ST. PAUL, Minnesota - It truly is a game of inches.
Trailing 1-0 midway through the third period, Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler appeared the tie the game with a beautiful redirect at the doorstep, but a challenge initiated by Minnesota's Bruce Boudreau confirmed the play was offside upon the entering the zone about 10 seconds earlier.
Still, the Jets had 10:06 left to manufacture the equalizer, but a fortuitous power-play goal by Wild defenceman Jonas Brodin put the Wild up by two shortly thereafter, all but killing Winnipeg's chances of coming back.
Brodin's blast from the right point went off the stick of Brandon Tanev, bounced high in the air but stayed on course and trickled past Connor Hellebuyck for the eventual winning goal.
Video: POSTGAME | Paul Maurice
"We were about an inch shy on just about everything tonight," said Head Coach Paul Maurice. "It was a hard-fought game. There were only moments of real open play. Both teams were competing hard on pucks and it was hard to get them to the net, (so) the margin for error there was real small."
Wheeler pulled the Jets within one with a PPG of his own less than a minute later, but it wasn't enough. Patrik Laine had a chance with under a minute to play to blast one home on the one-timer, but his twig failed him, snapping in two and giving Zach Parise the empty-net goal to seal a 3-1 win for the home side.
Video: POSTGAME | Blake Wheeler
Mikko Koivu scored the other for the Wild, while Devan Dubnyk made 15 saves in the victory.
"It's pretty frustrating," Wheeler said. "Goals have been tough to come by for our group this last little bit there. To get a big one, tie the game up and kind of swing the momentum in your favour, there's not much you can really say. It's frustrating.
"We didn't generate a ton of shots, but I thought we played with the puck in their zone quite a bit. We created some good looks that I thought their goalie had to make some good saves on. The bounces didn't go our way. That's really all you can say."
The Jets, who have now lost four straight games, did some good things, mind you. They went from a banged-up group licking their wounds following Sunday's loss in Carolina to one that, at times, dictating the play against a heavy and highly skilled division rival.
They just couldn't close it out.
"We were back on the right track today," Maurice said. "There were some good things, and there's some room for improvement. But you know what? It's going to look like that for us. We've got to get prepared to play those kinds of games and get comfortable in them."
The Wild outshot the Jets 8-4 and took a 1-0 lead on the scoreboard with 58.7 seconds left in the middle period. Jason Zucker did some nice work behind the net and centered the puck out front to Koivu, who buried it for his third of the season after eluding a check in the deep slot.
"The problem started at the other end and then went back to ours and we had a little bit of a problem there," Maurice said, displeased as his team's defensive posture in that particular sequence.
With the game still scoreless early in the middle frame, Hellebuyck came up a pair big saves to keep the Jets on even footing. First, only two-and-a-half minutes in, Parise led a 2-on-1 with Charlie Coyle, but kept and fired from the top of the right circle. Hellebuyck stood tall, smothering the shot at the top of the crease. Then, less than five minutes later, he thwarted the five-time 30-goal scorer once more with a tremendous left-pad effort, lunging across to make the save at the right post after Eric Staal fed it across the goalmouth.
Video: WPG@MIN: Hellebuyck rejects Parise's one-timer
"Two bad bounces," Hellebuyck said. "I don't think we really gave them much. I thought all around we played a pretty good game, but they just got the better bounces.
"The only thing we can do is get back at it and keep grinding for those points. It's still early, but I think we need to go on a nice streak here."
The teams traded power-play chances in the period. Nikolaj Ehlers nearly opened the scoring for the Jets on theirs, but his wrister from the far wall kissed iron.
Minnesota had nine shots for a two-period total of 16, leading the Jets by five in that department after 40 minutes.
The shots were even at seven apiece after one. The Jets had some jump and were the better team early on, but Dubnyk - as he has been so often this year, and all night - was the difference.
Josh Morrissey had a great chance off a sweet feed from Wheeler midway through the period, but Dubnyk made a marvellous glove and left-pad combo to save to keep the game scoreless.
- Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com