BOSTON – The puck disappeared in goalie Tuukka Rask’s glove but if it didn’t – if the shot center Eric Staal heaved at the net off the rush instead sailed into the net – maybe that would have been the spark the weary Wild needed to keep pace with the rested Bruins.
But that boost never came, and the Wild sagged to a 4-0 loss Tuesday at TD Garden – a dud at the end of an otherwise productive four-game road trip that pocketed six out of a possible eight points for the team.
“We got behind, got behind early and I think that made it difficult for us to get going,” Staal said. “I had that look early to get some momentum and some energy, and it isn’t falling. It’s frustrating, but you gotta stick with it and find a way.”
While this swing through the Eastern Conference revealed plenty of positives for the Wild, one of the downsides was the offensive woes for usual scorers like Staal.
He and wingers Jason Zucker and Nino Niederreiter went scoreless on the trip, the only members of the top-nine forward group to not contribute at least a goal.
“It’s definitely not for a lack of trying,” Zucker said. “But like I’ve said before, working hard is not good enough. We’ve got to find a way to do it. We’ve got to find a way to be leaders on the team and score goals like we’re supposed to be doing, and right now we’re not doing that.”
Staal hasn’t scored since the first game post-holiday break, a 5-2 loss to the Blackhawks in Chicago Dec.27, but he’s been around the puck lately – earning looks that make it seem like he’s close to busting out of this slump.
“It’s frustrating because I’m generating a lot of chances, and I feel like I’m generating a lot – as much or more as I have in the last few years being here,” he said. “It’s just right now they’re not going in. I have to stick with it and try not to let it creep into other parts of my game because it can be difficult.”
Coach Bruce Boudreau thought Staal was moving well against the Bruins and had a few opportunities to deliver. He’s confident the veteran will be able to work his way out of this rut.
“He’s gone through this before, in my tenure anyway,” Boudreau said. “And he’s bounced right back out. I think it was last year or the year before he had a real long streak of not scoring, and then all of a sudden he picked it up. I assume he’s going to do that as well again.”
Boudreau was also keeping an eye on center Joel Eriksson Ek, who made his return to the Wild’s lineup with center Eric Fehr sidelined after hitting his head on the Wild’s bench in Monday’s game.
Eriksson Ek played 13 minutes, 16 seconds and was on the ice for two of the Bruins’ goals, one of which came on the power play.
“I’m 21 years old,” said Eriksson Ek, who left for Boston at 4 a.m. Tuesday after getting recalled from Iowa of the American Hockey League, traveling through Detroit to meet up with the team. “Still have to learn a lot every day and work hard.”
The power play is also a work in progress amid a 1-for-23 stretch.
“Something the last four, five games has been really off, and we have to work at it,” Boudreau said. “We have to get back to the basics on it, that’s for sure.”
This slide coincides with defenseman Matt Dumba’s absence to recover from surgery that fixed a ruptured right pectoralis muscle, but Boudreau doesn’t believe the two are correlated.
“There’s two power-play units out there, and he’s one guy," he explained. "As well as he’s been on the power play this season, I’m not sitting there saying, ‘Dumba’s the only reason that the power play hasn’t gone well.’”
After a busy finish to the road trip, the Wild won’t have much time to regroup.
It’ll be off Wednesday before hosting its Central Division rival, the Winnipeg Jets, Thursday at Xcel Energy Center.