Despite frantic final minutes, Wild fall to Jets

Rachel Blount, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on

Published in Hockey

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Before Tuesday's game against Winnipeg, Wild coach Bruce Boudreau delivered a pointed message. He noted that goaltender Alex Stalock, who was starting against the Jets, had given the Wild outstanding performances in two previous games but suffered from a lack of support.

"It would be nice," Boudreau mused, "if our players played really good in front of him one night."

The Wild gave Stalock a few moments late in the game, but not enough in a 2-1 loss at Xcel Energy Center. The offense waited far too long to get going, the power play faltered badly and an enormous defensive blunder in the third period ended the Wild's first winning streak of the season at two games.

Winnipeg held a 1-0 lead until 43 seconds of the third period, when defenseman Matt Dumba pushed the puck backwards near his own blue line. Nikolaj Ehlers scooped it up, stickhandled his way around Mikael Granlund and deked Stalock, a picturesque goal that gave the Jets all they would need.

The Wild failed to score on five power-play chances and did not register a shot on goal until nearly eight minutes into the game. They finally found their footing in the third period, controlling the play for long stretches and cutting the lead to a single goal when Luke Kunin scored on a spectacular pass by Nino Niederreiter at five minutes, 36 seconds.

But too many wayward shots, whiffs and missed connections -- and a solid performance by Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck -- left Stalock with his first regulation loss of the season.

Though Stalock entered the game with sterling statistics against Winnipeg -- a 3-0-0 record, 0.73 GAA and .967 save percentage -- he dismissed the numbers as irrelevant. He hadn't played the Jets since the 2015-16 season, when he was with San Jose, and knew what he was up against Tuesday.

The Jets had only one regulation loss in their past eight games. Stalock was well aware of their potent offense, one that has found its stride after poor efforts in the first two games. Winnipeg forward Blake Wheeler said the Jets had recommitted to using their speed, which has fueled their recent success.

"The games where we didn't have success, we came out flat," Wheeler said. "We weren't skating. That's no good for us. (The Wild) is going to make you work for scoring chances, and we need to make them do the same."

Winnipeg's speed factored into the first period as the Jets took a 1-0 lead. They nearly got their first goal only 47 seconds into the game on a power play, but Joel Armia was ruled to have made a hand pass before the puck went in.

That early power play -- courtesy of a tripping penalty on Jared Spurgeon -- left the Wild playing catch-up throughout the period. The Jets spent the entire two minutes in the Wild's end, and it took some superb saves by Stalock to prevent them from scoring on four shots. Winnipeg kept up the brisk pace, recording seven shots before the Wild got their first nearly eight minutes into the period.

By that point, the Jets had taken the lead. Mark Scheifele got his stick on Tyler Myers' shot from the right point and redirected it to Kyle Connor, who finished in front of the net at 7:10 of the first.

The Wild got some good chances on two power plays in the first period and three in the second but could not score.

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