Mar 31, 2019

By Tom Witosky

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Dmitry Sokolov made it clear Saturday night.

As far as he is concerned, the Iowa Wild will make the Calder Cup Playoffs this season, despite the club’s current five-game losing streak.

“We are going to make the playoffs – 100 percent,” said Sokolov, who scored the Wild’s lone goal Saturday night in a 4-1 loss to the Texas Stars before a crowd of 10,301. “We just have to stay together. We’ve had some tough bounces lately so it is just something we need to fight through.”

After dropping two games to Texas, Iowa Head Coach Tim Army acknowledged this isn’t the time for the club to be having problems. He said the team has been competitive in each game, but now is faced with the same kind of problem every team seems to go through at some point every season – a slump caused by injury, call ups and the high level of competition in the AHL.

“Manitoba had its problems early, so did Rockford around Christmas,” Army said. “We haven’t been through this all year and now we have to deal with it at the worst time.”

The club recognizes that despite the losing streak, though, the club remains in third place in the Central Division – three points ahead of fourth place Texas and five points ahead of Milwaukee and Manitoba, who are now tied for fifth.

The Wild also have four home games remaining out of its final six. The next two are on Tuesday and Wednesday against Pacific Division foe Tucson, the last team Iowa defeated before two heartbreaking losses in Stockton that started the current skid.

“We have six games to go and we are still in a playoff spot and we control our destiny,” Army said. “It won’t come easy. It is going to be something we are going to have to fight for.”

Cal O’Reilly, the Wild captain and point leader, said after Friday night’s 5-2 loss despite taking a 2-0 lead in the first period, he challenged the team to recognize the club needs make a full effort for the entire game.

“We have to make a choice. We are obviously in a tough stretch and at this time of year it can cost you,” O’Reilly said. “We are close, but we need to make a choice of whether we want to play a full 60 minutes of the way we can play as a group.”

The veteran center also said the team is holding together well, but that at critical moments a mistake gets made, costing the team.

“We weren’t bad,” O’Reilly said of Friday night’s loss. ”We had a great first period and were up two goals. But we gave up some goals as a group that we probably shouldn’t have. This is a good team we were playing and we need to find ways to weather it when they throw a big push at us.”

Army agreed the Friday loss hurt – a lot.

“Last night was important, when you are up 2-0 at home after losing three in a row,” Army said. “You have to win the game so you just feel better about how you are playing.”

He also said loss gave Texas the ability to get comfortable in the Saturday night contest and set up a tough defensive effort. Iowa couldn’t score until Sokolov made an extraordinary move through two defenders late in the second period just as an Iowa power play was ending.

After getting a pass from defenseman Carson Soucy, Sokolov slipped the puck between the legs of a Stars defender to dodge a check, deked goaltender Jake Oettinger and then roofed the puck blocker side. Defenseman Brennan Menell also recorded an assist on the goal coming at 17:29 in the middle frame.

“It was just lucky,” Sokolov said of his 16th goal of the season. “I’ve never practiced that before.”

Sokolov’s goal gave the team a shot in the arm, but Army acknowledged one of his biggest concerns has been the team’s lack of energy at certain points in each game, particularly in the third period. In the last three games, the Wild have averaged less than four shots on goal, compared to their opponents’ eight. The team has also been outscored 7-0 in the third period during the five-game losing streak.

“We made a couple of mistakes in the third. That is what you have to learn,” Army said. “We are making mistakes late in the game and it is costing us. We need to figure out how to stop it.”

Army said the club now has to regroup and face the reality that they need to dig themselves out of the slump – not an easy task, but certainly something they can do. It begins Tuesday night.

“We don’t have a lot of time to get us through it, it’s not December and we have six games left,” he said. “We have to somehow get reenergized and somehow come back and be ready to go. It is going to be tight and close. We are going to have to find our way through it.”

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