Originally posted on Fox Sports North  |  Last updated 4/10/13
ST. PAUL, Minn. The popular refrain from the Minnesota Wild the past two weeks is that the intensity in this pressure-packed, lockout-shortened season has increased to where Minnesota believes it's in playoff mode already. Tuesday's home game, after a three-game road trip, was a tight contest between the Wild entering the game in sixth place in the Western Conference and the conference-leading Chicago Blackhawks. With Chicago already in the playoffs and Minnesota fighting to solidify its positioning, Tuesday's game had the feel of a postseason game in which one mistake was likely to decide the game. Unfortunately for the Wild, they made the crucial error in Chicago's 1-0 victory. "Certainly had that feel," Minnesota coach Mike Yeo said of one mistake deciding the game. "Both teams were playing pretty tight. They had some pretty good rush chances in the first. In the end, I really think the story of the game was we played very hard. I thought we defended really hard tonight, but our execution wasn't good enough." Trying to make a pass to clear the defensive zone, Wild defenseman Clayton Stoner was intercepted by Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa near the blue line, and Hossa finished the play with his 14th goal of the season. Minnesota goaltender Niklas Backstrom made 30 saves as the Wild were outshot, 31-20, in falling to seventh place in the Western Conference after the St. Louis Blues beat Nashville Tuesday night. Minnesota has nine games remaining this season. "No panic," Wild forward Devin Setoguchi said. "It's almost like playoff time. One game, if you lose it, refocus, and you've got to get going again. You don't have time to dwell on it. It stings for the night. You wake up tomorrow, get a practice in, refocus and come back ready for the next day." Minnesota snapped a three-game losing streak with a win Sunday at Columbus and is 9-5 in its last 14 games. The Wild are 13-5-1 at home and host St. Louis on Thursday and the Blue Jackets on Saturday. Chicago owns the league's best record with a deep, talented team that leads the conference in scoring (3.18 goals per game) and has the league's best defense (2.03 goals allowed per game). Minnesota slowed the Blackhawks' offensive attack but couldn't generate consistent offensive pressure of its own. "I thought that we did a pretty good job of keeping them to the outside for the most part and defending for the most part," Yeo said. "I thought we could have been a little bit better on 50-50 pucks and gaining possession a little bit more. But really, at the end of the night, the story of the game was about our execution, our plays with the puck. It was how they scored their goal. It was what prevented us from generating more zone time, more chances." Despite Stoner's turnover, Yeo praised the team's defense. "We've given up one goal in two games, I think you'd sign up for that most of the time," Yeo said. "We've got two guys that we know that can play that aren't in the lineup, too. I'm not concerned about that. We have to generate more. That's about it. And that's a matter of, let's be realistic, too, we played a pretty good team tonight. There's a reason why their record is where it is. We gave ourselves a chance to win the game. Unfortunately, we blinked first." Not blinking or making the key mistake first is more crucial at this time of the season. "You have to have some pretty thick skin to make a long playoff run," forward Zach Parise said. "I think we're getting there. We're starting to play some playoff atmosphere and playoff-type games where there's not a lot of opportunities, not a lot of scoring chances. But on the flip side, we have to win those types of games because that's what we're going to see from now on." Follow Brian Hall on Twitter.
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