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– Staring down a potentially make-or-break week against three of the strongest teams in the NHL, the Wild sputtered out of the gates — getting flattened by the Penguins while the gap between it and a playoff spot expands.

An ominous tone was set even before the Wild was blown away 7-3 Tuesday in front of 18,545 at PPG Paints Arena to extend its winless skid to four games.

A lineup card blunder left the Wild shorthanded seconds before the opening faceoff, a mistake that forced the team to use only five defensemen.

“That was a mistake I made,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “It’s all my fault.”

Although he was supposed to play, Greg Pateryn was listed as a scratch on the official playing roster and had to leave the bench once the mix-up was pointed out to Boudreau by the officials.

Forward Ryan Donato, who was scheduled to be a healthy scratch, was listed on the playing roster. He joined the team early in the first period but rarely played, taking only seven shifts — with his first not coming until the end of the second.

“I do the lineups first thing in the morning, and the first thing that goes down is the lowest number and I put Donato on and forgot Pateryn,” said Boudreau, who apologized to the team. “And when I looked and the thing was full, I figured I did it right. It’s a dumb mistake. Never done that before. To start the game with five ‘D,’ I take full blame for that.”

All five defensemen logged more than 20 minutes of ice time, with Jonas Brodin posting a game-high 26:16. The Penguins exploited the patchwork effort in a methodical takedown that was boosted by the return of captain Sidney Crosby from core muscle surgery.

“That’s not the reason we lost,” Ryan Suter said of the lineup miscue. “He owned up to it. He made a mistake, and we made a lot of mistakes throughout that game.”

Crosby finished with four points, including a goal, but he wasn’t the only one to torment the Wild. So did Evgeni Malkin, who scored twice and added an assist.

Malkin tallied Pittsburgh’s first on the power play 7:57 into the first and with 2:03 left in the period, Jared McCann finished off an odd-man rush.

The Penguins doubled their lead with two goals in 1:01 in the second: Bryan Rust wired in a drop pass from Malkin at 14:04, and Malkin’s centering feed deflected in behind goalie Devan Dubnyk at 15:05 for Pittsburgh’s second power-play goal in four chances.

“They are a team that you can’t give anything to and in the first two periods, we gave them four opportunities and they put it in,” Boudreau said.

Zach Parise snapped his 10-game goalless drought with 2:43 left in the second, and Marcus Foligno buried his fifth goal in the past five games on a deke just 2:15 into the third.

But Crosby helped reinstate a four-goal cushion.

First, his backhand went in off Matt Dumba’s stick at 7:41, and then he set up Dominik Simon for a one-timer at 8:20 after an impressive pass to himself off the back of the net.

With 3:03 to go, Alex Galchenyuk converted on a one-timer before Parise added his second of the game on the Wild’s second power play with 11 seconds left.

Seven goals matched the season-high scored against the Wild, tying the seven the Penguins also rang up Oct.12.

“This is a low,” Foligno said. “This is probably the lowest point of the season.”

But the Wild doesn’t have much time to recover, not with Tampa Bay and Dallas on deck and it falling further behind the playoff pace in the Western Conference.

“It’s definitely not how we want to get things going,” said Dubnyk, who had 22 saves compared with 26 for Pittsburgh’s Tristan Jarry. “But I don’t think we’re playing as well as we should be right now. So maybe it’s a wake-up.”