ROAD-WEARY WILD RETURN HOME AFTER SIX-GAME ROAD TRIPMar 10, 2019
By Tom Witosky
Matt Read had just spent two weeks on the road with the Minnesota Wild traveling from Calgary to Miami and back to the Midwest, but on Saturday night, he was riding a stationary bike in the basement of Allstate Arena.
“I was in four different time zones in two weeks,” he said with a laugh as he peddled during his post-game workout following the Iowa Wild’s 4-1 loss to the Chicago Wolves. “I’m not 22 anymore, I guess.”
Read’s fatigue didn’t prevent him from pointing out Iowa’s loss on Saturday night is a good example of what a team pushing to make the AHL playoffs for the first time in six seasons needs to avoid during the final 15 games of a 76-game season.
Simply put, no more let downs during tough games.
“We let up in the first period after they got a couple of goals,” Read said. “This time of year it is about desperation and you have to go out there and do things right. You have to block shots, you have to make the hits, you have to make the play.”
To be sure, the Wild’s loss on Saturday put a damper on what players and Coach Tim Army termed a successful six-game road trip that took the Wild on its own three time zone sojourn – from San Jose to the greater Los Angeles area, then back to Des Moines for a weekend bus trip to Grand Rapids and then to Chicago. The club returned to Des Moines Sunday morning after leaving Rosemont at 11 p.m. for a five-hour bus trip back to central Iowa.
“It was a good trip overall,” Army said, pointing out the club generated seven points out of a possible 12. “Anytime you go on the road and come back above .500 in points, it is a good trip.”
Among the wins was a come-from-behind 4-3 overtime victory in Grand Rapids Friday night that was highlighted by a three-point effort from Cal O’Reilly, the Wild’s captain and point leader. The 32-year-old O’Reilly had been instrumental in the Wild victory with a goal and the primary assist that set-up defenseman Matt Bartkowski’s game-winner in overtime.
“I saw a forward fall down and thought Cal was going to get a breakaway,” Bartkowski said of the play. “But then I saw how tired he was and so I got going to join it. He got it to me and I just batted at it and hoped it went in.”
Entering into Saturday’s showdown with Chicago, the Wild had an opportunity to get into first place in the Central Division – something the Wild hasn’t been close to at this point in its previous five seasons in Iowa. Now, talk of winning a regular-season division championship is acceptable.
“We have a lot of work in front of us, but we have done the work to put us in a position to finish the work,” Army said. “Playoffs were the goal, but as we got going and things came together with our talent matching our style of play we are in a position to win the division.”
Against Grand Rapids, a two-goal deficit wasn’t too much for the Wild, but the next night against Chicago it was. Goals by Chicago’s Dylan Coghlan and Brooks Macek in the latter half of the first period put the Wild into a bad place, Army said.
“We needed the first score tonight,” he said. “Most times it doesn’t matter to us if we score first though we do it a lot. But tonight we needed it.”
Army said an early goal would have helped to keep the road-weary Wild energized against the Wolves, which leads the league in goals for. It also meant solving Wolves goalie Oscar Dansk who came within a few minutes of shutting out the Wild for the first time all season.
“He made some really good saves,” Army said, particularly praising a sprawling dive to stop a backdoor shot by Mason Shaw, who stood in disbelief momentarily after the save. “That save on Shaw was huge because it would have been 3-1 and only halfway through the game. We could have come back because it would have energized us.”
O’Reilly, who made his 500th assist in professional hockey on Kyle Rau’s power-play goal Saturday, said the loss was frustrating for him because he understands what’s on the line. In the third period, O’Reilly slammed his stick on the dasher boards as he went to the bench.
“I was angry with myself because we hadn’t scored and I was frustrated with myself,” he said.
At the same time, O’Reilly said the team just completed a successful road trip and with a dwindling schedule, everyone understands what’s ahead.
“We had a good road trip. We weren’t bad tonight. They just got a couple of shots to go and we let up for a while,” O’Reilly said. “We’ll get back it.”
Army agreed, adding he is mostly concerned about making sure the team is ready to go Tuesday against San Antonio.
“We did some good things and we will look at it and encourage it,” Army said. “More importantly, we need to have our legs for Tuesday night. if we have them, we will be fine. We will be ready to go Tuesday.”
With a day or two off, Read said the club certainly can be ready for the final stretch run, which now includes nine home games and only six road games. The club is 19-5-4-1 at home; 12-13-3-4 on the road.
“It is just one of those games that we have to learn from and get ready for the next game on Tuesday,” he said. “We’ll get it done.”