Found February 01, 2012 on Fox Sports:
In the process of losing 15 times in 17 games from mid-December to late January, the Wild had developed a habit of treating most nights as a crucible for how they were developing. They began with the premise that they were good enough to beat most teams in the NHL when at their best - which seemed sound, considering they had the best record in the league on Dec. 12 - and figured most of their problems were self-inflicted. And heading into the all-star break with two emphatic wins, their premise appeared to be correct; they were back to playing the way they had in November and December, and they came into Tuesday's game against Nashville feeling good again. But this game? This had no instructional value. How could it, when the Wild spent 50 minutes controlling the game against the fourth-best team in the Western Conference, only to leave without a point after a four-goal meltdown in the final 10:38? If the response to many of the Wild's losses in the past two months has been to look inward for lessons, the only response to Tuesday's 5-4 loss to the Predators was shock. "If you've ever been punched in the stomach, really hard, that's pretty much what that one feels like," coach Mike Yeo said. It was tough to see any of it coming, after the Wild surged to a 4-1 lead with precisely the kind of hockey they want to play, the kind they played early this season and again before the all-star break. They passed the puck effectively, moving to set up options instead of trying to skate through defenders. They held the puck long enough, and spent enough time in Nashville's zone, that the Predators' all-star defensive duo of Shea Weber and Ryan Suter spent much of the night chasing the play. Dany Heatley scored twice in the first eight minutes of the game and had his second consecutive three-point night, looking as much like the elite scorer the Wild hoped they were getting as he has at any point since the team traded for him last summer. And then the bottom fell out. The first two goals in Nashville's flurry were contested; Brandon Yip's goal was initially waved off after it appeared Josh Harding had frozen the puck, and Harding argued he had covered Patric Hornqvist's goal on the left post with 3:21 to play. But the final two goals were even tougher to stomach; Nashville had three players around Harding after Justin Falk guessed Martin Erat would shoot and dropped to block a shot, taking himself out of the play. Mike Fisher's final goal, his second in three minutes and the game-winner with 21 seconds left, was simply flung toward the net from the right wall. "It's probably one of the worst I've given up in my life," Harding said. "No excuses, no nothing. That one's on me." Maybe the lesson for the Wild is still forthcoming. They remain a point ahead of Colorado for the final spot in the Western Conference playoffs after the Avalanche lost to Edmonton, but they head into a big game in Denver on Thursday. The task of rebounding from Tuesday's loss will begin with the Wild's practice this morning, and it won't be an easy assignment. They somehow have to replicate the way they played for 50 minutes against the Predators while forgetting everything about what they did in the final 10. "We've been talking that every game's a playoff game," Heatley said. "If this was a playoff series, you've got to forget it and drop it and go to the next game. That's what we have to do - focus on the good things we did and bring them to Colorado." Follow Ben Goessling at twitter.com/BenGoesslingPP .
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