DES MOINES, Iowa - A hell of a time for a losing streak and with the season coming to a close, the playoffs got a little farther away after the loss to the high powered Roadrunners (Arizona) tonight at Wells Fargo Arena. The Wild had some pushes and some great play on both sides of the puck to be seen, but in a game like the one played tonight, the pace proved too much.
“I think we played well in spurts,” winger Sam Anas pointed out, “but...we’re not playing the full 60. It’s showing on the scoreboard....It’s to that point now where we’re getting really frustrated (as a team)....We’re never going to quit, but it’s frustrating.”
Niklas Svedberg (18-16-6; 2.81 GAA/.907 SV%) gave up six goals on 30 shots from Tucson en route to an ugly loss. It wasn’t all on Svedberg though, as he made some key saves in some dangerous moments to breathe some life into the Iowa bench. Adin Hill (17-11-4; 2.45 GAA/.908 SV%) also with some key saves, stopping 30 of 34 shots from the Wild.
“We left too much out there to give ourselves a realistic chance,” head coach Derek Lalonde said in post. “(The game) just had that feel that it was going to be an ugly game. We just tried to keep our guys in mentally.”
With their backs up against the proverbial wall in the playoff hunt, Iowa needed to make a statement early on to set the tone against one of the best teams in the entire AHL. It didn’t take very long and it was a cast of familiar characters that lit the lamp less than two minutes into the game.
A decent breakout started by Louie Belpedio helped charge up the Iowa scoring line on Sam Anas, Justin Kloos, and Gerry Mayhew. On their first shift of the night, Anas carried the puck in, made a silky pass to Kloos in the slot, who hit Mayhew as all three of the forwards were skating in unison in their respective lanes (Kloos, Anas; 1:25). Hill didn’t stand a chance, and Iowa was off and running.
Iowa had a lot of crisp passing and some decent defense to start out, but the special teams woes continued as Alex Grant took a seat for hooking Mario Kempe. Michael Bunting, who saw a four game point streak come to a close on Sunday, went back to his scoring way with a very peculiar goal.
Kyle Capobianco let a shot loose that ricocheted off of Svedberg’s cross-bar and Bunting was all eyes. The Scarborough native found his way behind Svedberg in the blue paint and more or less boxed out the netminder to bat the puck in on it’s way down (Capobianco; PP - 10:11).
But then the clock struck “Gerry Time” once again, as it was turn for a member of the Wild to show off some incredible hand-eye work of their own. Carson Soucy made a harmless pass to Gerry Fitzgerald who got it to Ryan White hanging out on the redline. A soft touch pass back to Fitzgerald was poked, but the movie star showed some impressive poise and puck control with his blade.
First came a kick, knocked the bouncing puck back down, and then had nobody to beat as he had a lot of time to fake out Hill for Iowa’s second goal of the night and a 2-1 lead (White, Soucy; 12:07).
But, as the tone has been lately, a great goal was followed by heartbreak. Before the PA announcer could say who was involved on the Fitzgerald goal, defenseman Joel Hanley picked a deflected puck from Viktor Lööv out of the air and skated in to beat Svedberg (unassisted; 12:16).
The scoring didn’t end for the Roadrunners there. Kurtis Gabriel and Lööv did their best in a corner battle, but the puck found it’s way to Mario Kempe at the point after a pass from Conor Garland who was able to pick the puck out of the scrum. The well-traveled Swede let loose a blast with Bunting screening Svedberg, and it was 3-2 (Garland; 13:58).
The Wild started putting a lot more Roadrunner bodies onto the ice as Belpedio made a huge hit on Tye McGinn in the DZ and Pat Cannone let his presence be felt in the neutral zone.
However, frustrations started to boil over as Captain Cal O’Reilly was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty as he chirped the refs from the bench and used some fairly colorful language. Head coach Derek Lalonde kept the refs on the ice after the first period horn to bend their ears a bit. So much that referee Christ Schlenker needed to come back out on the ice to retrieve fellow ref, Pierre Lambert.
Some Bite Back Late
Needing some much needed jump down a goal, the Iowa PK spent a lot of time in the Tucson zone thanks in large part to Kyle Rau and Kloos with some great F1 play. However, it was another costly turnover in the DZ by a familiar culprit.
Lööv called for a puck from Belpedio and when he made his outlet pass, it went off the stick of Ryan MacInnis and the home side was once again in trouble. The progeny of Al got the puck in deep to Trevor Cheek who was able to make a backhanded pass to a crashing McGinn for the put away and the extended lead early on (Cheek, MacInnis; 2:18).
The Roadrunners appeared to have all the momentum from shots to quality opportunities. Lots of credit is to be paid to their defensemen not allowing anything from Iowa below the dots as the period went on with an eerie march. But the leadership stepped up late.
Alternate captain Kyle Rau had a timely check on Capobianco and the puck came to Captain Cal who picked his spot and sniped Hill’s cage, “top-corns” to cut the deficit to one. With Tucson on their heels, Iowa got another great opportunity.
Tucson’s Lane Pederson took a hack at a puck with Brennan Menell surrendering the blueline, but Justin Kloos gave as much reach as he could to keep the puck in the zone. The former Gopher found newcomer Louie Belpedio across the blueline and the former Miami RedHawk made a hell of a pass to Anas camping out near the far post of Hill.
Sammy did some Sammy things, and the game was tied up (Belpedio, Kloos; 19:09). The horn marked the Potomac, Mary. native’s 23rd goal of the season - a new franchise record for the Iowa Wild. It was also Belpedio’s first professional point.
Not Enough in the Tank
With all the makings of what would be a tense third period, Tucson came out early to punch Iowa right in the mouth. Defenseman Kyle Wood earned his 3rd goal of the season by skating from his zone and Zach Palmquist gave the Waterloo, Ont. native just too much of a look on Svedberg’s net.
He sniped it in the top corner of the far post and Iowa returned to playing catch-up less than one minute it (Mermis; 0:51).
The Wild did the best they could to get some jump going, regaining the lead in shots on goal as well as garnering the majority of the scoring chances, but some faulty awareness on one of the younger guys saw the deficit grow.
It could have been that Belpedio was unaware of Crouse coming of of the bench, but there was a moment of pause, and then the big bodied winger turned on the jets and blew by Belpedio on a breakaway. There was little for Svedberg to do as the 20-year-old with 83 games of NHL experience under his belt netted the dagger (Camper, Wood; 15:06).
“We out-chanced them 10-to-2 in the third, but their two turned into goals,” Lalonde said of the final period performance. “Credit their coaching for some momentum shifts.”
This has been a team all season that has had some flashes of brilliance out on the ice, but as Sam Anas pointed out in post-game, the team has yet to put together a full 60. Mental lapses and some low energy play at times proved costly for the home side as the playoff window slowly closes.
“I don’t know if our guys had a feel that (this game) would be easy with an early goal,” Newsy explained, “but lapses in the first and midway through the second where we didn’t defend really well. We got beat up ice, and they had their way with us.”
And the players are feeling it too.
“I think tonight is the most we’ve ever been this frustrated,” Anas said following the loss. “It’s hard to admit that, but it is. Once we get out of here, we’ll get after it tomorrow and get a run going.”
It’s safe to say that everyone is a bit frustrated as of late, but that mental edge will be something to focus on as Iowa looks to close out the season. It isn’t quite time to print the obit for the 2017-18 season, but it’s going to be a hell of a grind in the final seven games of the year.
The Wild will clash again with the Roadrunners tomorrow night at 6:00 CST from Wells Fargo Arena.