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Fight or Flight - The Wild’s late-game struggles are more a mirage than a trend, for now.

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NHL: New York Rangers at Minnesota Wild Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Wild are smack dab in the middle of very familiar territory. It's the 2018 edition of the battle for a wildcard spot. It seems nearly every year the Wild find themselves in this same position. While last season they had a great middle-third of their season, which was good enough for them to secure 2nd in the Western Conference, it's more of an outlier than the norm.

Over the past 5 seasons the Wild have slid into a wildcard slot in 3 of those. Their other non-wildcard playoff berth came courtesy of a lockout shortened season. Tack on how this season seems to be playing out and it will be their 4th wildcard berth in 6 seasons. It's enough to get you thinking that this team, loaded with talent, has already reached their pinnacle.

Now things could still come around for the Wild this season. As of today just a handful of points separate them from a 3rd seed in the division, or better. The Wild have 26 games remaining on their schedule. That’s a possible 52 points sitting on the table just waiting for a hand to snatch them up. With the trade deadline on the horizon this squad does have a chance to bring in a role guy or two and try to make a run for the cup. Yet something is holding this team back, and it’s been a theme throughout their string of playoff appearances. Consistency, or a lack of it.

It’s one thing to show consistency season after season. The Wild are certainly doing that, in showing their mediocrity time and time again. But on a game by game basis this team is lacking the kind of punch you want to see from a true contender for the cup. A very concerning trend we’ve seen lately is the Wild seem to be taking their foot off the gas in games. Recent memory serves you well in that just 3 games ago the Wild blew a 3-0 lead and lost to the Arizona Coyotes in overtime. 2 games ago the Wild were able to hold off the Chicago Blackhawks and secure a 3-0 shutout, but the Hawks were coming, peppering Devan Dubnyk with 44 shots in that game, 15 of those coming in the final frame. Then last night the Wild struggled through much of the middle third of the game, watching a 3-0 lead dwindle into a 3-2 victory over the New York Rangers.

Does this mean their over the hump? They’ve figured out how to play in the 3rd period? Yes and no.

You’re not the only one who feels like this team just doesn’t have a full 60 minutes in them these days. If you’re a team with big dreams of a Stanley Cup you had better be able to bring it, or at the very least be able to punch back when you get popped in the jaw. We’ve watched this same scene play out all season, but are the Wild really that bad late in games?

When the Wild are playing with a lead heading into the first intermission, their record this season is 18-0-2. After the 2nd period, if the Wild have a lead their record slides to 19-2-3. That doesn’t look too bad on paper right? For all the clamoring about how these team seems to turtle up late in games and give away sure wins, the numbers seem to refute that. However, when you dig in a little deeper, and look at the by period scoring for the Wild you start to see a fuller picture.

Scoring by period

1 2 3 ot Total
1 2 3 ot Total
52 47 63 3 165
38 42 72 5 157

And digging deeper yet, we look at the shooting numbers by period and you can really start to see how the Wild tend to coast through games, regardless of the score.

Shooting by period

1 2 3 ot Total
1 2 3 ot Total
566 558 518 14 1656
573 637 594 12 1816

It’s no secret the Wild are a team that gets outshot. It’s been that way for years and it’s a trend that doesn’t show any signs of breaking. But they don’t seem to let this affect them either, sporting a record of 20-13-4 when being outshot this season. Some of that is score effects for sure, but with the Wild being outshot on a regular basis it’s not a stretch to say this team does well defensively to limit where the shots are coming from and are able to overcome the shot differential by leading on the scoreboard.

For what it’s worth however, there doesn’t seem to be much there in the world of the Wild tanking late in games. Sure they have a -9 goal differential in the 3rd period this season. That is stretched out over 56 games though, a mind-boggling .16 goals per game more than the Wild are scoring. That number can be drastically different with either a very good week in the 3rd period or a really bad week in the 3rd period.

While it has been trending in the wrong direction as of late, I don’t believe we’re in full panic mode yet. This is definitely something the Wild will need to clean up before it gets too bad, and there performance last night in the 3rd period against the Rangers was inspired. The drum beat goes on and we’ll see how this team is able to do business with a couple of tough teams to finish out the home stand. Part of what separates the good teams from the elite is their ability to not only get the lead in games, but retain that through the final whistle.