LAS VEGAS -- You'll never hear the Wild use it as an excuse, but the team's injury situation is reaching a dire level as its pre-Christmas schedule comes to a head.
Tuesday night, Minnesota was without Jason Zucker, Mikko Koivu, Joel Eriksson Ek and Jared Spurgeon but still nearly rallied late to tie a game it would lose 3-2 to the Vegas Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena.
"We competed, no question, but that's our job. We're supposed to. That's never an option," said Wild forward Eric Staal. "You're after results and tonight we were on the wrong side of it, so it was disappointing."
Video: MIN@VGK: Parise buries rebound to trim deficit
After Zach Parise banged home a rebound with 75 seconds remaining and the Wild's net empty, it was Staal who had the tying goal on his stick just moments later. But with a rolling puck and Staal on his backhand, he couldn't control it.
It was the Wild's last and best chance to force overtime.
But considering the talent level either sitting in the press box or sitting back home in Minnesota, it's certainly encouraging the Wild had more than its fair chances to take two points out of Las Vegas.
Video: Locker room postgame at Vegas
"This group I think is wired with that ability to fight adversity like that," said Wild goaltender Alex Stalock. "We've got guys that came up that played good, hard, big minutes and made good plays, and we're going to keep rolling and stick with our plan. It's going to work. Bounces are going to go in, pucks are going to go in nets. It's just gonna happen."
Still, Wild coach Bruce Boudreau was in no mood to make excuses after the game. Back-to-back regulation losses have been a rarity lately. Before this week, the last time it happened was at the end of October.
In between, the Wild has never let losses linger ... or at the very least, linger without at least getting a point in the standings.
Video: MIN@VGK: Stalock makes save on Stone
"I don't want to make any notes about the roster. The roster is an NHL roster that played fine," Boudreau said. "What happened is, we made some dumb plays, and they capitalized on the goals."
The Wild could be without Zucker for awhile after Boudreau indicated the team's second-leading scorer is headed back to Minnesota early for more evaluations and testing on the lower-body injury he sustained in the first period against the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday night.
Zucker was on the receiving end of a slap shot dump in by Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook, a shot which hit Zucker in the skate, crumpling him to the ice. He was able to get to his feet and skate off, barely missing any time before returning to the game.
He finished that game but did not practice in Las Vegas on Monday.
Video: Bruce Boudreau postgame at Vegas
"He's going to be out more week-to-week than day-to-day," Boudreau said. "It'll be a big blow."
In what has been a season of opportunity, Zucker's potential long-term absence could open the door for someone else to make an impact.
A training camp injury to defenseman Greg Pateryn allowed Carson Soucy a shot at winning an NHL roster spot. He's taken and run, having arguably the best season of anyone on the roster.
Devan Dubnyk's recent absence allowed the Wild to get a look at Kaapo Kahkonen, who went 3-1-1 in five starts. Dubnyk, by the way, could return to the lineup Thursday after serving as Stalock's backup on Tuesday. It was the first time Dubnyk was in uniform since Nov. 19 in Buffalo.
Video: MIN@VGK: Zuccarello converts on two-man advantage
Koivu's injury opened a spot for Ryan Donato at center, and the 23-year old winger responded with a four-game point streak.
On Tuesday, Nico Sturm and Luke Johnson, both called up from Iowa on Monday, entered the lineup. Whether either of them stick could depend on how quickly others can heal. But as Soucy has proven, if one or both can grab this opportunity by the horns, an NHL job can certainly be earned.
"I look around the League and some of the teams that have 200 man games lost, 150 man games lost already," Boudreau said. "We're not going to cry, 'oh woe is me,' because we got a couple guys hurt. If you can't win without a couple guys, then you don't deserve to win."
Postgame Hat Trick: Golden Knights 3, Wild 2
Video: MIN Recap: Zuccarello, Parise score in 3-2 loss
Video: Get to know Luke Johnson