ANAHEIM, Calif. – Build a lead.
Frustrate the opposition’s offense.
Seal a win in the third period.
A work in progress.
The Wild was two-thirds of the way through a successful blueprint for pocketing two points on the road Tuesday when it wilted in the final period, getting upended by a four-goal rally from the Kings for a 5-2 loss that obscured just how close the Wild was to victory.
It was the first time this season the team hadn’t snagged at least a point when leading after two periods, but it was enough of a collapse to shine a spotlight on the progress needed to close out games — especially on the road, where the Wild is 5-8-1.
Fortunately for the team, though, it’ll have another crack at executing this plan Friday when the Wild resumes its three-game trek along the West Coast by visiting the Ducks in Anaheim.
“We just have to continue to play the right way,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “That’s the whole bottom line.”
Getting to the third period in position to pull out a win wasn’t an issue for the Wild against the Kings.
The team seemed to play an ideal road style through two periods by getting pucks deep, cycling down low and limiting the quality of Los Angeles’ chances.
But that approach fizzled in the third, enabling the Kings to take over — tying it 4 minutes, 35 seconds into the frame before converting the game-deciding goal with 7:22 remaining.
“I firmly believe that if you’re tied with under 10 minutes to go on the road, you should be coming out there with a point unless something really accidental happens,” Boudreau said. “We haven’t done that enough this year. If we had done it enough, we’d be in the high 30s in points right now.”
Like the strategy to tote a lead into the third, there also appears to be a checklist for bubble-wrapping it through regulation.
Disciplined play becomes even more crucial; odd-man rushes helped derail the Wild on Tuesday, and the opponent also can be boosted by power plays. Staying out of the box is key.
But not having to play defense at all would help, too.
The Wild had just five shots on goal in the third, giving the Kings ample opportunity to direct traffic at the other end of the rink.
“We haven’t played as much in the offensive zone as we should,” winger Mikael Granlund said. “That relieves a lot of pressure on our ‘D,’ so hopefully we can do a better job of that.”
Trying to protect more than a one-goal lead would also make it easier on the blue line, and perhaps the new look the Wild debuted at practice Thursday will ignite more production.
Granlund was slotted next to center Eric Staal and winger Nino Niederreiter, while Charlie Coyle shifted from center to right wing on a line with center Mikko Koivu and winger Jason Zucker.
“It never hurts sometimes to separate guys for a little bit just to get a different view in life, almost new linemates,” Boudreau said. “If you look at the numbers and how many goals we’ve scored as a team recently, I thought it was something worth trying.”
Joel Eriksson Ek, who was recalled Wednesday after a seven-game stint with Iowa in the American Hockey League in which he scored three goals and racked up seven points, centered wingers Tyler Ennis and Christ Stewart, and wingers Daniel Winnik, Marcus Foligno and Zack Mitchell worked with center Matt Cullen.
“He was the best player down there,” Boudreau said of Eriksson Ek. “We just thought he’s capable of playing on our team.”
A thicker cushion from the offense would undoubtedly improve the Wild’s outlook late in games, but the right mindset is also necessary.
And that grows through effective repetition.
“If you can have that killer instinct, get that one- or two- or three-goal lead,” Staal said, “it’s going to put you in a better situation.”