The Minnesota Wild saw their season-opening win streak come to an end in a third-period collapse. After another late breakdown nearly cost them a victory yet again, coach Jacques Lemaire is ready for his team to buck that trend.
The Wild hope to put together a stronger finish and remain the only team in the Western Conference without a regulation loss as they host the Chicago Blackhawks on Monday night.
Minnesota (5-0-1) outscored opponents 14-7 while opening the season with four straight wins, and appeared to be en route to a fifth consecutive victory Thursday night, leading Buffalo 3-1 with five minutes remaining. The Wild, however, gave up two goals within 46 seconds and went on to lose 4-3 in overtime.
Minnesota nearly blew another two-goal, third-period lead Saturday night. It salvaged a 2-1 win over Columbus after Rick Nash's tip-in with 11.5 seconds remaining was waived off because the puck was ruled to have gone in off a high stick.
"Well, we're the Wild! Come on! The Wild! You know we like to make it exciting," Lemaire said, referring to his team's recent flair for the dramatic. "I still have that last game in my mind."
Lemaire said he's been particularly frustrated with his team's mental errors and a lack of aggressiveness in the closing minutes.
"I saw too many mistakes at the end there," he said. "We have to cut that down."
Lemaire, though, still has plenty to be excited about. His club is the last one in the West without a regulation defeat, and though it's played fewer games than any team in the league, is in first place in the Northwest Division with 11 points.
Much of Minnesota's early success is due to Niklas Backstrom, who made 25 saves Saturday and lowered his goals-against average to 1.97, third-best in the NHL. The third-year goalie has started and finished each of Minnesota's first six games.
"He's playing good right now," Lemaire said. "If he doesn't feel any fatigue, then he's going to be in the net, I guess."
Backstrom hopes to continue his strong start as he meets a Chicago team that, like Minnesota, had trouble closing out its last game.
After losing their first two games of the season in regulation, the Blackhawks (3-2-3) have recorded a point in each of their last six. They were forced to settle for one point Saturday night, when they blew a two-goal, third-period lead in a 6-5 shootout loss to Detroit.
"We'll take the point, but obviously we're disappointed since we had a two-goal lead," coach Joel Quenneville said.
Despite the letdown, Quenneville's encouraged with his team's ability to play the defending Stanley Cup champion and Central Division leader tough.
"I think we did a lot of good things in the game, (but) they make plays not too many players in the league make," Quenneville told the team's official Web site. "Certainly we'll find a way to get better.
"It's a good measuring stick for us. It was a good effort. (The Red Wings) may have improved ... over the summer, (and) we were right there with them."
The Blackhawks' Nikolai Khabibulin gave up a season-high five goals against the Red Wings, but stopped a season-high 39 shots. He's 2-1-2 with a 2.53 GAA this season, and 3-6-2 with a 2.35 GAA lifetime against Minnesota.
Backstrom is 1-1-0 with a 1.51 GAA in two career games versus the Blackhawks.