Well, that was… ugly.
Watching the Wild this season has been akin to staring at an M.C. Escher painting for three straight months. There are staircases going in every direction, and you just don’t know whether Minnesota will go up, down, left, or right. Heck, you can’t even tell from game to game which direction the team is heading. It’s just… perplexing.
The Wild was dominated in all three zones tonight, as Nathan MacKinnon and the Avalanche controlled every aspect of their 7-2 win, extending their streak to five straight victories. Faster, more physical, and more creative, there was never a doubt as to which team was better in Denver. If the hope coming into the game was for Minnesota to finally put its road struggles in the rearview mirror, then it did anything but demonstrate that it is capable of playing good hockey away from Xcel Energy Center, as it lost its fourth consecutive road contest.
With the Avalanche dominating most of the first period, Gabriel Bourque opened the scoring at the 7:38 mark. Joel Eriksson Ek and Charlie Coyle very much got caught puck watching as Colin Wilson stickhandled behind Devan Dubnyk, and Bourque was left alone in the slot. Wilson laid a perfect pass onto Bourque’s stick, who had time to dust it off and rifle it over Dubnyk’s glove.
Ten minutes later, the Wild’s fourth line, which was so good in the previous two home games, buzzed Jonathan Bernier with a couple of great chances. But as the Avs countered, it quickly became apparent that Matt Cullen’s line was on the ice against MacKinnon’s line… not the matchup that Bruce Boudreau probably wanted. MacKinnon did MacKinnon things, absolutely flying into the Wild zone and firing a puck on Dubnyk that created all kinds of havoc in front of the Wild net. Patrik Nemeth eventually blasted one off the bar and down for his third goal of the season and MacKinnon’s 50th point.
It looked like the Wild would go to the dressing room down 2-0 after a bad road period, but Jason Zucker carried the puck into the offensive zone in the final minute. He found Jonas Brodin on the far side, and Brodin snapped a purposeful shot into Bernier’s left pad. Eric Staal outworked Colorado’s defense to find the rebound and slap it home, shockingly getting Minnesota back to within one goal to close out the first frame.
The Wild returned from the first intermission looking a lot better than it did at the start of the game, quickly turning the tide and gaining the lead in shots on goal. But during a Colorado power play eight minutes into the second frame, thanks to a very soft slashing call against Cullen, the Avs extended their lead. Daniel Winnik rang a short-handed shot off the post behind Bernier, but the puck caromed almost to the Colorado blueline, and the Avalanche was off to the races. Rookie stud Alexander Kerfoot carried it into Minnesota’s zone and patiently waited until he was all the way into the left corner before putting a beautiful pass onto Carl Soderberg’s tape. Soderberg, like Bourque earlier in the game, was left alone right in front of Dubnyk and made no mistake. Later in the period, another MacKinnon-induced goal by Mikko Rantanen—after Dubnyk made two ridiculous saves but then lost track of the puck—made the score 4-1.
In the final minute of the second, Staal again injected a little hope into the Wild, potting his second rebound goal of the game. It was another simple play while on the man advantage, as Zucker just fired a hard, low shot into the pads of Bernier, and Staal pounced on the rebound. It was Staal’s team-leading nineteenth goal of the year, but it would ultimately have little impact on the outcome of the game.
Any life the Wild was still grasping at the end of the second was quickly snuffed out by the Avalanche, which again dominated the third period. Another power play goal by Soderberg made it 5-2 with fifteen minutes to play, and moments later, Dubnyk decided he had had enough. After getting bumped, he jumped an Avalanche player and took a double-minor penalty. On the ensuing power play, MacKinnon poetically scored his eighteenth of the season, making it 6-2 and finally giving Boudreau the signal to get Dubnyk out of the game. Tyson Jost added a garbage time goal on Alex Stalock, just for good measure.
The six goals against Dubnyk tonight were certainly not his fault, and his being chased from the game was not an indictment on his play, but rather an indication of just how poorly his team performed in front of him. With Colorado playing a fast, hard brand of hockey, the Wild was simply too soft in all three zones and couldn’t compete.
It’s just crazy how this team can make its fans start to believe that it will contend this season, and then in the blink of an eye, have those same fans jumping off the bandwagon as if it’s on fire and rolling toward a 200-foot cliff with no brakes.
Minnesota is fortunate to be returning home for its next matchup, where it welcomes the Calgary Flames on Tuesday.