Originally posted on Fox Sports North  |  Last updated 3/17/12
ST. PAUL It took barely three minutes for the scrum to form, jostling and punching up against the glass. In even less time, Brandon Sutter and Nate Prosser had separated, drifting farther and farther onto the ice, carried by the power of their punches. And then quickly Prosser was on top, perched upon the Carolina center, pressing him into the cold ice. It was decisive and final, a Minnesota win to be sure. But a fight is just a moment, a microcosm of a game. It takes more than a few well-placed punches to come out of 60 minutes of hockey on top, and in Saturday's 5-3 loss to Carolina, the Wild didn't have enough, giving up three third-period goals from which they couldn't recover. Prior to Saturday, the team's two most recent games were both losses decided by one goal. Not much changed against Carolina, as just an empty net goal by Chad LaRose at 18:45 in the third period pushed the Hurricanes' lead to two. So for the third game in a row, the Wild lacked that extra spark, the ability to take control of a game that's perfectly within reach."The desperation level wasn't at the level it needed to be," Kyle Brodziak said. "We turned too many pucks over. We weren't swarming them like we were the first two periods."There was no desperation, no energy, not in those final minutes of Saturday's game, and certainly not in the Wild locker room. The team has lost eight of its past nine games, slipping to 29-32-10, and the atmosphere surrounding it has become one of tension and silence. There are questions that no one wants to answer, about quiet crowds and a waning home-ice advantage. Just the mention of playoffs was enough to push Warren Peters from quiet to uncomfortable, and coach Mike Yeo described the game as "beyond frustrating."That frustration has stretched past just one game, one afternoon. It's permeated the season, and Saturday's loss was a cruel tease. The Wild were in control in the second period, up 3-1 at one point. But a two-goal lead isn't secure even for the league's best teams, and Minnesota treated it as such."We were just sitting on our lead," Tom Gilbert said. "I think we were being too patient, just letting them control the puck."And that's the worst part. To see a few fleeting minutes of his team in control must have been encouraging for Yeo, but it only made the third-period skid feel even worse. Yeo said postgame that he could feel the momentum shift, even before it became obvious in the game's final period. He said losses like this are made more difficult by the fact that he knows his team is capable of the little things it takes to win, yet they're not doing them, game after game. Despite looking sharp on offense for more than half of the game, it was hard for anyone to find the positive on Saturday. Personal improvement has become almost irrelevant, Brodziak said, when the team is struggling to piece together wins. Carolina was a beatable opponent, the first team with a losing record that the Wild have faced since Montreal on March 1. This game could have been an out, perhaps an end to this cycle of losing streaks. The circumstances were right, not only on paper and before the game, but through those first goals and that fight. It was a doable win, until very quickly it wasn't."We played two pretty good periods," Brodziak said. "You've got a lead going into the third period at home, that's the perfect scenario. That's what you want. For some reason, we let them take the game."Feeling the win so close had to hurt more than any blowout, even any near-comeback, and that's why Saturday can be a tipping point. It's impossible to gloss things over anymore, and though that could just mean weeks of pent-up anger, it also might be an opportunity for the team to salvage something out of the season's final games. "You cannot accept this," Yeo said. "We're in hell. It's not fun. And if you don't accept it, the next day you come back and you bring a little bit more."Because a game is more than a burst of energy, a few punches and a knockout hit. A game isn't a fight like the one that broke out early in Saturday's contest; it's a war, and the Wild need to learn to hang on until the final blow.Follow Joan Niesen on Twitter.
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