UNIONDALE, N.Y. – The Minnesota Wild can’t afford clunkers like this if they hope to grab a playoff spot in the cluttered Western Conference.
Coming off a home loss to Chicago on Monday that dropped them under the post-season cutoff, the Wild mustered little energy in a 4-1 loss to the also-ran New York Islanders on Wednesday night.
The Wild will have to generate a whole lot more Thursday night when they finish a two-game New York trip against the Rangers or else face the prospect of falling further behind with time running out.
“We haven’t been good the last couple of games,” forward Kyle Brodziak said. “We definitely need more desperation. We’re fighting for our playoff lives here. It’s frustrating. It was a must-win and we didn’t get the job done. It makes (Thursday) that much bigger. We’ve got to stop the slide now and do whatever it takes to turn it around.”
Blake Comeau scored two goals and Al Montoya made 33 saves in non-taxing fashion for the Islanders, long out of the Eastern race.
It was the Islanders who were expected to have the tired legs after a tough 2-1 overtime loss at Washington on Tuesday night. After a ragged start, in which the Wild pinned them in their end, the Islanders quickly took over.
“We came out with a mindset that we were going to outwork them,” said defenceman Andrew MacDonald, who scored New York’s final goal. “Outside of the first few shifts, where they had us hemmed in, we dominated the play pretty well.”
Comeau, who had gone seven games without scoring, gave the Islanders a 1-0 lead in the first period and a 3-0 edge in the second. Kyle Okposo added a goal, and Frans Nielsen had three assists.
Niklas Backstrom lasted only until 41 seconds into the second period. He was yanked in favour of Jose Theodore after giving up three goals on 19 shots. Theodore cleaned up for the Wild, outshot 41-34.
“It’s behind us now,” Backstrom said. “We have to worry about tomorrow. I’ll try to be better tomorrow.”
John Madden spoiled Montoya’s shutout bid with 8:27 left. Montoya was briefly shaken with 1:02 left when he was struck near the shoulder by Marek Zidlicky’s hard drive, but stayed in.
The Wild began the night 10th in the Western Conference—two points behind a cluster of teams holding playoff positions. Minnesota has 18 games remaining.
“It’s life in the Western Conference,” forward Andrew Brunette said. “We just have to play better more than worry about where we are in the standings. If we play better, we’ll get our points and our wins.
“We’re better than we played, that’s for sure.”
The Islanders jumped on the Wild early, but only 7,098 were in attendance to see New York snap a four-game losing streak (0-2-2).
The momentum turned the Islanders’ way after Wild defenceman Nick Schultz went off for hooking.
Comeau finished a crisp tic-tac-toe play started by Josh Bailey on the goal line. Bailey moved the puck to the slot to Nielsen, who quickly sent it between the circles to Comeau for a one-timer at 10:31.
“I think he is one of the most underrated players in the league,” Comeau said about Nielsen.
Okposo showed a little flash in doubling New York’s lead. The Minnesota native, facing the Wild for the fourth time in his four NHL seasons, got to a flubbed shot by Michael Grabner. With his back to the net, Okposo slid a backhander between his legs that found its way underneath Backstrom with 1:23 left in the first.
The Islanders held a 17-10 shots advantage in the period, not including John Tavares’ drive that hit the right post behind Backstrom just over a minute in. Tavares also hit the crossbar in the second, while the teams skated four-on-four.
New York ended Backstrom’s night when Comeau netted his second of the game 41 seconds into the second.
“Once we got our legs under us and we started doing the right things we were a pretty good hockey team,” Islanders coach Jack Capuano said.
The Islanders connected on the power play again with 3:55 left in the period on MacDonald’s slap shot from above the left circle.
The only downside for New York was the ejection of enforcer Trevor Gillies for his hit from behind on Cal Clutterbuck in response to Clutterbuck’s hard hit on Justin DiBenedetto that drew a boarding penalty.
NOTES: Backstrom has given up at least three goals in three straight outings after allowing one in each of the previous three. … Minnesota had won five straight in the series. … Before Comeau’s first goal, Minnesota had allowed only one goal in its previous 24 short-handed situations. … Okposo’s goal was his first point against the Wild. He also assisted on MacDonald’s goal. … Grabner was chosen as NHL rookie of the month after posting 10 goals and six assists in February.