ST. PAUL -- The NHL is a results based business. There's no column in the standings for woulda, shoulda and coulda, but if there was, the Wild certainly deserved better than its fate on Saturday against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Playing against one of the best teams in the League, the Wild dug itself out of an early two-goal deficit and dominated much of the final 40 minutes of the game but lost 5-3 at Xcel Energy Center.
The reason, quite simply? The Maple Leafs had the far superior puck luck.
"I think it was as good a game as we could play," said Wild coach Bruce Boudreau. "I think Toronto has a great team, but I think the wrong team deserved to win today."
Minnesota outshot Toronto in all three periods, a disparity that became more glaring deeper into the game. After an 11-8 edge in shots in period one, the Wild held a 12-7 advantage in the second and a dominant 18-8 margin in the third.
The Wild outcycled, outchanced, and just about outeverything'd the Maple Leafs over the final 20 minutes, nearly drawing even on several occasions before getting the game to 3-3 on a goal by Jason Zucker.
Video: TOR@MIN: Zucker sweeps one home to even the score
Minnesota continued its assault on the Toronto net afterward but couldn't find a way to solve Frederik Andersen for a fourth time.
"I thought it was a good hockey game," said Wild forward Eric Fehr. "I think we played a lot better tonight than we have in the last couple and you know if we play like this every night we're going to get a better result most nights."
Meanwhile, the Maple Leafs scored the game-winning goal in incredibly frustrating fashion, capitalizing on a rather innocuous rush chance where Nazem Kadri flipped a puck from the right corner toward the top of the crease, where it bounced off the chest of Wild defenseman Nick Seeler and past Devan Dubnyk.
It was the second time in the game Toronto had banked the puck off Seeler and into the cage; Tyler Ennis did the same thing 12:19 into the game to give the Leafs an early 2-0 edge.
"Not much you can say there," Seeler said. "I just feel bad for Dubs because he played well. Our forwards played really well and we were defending. We were just pressuring and pressuring and then that one goes in? It stings."
Video: TOR@MIN: Staal hammers one-timer past Andersen
After the Wild rallied back on goals by Eric Staal and Jordan Greenway, Zach Hyman was credited with his first of two goals when a fadeaway, off-speed shot from the right point by Mitch Marner deflected off Hyman's right hand and under the crossbar.
Video: TOR@MIN: Greenway slides puck through Andersen
Hyman also had an empty-net goal in the final minute of regulation. Auston Matthews' goal 6:06 into the contest was a highlight-reel marker, but one could argue it was the Leafs' best true scoring chance of the night.
"Kind of crazy right now. That's a great game by us. When we play a game like that, that's just not going to happen again," Dubnyk said. "That was a big game, Saturday night against Toronto, but I mean, I don't know what else to say. We played as good as you can play and just a couple tough bounces. I guess if we keep up that effort we're going to win a lot of games."
Besides a 41-23 advantage on the shot chart, there were plenty of positives to take from the game.
Minnesota's defensive structure, which had gotten a little too loose in recent losses to Columbus and in the third period against Arizona, stiffened substantially despite the crooked number in the Toronto goal column.
After a couple of rough outings by Dubnyk, the Wild's goaltender responded with an outstanding game, stifling the Leafs on nearly all of their grade-A scoring chances and making a couple of timely saves to keep the Wild in the game early.
Video: Bruce Boudreau postgame vs. Maple Leafs
"Two goals we scored in our own net and one was an empty-net. I don't think anybody in the world would have stopped Matthews shot in the first period, so he made the saves he had to make," Boudreau said. "When they got a goal, they came right back at one point and he made a great save on Tavares - sort of stopped the flow of everything. He was like the rest of the guys. They played really good."
Minnesota had an abundance of grade-As of its own, including a handful of odd-man rushes in the game. If there's one thing the Wild could have done better on Saturday, it'd likely be finishing those scoring chances.
The line of Zucker, Staal and Mikael Granlund was especially potent, creating scoring chance after scoring chance throughout the game.
Granlund was robbed by Andersen's glove on a great move in front of the net and Staal by the goaltender's right pad on a sprawling save in the third.
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Zucker had a yawning cage of his own a few minutes before his third-period goal that he missed just high and wide.
"That's about as wide open of an empty net as I've missed in my whole career," Zucker said. "It's never good, especially for a guy like myself that feels I can help this team by scoring goals. That's a goal that needs to go in, especially that point in the period. It changes things. It was good to get one back and tie the game at least. Overall, that can't happen."
Now, the Wild will take its game on the road for a three-game slog through Western Canada. If Minnesota can bottle its game on Saturday and take it with on the charter to Vancouver on Monday, it will likely have a successful trip.
"I think it's definitely something that can springboard us into the right frame of mind game after game," Zucker said. "I think we all know that was our best recipe for success over the next 50, 60. So we gotta make sure we use that to our advantage and learn from that in a positive way and make sure we build off of it."
Postgame Hat Trick: Maple Leafs 5, Wild 3
Video: MIN Recap: Greenway, Zucker score in 5-3 loss
Video: Locker room postgame vs. Toronto