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 3-2 loss against the Buffalo Sabres at Xcel Energy Center.
It was a similar situation for the Wild on Tuesday: an out-of-conference opponent sitting on the outside of the playoff picture.
Call it a trap game, call it whatever you'd like, but after a loss against the New Jersey Devils on Sunday Zach Parise described as "ugly," the Wild knew what it was up against.
But through 20 minutes against Buffalo, the deficit was three, and the Wild was forced to play catch-up for 40 minutes.
"Everyone saw the first period," Erik Haula said. "The game was lost there right away."
First periods had not been an issue for the Wild this season for the most part: Entering Tuesday, the Wild allowed three goals in its previous 11 first periods, and 28 in 42 games.
But the Wild has given up four first period goals in its past two home games, and the first goal on home ice in each of its past three.
"We're back to the inconsistency," Ryan Suter said. "We took the first period off, and it shows. They get three goals, and then we decide to play, and we dominate the game."
As the Wild searches for answers, one thing is clear: The starts from the past three home games have not been good enough.
"It's three games in a row now at home, and it's unacceptable," Haula said. "It's quite embarrassing."
The Wild controlled play and possession over the final two periods as Buffalo played the part of a team protecting a three-goal lead.
Minnesota pushed back hard, outshooting the Sabres 14-5 in the second period, while Buffalo was content to concede possession, collapse in the defensive zone, and make sure the Wild got nothing from in tight.
"We've shown the last couple of our slow starts that we start to push, and the game is there," Head Coach Mike Yeo said. "Again, there are no excuses. We do need practice, there's no question about that. Just looking at the calendar we've had two practices since Christmas, but again, we're not making excuses."
Aside from the score, that's also what can make that kind of game so difficult to climb back into. The Sabres adopted a completely defensive mindset and attitude, making it really difficult for the Wild to generate quality looks at even-strength.
"We fought back obviously, but it is hard," Haula said. "You have to basically get a little lucky even."
The Wild talks about net-front presence a lot, but its generally in reference to how it plays in the offensive zone.
On Tuesday, two Wild was victimized by soft play in front of its own crease that led to two Sabres goals at the end of the first period.
Rasmus Ristolainen and Brian Gionta were each able to shake free above the blue paint, and establish body and stick position.
Those two goals, which came 20 seconds apart, were when things really unraveled for the Wild. After conceding a goal, the hope is to get momentum back as quickly as possible. Instead, the Wild lost the ensuing faceoff at center ice, then failed to clear the puck from its own zone, and Buffalo scored on two consecutive shots.
Rookie Mike Reilly has looked better with each game he's played at the NHL level, and that was again the case on Tuesday.
A playmaker with the ability to join the rush, Reilly made it very clear upon his latest recall that he needed to take care of things in his own zone first.
And progressively, Reilly has looked more and more comfortable playing below the blue line. He's moving the puck quicker, which is helping the Wild in transition, and helping to avoid turnovers.
He's also making the right up-ice reads, and not putting the Wild in a bad spot defensively by doing so. He activated late in the second period as the trailer, and quickly moved the puck to Jason Zucker for a Grade-A scoring chance.
It's no surprise to see a player gain confidence with game reps, and that's what appears to be going on with Reilly.
Special teams are an excellent way to cut into a lead, and the Wild used them on Tuesday, but not in the conventional way.
After not scoring on its lone power play at the end of the first period, the Wild's penalty kill (which was two-for-two) got a goal of its own.
On a great individual effort, Suter went coast-to-coast and helped Minnesota get a little bit closer. After gobbling up a centering pass in between the circles, Suter carried the puck below his own goal line and began to pick up speed.
He scooted past Sam Reinhart, exiting his own zone, and passed the puck off to Haula. Suter got a return pass right back, and quickly shifted the play to the outside and got a step on Ristolainen.
From there, Suter ascended toward the crease, and fired a sharp-angle backhand shot that was stopped initially, but the rebound popped up and in off of Linus Ullmark's back.
"We're all trying to get that next one; [defensemen] are big part of our team," Suter said. "For us to create offense our D has to be involved; that's just how this team is built.
"We knew that, and we were talking in here after the first that we had to be joining, and helping our guys out."
It was a much-needed moment for the Wild, who could have fallen behind 4-0 had it given up a power-play goal. Instead, Minnesota then killed off the minor and made it a two-goal game.
"It probably did spark a little bit," Haula said. "It was nice to get one in, it obviously wasn't easy tonight, but it wasn't enough."