TAMPA, Fla. — Matt Dumba put it very succinctly after Sunday’s shootout loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. As exciting as the Minnesota Wild have made games this season with their ability to consistently mount comebacks, they’d much rather play with the lead.
“Umm, I mean, we’re not trying to get scored on,” he said. “Just how it’s been this season.”
While the Wild (11-6-1, 23 points) led the Central Division as of Monday afternoon, they haven’t exactly made things easy on themselves. In fact, the Wild have allowed the first goal in 11 of 18 games this season, which has often forced them into desperation mode down the stretch.
“We are getting behind a little bit with costly mistakes,” Marcus Foligno said. “But for the most part we all feel pretty good about our game. We always have a chance to win every night.”
That’s because the Wild seem to relish playing from behind. Just look at this past weekend, when coach Dean Evason pulled the goalie for a combined 10 minutes with the Wild trying to erase a deficit on back-to-back nights.
In Saturday’s regulation loss to the Florida Panthers, the Wild popped a pair of goals 6-on-5 to get within striking distance before coming up short. In Sunday’s shootout loss to the Lightning, the Wild scored a couple more goals 6-on-5 to force overtime.
It’s gotten to the point where Evason joked he might have to start the game 6-on-5 in the future. Even he realizes how ridiculous these comebacks have been so far.
“I’ll ask our analytics guy Mat Sells if that’s feasible,” Evason said with a laugh. “I don’t know if he has any numbers on that.”
Jokes aside, the Wild need to find a way to recreate that desperation early in games. As impressive as the comebacks have been this season, it’s not something they want to rely on every single night.
“We play our best game when we play an aggressive game and everybody is up, everybody is forechecking, and everybody is skating,” said center Joel Eriksson Ek, who scored the game-tying goal in Sunday’s shootout loss. “(We) just (need to) believe that we’re going to get that lead.”
That said, if the Wild don’t start with the lead, it’s clear they never feel like they are out of a game. Where does that confidence come from?
“We see it every day in practice,” Dumba said. “We’ve got guys who are selfless and are going to make plays. And we’re all pulling for each other. There’s a belief in each other and what we’re trying to accomplish. That’s all the confidence we need.”
That confidence could be key because the Wild look like a legitimate contender this season. Some teams have to learn how to deal with adversity over the course of an 82-game schedule. That’s something the Wild are already quite familiar with at this point.
“We have to learn some other things,” Evason said with a smile, “but we don’t have to learn that we have pride and we have that grit level to push at the end of hockey games. We are pretty excited that the group has that within them.”