for his second of the season.
Late in the period, Kopitar worked a give-and-go with Dustin Brown, simply beating Justin Falk to the net, and taking the return feed from Brown and stuffing it into a wide open net at 18:38.
"We just wanted to jump on them as much as we could," Kopitar said. "They're a team that, if they get off to a good start, with a couple of goals and a lead, it's tough to play against them because they can pack it in pretty good."
Booed off the ice at the end of the first, things didn't get much better for Minnesota in the second. Although they outshot the Kings 10-5, few chances for the Wild were grade-A and Alec Martinez's shot from the left circle landed in the crease, where Jordan Nolan and Brad Richardson outworked defenseman Kurtis Foster in front. Nolan was credited with the goal, just his second of the year.
Jonathan Bernier stopped all 26 shots in a bit of a ho-hum shut out, the fifth of his career and first this season.
"We played really solid through the middle," Bernier said. "They had one really good scoring chance in the second period. We kept everything outside."
"We had nothing offensively," Yeo said. "There was too many things missing from our game to even have a sniff. Puck-support, battle level, going to hard areas, making plays, executing … it's kind of a long list."
The news got worse for Minnesota off the ice too, as Michael Russo from the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported during the third period that Wild captain Mikko Koivu re-aggravated his shoulder injury and will be shut down for at least the next two weeks.
Koivu initially injured the shoulder in St. Louis Jan. 14. He missed eight games between Jan. 17 and Feb. 7 and tonight's game marked his sixth straight contest out of the lineup. Minnesota's record in those games is 6-7-1.
"It's a huge loss, he's the captain of our team, he's a leader on and off the ice for us," Brodziak said. "Everyone is going to have to give a little more to try to overcome."
The victory was a big one for the Kings, moving them into a three-way tie with Dallas and Colorado for the final playoff spot out west. A home game Saturday against Anaheim now has critical importance before the Kings head back onto the road for a road trip including Nashville and Detroit.
"We knew it was a big two points for us," Bernier said. "You just don't think about [the pressure of a playoff race]. You just play your game. I think, as a team, we really came out strong."
1 - 0 LAK
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