Following Wild games, Content Coordinator Evan Sporer will give the Five Takeaways that he remembers from the contest. Tonight, he looks back at the Wild's 7-4 loss against the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center.
NEW JERSEY –
Minnesota knew the stakes entering its game on Thursday: Win in any fashion, and pass the Colorado Avalanche for the second wild card spot into the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
But after falling behind early, there were spurts when the Wild pushed, but the Devils pushed much harder, and the Wild dropped its game in hand on Colorado, and returns home from its road trip on the outside of the playoff picture.
"We're right in the race for a playoff spot, and games like that, they can't happen," Nino Niederreiter said.
New Jersey made it 2-0 early, and then the Wild halved that lead, showing signs of life with a power-play goal later in the first.
But the Devils scored three minutes later, a theme on Thursday of Minnesota manufacturing some kind of response, but the subsequent push from New Jersey proving far more fruitful.
"I feel like we had a jump," Erik Haula said. "Then we got that power-play goal, but we got one, and they got one, and we got one, and they got one. They frustrated us, and we didn't play like we wanted.
"We played right into them, and it was pretty easy for them early."
When the Wild turned a three-goal deficit into a two-goal disadvantage in the second period, New Jersey responded 2:24 later with two goals in 38 seconds.
They came in bunches, and those will never come at "good times," but they certainly took wind out of the Wild's sails.
Now the Wild will have to regroup quickly, 11 regular season games remaining, and a dogfight at its doorstep with the Avalanche.
The Wild talked about playing a certain way against the Devils, and not letting New Jersey's tendency to clog the neutral zone slow down the pace and disrupt it.
But spotting the Devils two goals in about the first 100 seconds of the game will force any team to, at least a little bit, press, and do things a bit differently than it intended.
"We can't get behind like that in the first 1:50 of the game," interim Head Coach John Torchetti said. "It was disappointing that we didn't want to commit more to get that puck out, and do the little things."
And when playing a team like the Devils, which has such a decidedly defensive identity, allowing it to sit back plays right into its hands, even more so when it's leading by multiple goals.
"We went to an aggressive forecheck, and we were diving in," Torchetti said. "We're not supposed to be. Our F3 is supposed to be in the middle, and we were diving in too much, and then we were creating odd-man chances, and we were getting out of our game plan."
Three straight games with a goal for Niederreiter, who has been getting some good bounces to go along with his consistently steady play.
Now up to 17 goals this season, Niederreiter has had good underlying numbers basically all year. His shooting percentage, however, was a bit down.
On this road trip, with a goal in each game, two have come via the "luck of the Irish" variety. Against the Montreal Canadiens, goalie Mike Condon flipped Niederreiter the puck before he shot it into the empty net. Against the Devils on Thursday, Niederreiter went to the front of the net, and a Mikael Granlund shot deflected off him, and in.
But that's how hockey goes. Niederreiter has been playing well for a long stretch, and it was just this morning he said that on some nights he and his line have been getting bounces, others it has played a shutdown defensive role.
After a brief one-game hiatus, the Wild's power play was back to scoring in a visiting building.
Though Minnesota's franchise record streak of 13 consecutive games with a power-play goal on the road came to an end against the Ottawa Senators, the Wild started a new streak in the first period at Prudential Center on Thursday.
It happened twice; first when Granlund took a one-time shot from the right circle that he didn't get all of, but got enough to deflect off Niederreiter, parked atop the crease, and in.
On the next power play goal, Mikko Koivu looked off the defenders in the slot, and hit Jared Spurgeon through a seam, giving the defenseman a shot on an empty net.
Ryan Suter, who picked up the secondary assist, set a Wild single-season record in doing so, now with 38, the most by a defenseman in franchise history.
Since Jan. 21, Minnesota leads the NHL in road power-play goals. Getting at least one in 14 of its past 15 road games isn’t bad, either.
They weren't all carbon copies of each other, but the Wild was victimized by poor puck management down low on multiple occasions that led to goals against.
In general, the Devils were either getting in tight around Devan Dubnyk or Darcy Kuemper, or getting looks from below the dots that weren't defended.
On New Jersey's first goal, a trailer wasn't picked up, and he was able to walk the puck down from the slot to score.
"You start with the first goal, and the second and third, we just weren't good enough in front of the net," Niederreiter said. "It's game , and those are things that we have to make sure we battle."
There were lost coverages that led to other goals-against, turnovers on wall plays, and generally, sequences that at the very least mostly result in scoring chances against.
On Thursday, most of those scoring chances for New Jersey were capitalized on.
"They got a lot of chances," Suter said. "We were always on the wrong side, it seemed, and they were getting chances, and finishing on their chances. At the end of the day that's all that matters."