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Wild slide to fourth loss in five games after 4-2 defeat to Maple Leafs

Rachel Blount, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on

Published in Hockey

TORONTO -- Asked about his team's lack of a superstar, Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said his team was built to do things collectively. "We do everything by committee," he said, before Wednesday's game at Toronto. "We don't worry about it."

Maple Leafs fans were plenty worried about the loss of their own superstar, Auston Matthews, who missed the game because of an undisclosed injury. But the Leafs still managed to win with a group approach, handing the Wild their third consecutive loss, 4-2 at Air Canada Centre. Toronto got goals from Nazem Kadri, Patrick Marleau and Matt Martin, scoring once in each period to send the Wild to their fourth loss in five games.

Jason Zucker scored both Wild goals, including a power-play strike that pulled the Wild within a goal at 15 minutes, 1 second of the third period. The Wild outshot the Maple Leafs 36-19, but Toronto got strong goaltending from Frederik Andersen.

The game featured another notable absence. The Wild planned to start backup goaltender Alex Stalock, but he returned to the Twin Cities as his wife, Felicia, prepared to deliver their second child. Devan Dubnyk stopped 15 shots.

Matthews missed a game for the first time in his NHL career, ending a streak of 98 consecutive regular-season games.

Matthews' status had been in question since Monday's game against Vegas. He stayed in the lineup, but he was experiencing pain from a lingering injury, setting off speculation that he would miss a game for the first time since launching his NHL career last season.

Leafs coach Mike Babcock sparked a national panic when he announced Wednesday morning that Matthews was out. Memes of flaming houses and screaming TV characters flooded social media, and Canada's sports networks discussed little else. When asked who would take Matthews' place in the lineup, Babcock admitted no one could -- but he expected other players to rise up in his absence.

"It's time for us to dig in," Babcock said. "Growing up as a team, here's a real good opportunity for us."

The Maple Leafs were outshot, 23-12, in the first two periods, yet they managed to build a 2-1 lead. The Wild held them without a shot on goal for the first 8:48. Midway through the period, Toronto began to get some traction, and it scored at 12:56.

Dubnyk, who has surrendered a number of fluky goals, had another one go in off his body. Kadri's shot from the slot went wide of the net and banged off the end boards, then hit the back of Dubnyk's left skate and ricocheted over the goal line.

The Wild evened things up at 18:15. The line of Zucker, Eric Staal and Chris Stewart finished a strong shift when Staal corralled the puck in the left circle and shot. The rebound popped out to Zucker, who was undefended in front of the net, and he smacked it in to tie the score 1-1.

Zach Hyman's patience helped the Maple Leafs regain the lead early in the second period. He led a rush, carrying the puck into the left circle, then held it as Marleau skated into the slot. Hyman turned and passed to Marleau for a goal at 3:47, putting Toronto in front 2-1.

The Wild got three power plays later in the period but could not create any top-notch chances. The Maple Leafs extended the lead to 3-1 at 3:40 of the third period, when Dubnyk could not control a rebound. The puck squirted out to Martin near the right wall, and his shot deflected off the stick of Wild defenseman Gustav Olofsson.

(c)2017 Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

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