At the end of a busy week in which it had already played three games in four nights, the Wild could have sagged Sunday – especially against the Metropolitan Division leading Capitals, a rested squad that had been waiting for the Wild since a 3-0 loss in Winnipeg on Thursday.
But the team didn’t limp into this matchup.
It rolled out one of its most entertaining, charged performances of the season – the upside for the group in a narrow 4-3 loss that kept it out of a playoff position.
“It felt like a playoff game,” winger Kevin Fiala said. “We were fighting from the start to the end.”
Although the Wild didn’t get the results, its effort was certainly at the level that usually does merit points.
The players started on time, peppering Washington with shots early and establishing a lead. And even when it fell behind, the push to catch up was there.
What hurt, though, was the 3 minutes, 38 seconds in the first where the Capitals blitzed the Wild for three goals – one of which came during a 5-on-3 power play.
Other than that, the Wild was mostly even with a team that’s expected to contend for the Stanley Cup.
“It was very intense,” interim coach Dean Evason said. “We liked how our group was engaged in the game. Obviously, they were. They played, I guess, stronger defensively than we anticipated. They are good obviously in all three zones, but they got the puck out of their zone quickly. It was a very intense hockey game. We were engaged, for sure.”
These two teams play one more time, in the second-to-last game of the regular season, and it’ll be interesting to see then where superstar Alex Ovechkin is at in his push to catch Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goals record.
Ovechkin buried Nos. 702 and 703 Sunday to boast 17 goals in 17 career games against the Wild.
“They got a guy that has over 700 goals and when he gets the puck, he gets chances,” goalie Alex Stalock said. “He's gonna make good shots.”
Despite not gaining any points, the Wild is still in a solid position going into Tuesday’s battle with the Predators.
Nashville has just one game at-hand, but it’ll burn that Monday vs. Edmonton. The Predators are only one point ahead of the Wild, like the Coyotes and Jets, but they currently own the second wild card spot.
“The next one is big obviously,” Evason said. “Looking forward to it. We just have to keep playing. We have to be a predictable hockey club as far as that's how we play every night, and teams hopefully will expect that from us and we'll expect it from ourselves.”
To prepare, the Wild will practice at 11 a.m. Monday and don’t be surprised if Fiala receives some recognition that day.
Fiala capped off his week with four goals and nine points, a league-best surge points-wise that could culminate in him being recognized as one of the stars of the week after he wasn’t named a star for the month of February despite registering 19 points.
Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl and the New York Rangers’ Mika Zibanejad had more points, and Boston’s David Pastrnak had the same point total but more game-winning goals.
“Every night he’s bringing it,” Evason said.