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Wild gets a taste of what playoff hockey could be like

Minnesota comes up short in physical, entertaining game Sunday that had a postseason feel

by Dan Myers @mnwildscribe / Wild.com

ST. PAUL -- If the Wild is going to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it got a pretty good idea of what life is going to be like for the next six weeks on Sunday night at Xcel Energy Center. 

Minnesota lost 4-3 to the Washington Capitals, one of the very best teams in the NHL. And while the Wild came up one goal short, it felt it played a strong enough game to get two points in the standings. 

"The effort was there, we competed hard and we've been going that direction for the last little while," said Wild forward Zach Parise. "That works for us. Didn't get the outcome that we wanted to, but I feel like if we play like that more often than not, we're going to find ourselves in a lot of games and a chance to win a lot of games."

That was a common refrain from players after the game, and it certainly seems like a valid argument.

The Wild outshot the Capitals 40-30, out-attempted them 62-50, outhit them 15-8 and won 62 percent of the 60 faceoffs in the game. It also converted two of four power play attempts. 

Video: Dean Evason postgame vs Capitals

"It felt heavy. It was very intense," said Wild interim coach Dean Evason. "We liked how our group was engaged in the game." 

The effort, combined with the Wild's recent stretch of good play -- Minnesota went 9-4-1 in the month of February -- made the vibe inside Xcel Energy Center feel more like a playoff game. 

"It was. There was a different buzz in the building, I felt like. Maybe it's because we have crawled into contention, so there's a little more excitement in the building," Parise said. "It was a different atmosphere at home than it has been the last few games, so that made it fun for sure."

A victory for Minnesota would have vaulted the Wild inside the top-8 in the Western Conference for the first time since Dec. 6, with a game against division-rival Nashville on tap here on Tuesday night. 

Video: Locker room postgame vs Capitals

Unfortunately for the Wild, it was a 3 1/2 minute stretch of the first period that ended up dooming the home club on this night. 

Alex Ovechkin scored twice, including once on a 5-on-3 power play and another time off an odd-man rush. In between, Richard Panik scored off the rush on a shot that eluded Alex Stalock and snuck just inside the far post.

That turned an early 1-0 Wild lead into a quick two-goal deficit. 

"We worked hard and did a lot of little things right," said Wild forward Marcus Foligno. "It just comes down to the first period, three goals against. Just some missed plays by us, some turnovers and just not being close enough to the guy. They're really good at scoring on the rush and that puts you in a hole."

Minnesota clawed back with a power-play goal of its own when Kevin Fiala channeled his inner-Ovi by ripping a one-timer under the crossbar to make it 3-2 late in the first period. 

Video: WSH@MIN: Fiala blasts one-timer for power-play goal

It stayed that way until the opening moments of the third, when again the Capitals struck off the rush. This time, Ovechkin dished to Tom Wilson, who fired a shot through Stalock 40 seconds in, pushing the Washington lead back to two goals.

"We thought we played the right way and we thought we did a lot of good things in this hockey game," Evason said. "We showed that we are right there."

Parise would score another goal with the man advantage with 7:07 left in regulation, but couldn't find the tying goal on a night when the Wild played like a team that certainly deserved at least a point. 

Video: WSH@MIN: Parise slams in his own rebound for PPG

The teams combined for six roughing penalties and two fighting majors, in addition to an unusual amount of post-whistle rough stuff. For two teams in different conferences, it certainly gave it the feel of meaningful, late-season hockey. 

Which is a feeling the Wild better get used to.

"I would think so, with what's on the line for us and for the team's that we are playing against," Parise said. "It's crunch time now and we have to have that same energy that we have had the last few games."

"This is what you can expect now until the end of the season, with teams kind of in that race," Foligno said. "They had some teams in the East lose, so they have that feeling like they want to get to the top. And we're trying to get in. So it's gonna have emotions and it's gonna be like that for the next 16 games."


Related:

Postgame Hat Trick: Capitals 4, Wild 3

Video: MIN Recap: Fiala has goal, assist in loss to Capitals

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