Clinging to the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference, the slumping Minnesota Wild will try to snap a three-game losing streak when they host the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night in Saint Paul, Minn.
It’s the fifth time this season the Wild have lost three consecutive games, but so far they haven’t dropped four in a row. To keep that streak alive they’ll have to bounce back from an ugly 5-1 home loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday that saw them get booed off the ice.
It won’t be easy. New Jersey owns the best road record in the NHL at 19-3-2.
It’s the second game of a seven-game homestand for Minnesota, which is tied in points with third-place Colorado in the Central Division with 58 points. The defending Stanley Cup champions have a game in hand on the Wild.
“We’re still in the thick of it and we can’t be down on ourselves,” Wild captain Jared Spurgeon said.
Minnesota allowed four goals in the second period of Thursday’s loss, including three in a span of 2:26. The final one came when Jack Eichel cruised alone down the right wing and fired a shot past Marc-Andre Fleury’s blocker side and inside the far post. Fleury, who was eventually lifted after the second period, then slammed his stick against the post before tossing it toward center ice.
“I shouldn’t do that, probably,” Fleury said. “I was just mad for giving up another goal. There was a lot in that period. I felt like I didn’t make a save. Just angry, and it came out that way.”
Fleury finished with 18 saves on 23 shots. The first two Vegas goals came on deflections off Minnesota players near the net. Another came on a penalty shot by Reilly Smith, who had been slashed on a breakaway by defenseman Alex Goligoski.
“It’s hard not to win and to lose this way, too, especially for me as a goalie (against) my old teammates,” Fleury said. “It’s a little embarrassing.
“It’s better to have a rough patch now than later on. Once we get out of this, we’re going to be better for it.”
New Jersey begins a nine-day, four-game road trip that also includes stops at Columbus, St. Louis and Pittsburgh. The second-place Devils have won three in a row and trail Metropolitan-leading Carolina by four points.
New Jersey comes in off a 3-1 victory over Seattle on Thursday. Defenseman Dougie Hamilton led the way with a pair of power-play goals to extend his point streak to six games and also give him a career-high 51 points (15 goals, team-high 36 assists) after just 51 games. Backup goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood made 33 saves.
The win over the Kraken was the first game this season missed by All-Star center Jack Hughes, who is listed as week-to-week with an upper-body injury. Hughes is third in the NHL with 35 goals and leads the team with 67 points.
“It’s been about the team all year, really,” New Jersey coach Lindy Ruff told reporters. “(Jack) had a great first 50 games, you can’t disguise that at all. But at the same time, we’ve made this about the team, and we need the other guys.”
Hughes had two goals and an assist in 21:44 of time on ice in New Jersey’s 5-4 overtime victory over Vancouver on Monday. He missed practice on Tuesday and then left Wednesday’s practice early before Ruff announced he would be sidelined.
“It’s going to need a little time,” Ruff said. “When somebody goes down, we really have the next man up. … Every team has to deal with key injuries, key injuries to key players, and other players have to step in and have the ability to provide what Jack was bringing.”
–Field Level Media