Mar 27, 2019

By Tom Witosky

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When the Iowa Wild skated off the ice Tuesday night, no one had to mention it was the club’s third straight loss, coming at the most critical time of the 2018-19 season.

“The guys wish tomorrow was Friday and we were going to be playing Texas right away,” said center Mason Shaw, who scored his seventh goal of the season on a Wild power play. “We have a bad feeling in our stomachs right now.”

The loss to Grand Rapids, a 5-2 final where two tallies were empty-net markers at the end of the game, set the Wild’s push for a Central Division title back as the Griffins strengthened its hold on second place. Also on Tuesday night, the Chicago Wolves’ grip on first place increased with a 4-1 victory at San Antonio.

The loss kept the Wild’s magic number to make the playoffs at 11, but the club also maintained its eight-point lead above the fourth-place battle between Manitoba, Rockford, Milwaukee and Texas for the final playoff spot. That lead will shrink to six or seven points Wednesday, depending on the outcome of the Moose playing the Stars in Texas and the Admirals playing the IceHogs in Rockford.

Tim Army, Iowa’s head coach, also has to deal with figuring out what kind of lineup he is going to have for this weekend’s showdown with the Stars Friday and Saturday at Wells Fargo Arena. Tuesday night, Army and his staff scrambled to put a lineup together minutes before the game began when first-liner Gerry Mayhew, one of the club’s top scorers, couldn’t go.

Army settled for a 10 forward, eight defenseman alignment that featured eight rookies including two players – Riley Bourbonnais, who scored his first pro goal Tuesday night, and Tyler Sheehy – who are on try-out agreements. With forward Matt Read now in Minnesota and injuries to forwards Mike Liambas and Gerry Fitzgerald, Army resorted to using defenseman Hunter Warner occasionally up front and relying on the offensive instincts of the rest of the Wild defensemen to challenge the Griffins.

It almost worked, as the Wild kept the game close; it was a one-goal game until the final moments.  Andrew Hammond vented off 32 of 35 shots as the Griffins exerted substantial pressure throughout the game.

“We battled and we were obviously limited with only 10 forwards and eight defensemen dressed with a couple guys who haven’t been with us much,” Army said. “We just didn’t have enough.”

The turning point came after Shaw scored on the Wild’s first power play of the night in the second period, tying the game at 2-2. Shaw scored when Kyle Rau and Sam Anas put together two quick passes and got the puck in front of the net. Shaw’s shot hit a defender and bounced past goalie Harri Sateri into the net.

Army said the tie should have held going into the third period, but the Griffins took the lead 3-2 late in the period when Chris Terry stood uncovered at the far post of the Wild goal and simply redirected a pass from Joe Hicketts past Hammond.

“That goal was just bad coverage,” Army said. “It was sloppy to give up a tap in at the side of the net at that point in the period. It just changed the whole dynamic of the game. We need to be better in that situation.”

Army also lamented the Wild’s inability to score on a 5-on-3 power play for 1:36 in the third period. The Griffins had been called for too many men on the ice then compounded the problem when Colin Campbell went to the penalty box for cross-checking.

“We didn’t get a shot on goal,” Army said. “You have to score with a 1:36 of 5-on-3 or at least get four or five shots on goal to at least get some momentum out of it. We didn’t.”

Finally, Army said the club has to get back to attacking the net, particularly in the third period, with each of the next eight games that are essentially playoff games. Army pointed out the club had only two shots on goal in the third period Tuesday.

“Guys are playing a lot of minutes because we have guys banged up and they do get tired. But we can’t let it be an excuse. We can’t say we are tired,” Army said.

With the lineup up in the air, Army said a practice for the club Thursday should help to get the team back on track.

“We haven’t had a real practice in about three weeks,” Army said referring to the club’s 12 road games in the past four weeks. “You can work on video and instruct on it, but you don’t get the repetitions that you need to get. We need to find a way.”

Getting a few players back onto the ice would help, but Army said that might not be possible. Right now, he said, that is a question to be answered.

“We need some guys backs so we will see how they do,” he said. “But right now I don’t know.”

Shaw said the players understand now is the time for the best performance on the ice no matter who is playing. He also insisted the club is up to the challenge.

“Our season has gone very well for us so far has done very well so far and we aren’t going to let it dwindle away in this last stretch of games,” he said. “There is a lot of high energy we need to have to make the first round so we definitely need to be ready for these guys.”

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