Wild fall to rival Avalanche as fans return to Xcel Energy Center

Maybe the Wild should’ve waited a few more days to allow fans back inside the Xcel Energy Center.

On a night where a sellout crowd of 3,000 fans was allowed to watch for the first time this season, the Wild suffered a frustrating 5-4 loss to the rival Colorado Avalanche.

Though wasn’t as bad as the back-to-back blowouts from last month, the Wild let the Avalanche run rampant midway through Monday’s game and never fully recovered. That spoiled an otherwise solid effort as the Wild went toe-to-toe with the Stanley Cup favorites for 40 minutes of play with nothing to show for it.

“We have shown we can play with them,” Joel Eriksson Ek said. “We how to play them. We have to play them hard. They like when they get the game going back and forth. We just have to get close to them and make them work.”

The most frustrating part for the Wild is they came out on fire in the first period. That’s something coach Dean Evason preached the importance of in the hours leading up to the game and his team responded accordingly.

Perhaps feeding off the partially packed crowd, the Wild controlled the first period before Ryan Hartman made it 1-0 with a slick backhander in front.

“It felt like a heck of a lot more than 3,000 fans in here,” Evason said. “They were great. They were energized. I think the start we had was in part because of our great fans.”

Unfortunately for the Wild, they couldn’t build on the lead, and the Avalanche took control in second period. It started with a breakaway goal from Nathan MacKinnon to tie the score at 1-1 a mere 18 seconds into the frame.

That seemed to stun the Wild and they struggled to keep up after that.

“All of a sudden, we’re like, ‘Oh jeez. He’s really fast,’” Evason said. “We made a mistake and then we really got back on our heels.”

The onslaught from the Avalanche continued about a minute later as Andre Burakovsky scored to make it 2-1.

“We just had a brain fart and thought we were something else in the second period,” Hartman said. “We weren’t doing what we needed to do to beat that team. There’s a certain way to play and we didn’t do that.”

Things started to go off the rails when Brandon Saad scored to stretch the lead to 3-1. That goal left Evason pleading his case on the bench as Saad very clearly crosschecked Jared Spurgeon to free himself up before scoring.

“We were obviously upset with it,” Evason said. “We think there was a missed opportunity there. It happens.”

There was nothing that could be done at that point, though, and J.T. Compher scored on a redirection to make it 4-1 a couple of minutes later.

As both teams headed to the locker room at end of the second period, the 3,000 fans in attendance booed the officials off the ice. They might have also been booing the Wild after the game unraveled over a dreadful 20-minute stretch.

Asked about the meltdown, Hartman put the onus fully on the Wild. “We made it easy on them,” he said. “We kicked ourselves after the second period and talked about how to play them.”

The response in the third period was admirable as the Wild clawed their way back into the game. They got a goal from Nick Bjugstad early on to cut the deficit to 4-2, then after Gabriel Landeskog restored the Avalanche lead to 5-2, the Wild battled back with a goal from Marcus Johansson to make it 5-3.

The comeback continue in the final minute as Kevin Fiala scored to make it 5-4. That’s as close as the Wild got, though, as the clock ran out before they could tie the score.

“It’s not good enough against a team like this,” Evason said. “It has to be 60 minutes. It can’t be 20 minutes. It can’t be 40 minutes. It has to be 60 minutes.”

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