Ducks coach Dallas Eakins could see the trouble on the horizon. He could tell his team, amid a hectic early season schedule, was wearing down. He could sense the side effects accompanying a squad that on Tuesday night played its 12th game in 23 days.
“I feel like right now, we’re hanging on by a thread,” Eakins said ahead of the Ducks’ home game against the Minnesota Wild. “I’ve felt it here for the last week.”
And though they led the Wild by one entering the third period at Honda Center, over the final 20 minutes the Ducks finally cracked.
The Wild scored three times in the final period to win 4-2, sending the Ducks to their second regulation loss in five games — the first since a 5-2 defeat Oct. 27 at Vegas — and into a much-needed four-day mid-homestand break on a sour note.
Earlier in the night, the Ducks (9-7-1) had dictated play. Despite having just one set of back-to-back off days since Oct. 14, they outshot the Wild 10-7 in the first period and struck twice early in the second.
Just 87 seconds into the middle period, Sam Steel found Rickard Rakell cutting toward the net, setting him up for a goal.
Defenseman Jacob Larsson collected his first career goal 25 seconds later, sending a wrist shot from the point underneath the crossbar to double the Ducks’ lead. While Larsson was swarmed by his three forward teammates on the ice, his fellow blue-liner, Korbinian Holzer, darted toward the net and leaned over to pick up the puck.
He was retrieving another keepsake for the Ducks’ young roster. In the moment, it seemed like the latest souvenir of the team’s early season success.
But then the Wild (5-9-1) responded. Kevin Fiala cut the Ducks’ edge to one before the second intermission. Early in the third, a minor penalty expired at the perfect moment for Mats Zuccarello, as he exited the box behind the Ducks’ defensemen in time for teammate Joel Eriksson Ek to set him up for a breakaway he buried through John Gibson’s five-hole.
Eakins bemoaned long shifts that led to the first two goals against.
“Those are two self-inflicted wounds,” said the coach, whose Ducks don’t play again until Sunday against Edmonton. “If you’re going to self-inflict, it’s not going to go your way. … We were getting caught out there way too long.”
At the 4:37 mark, Eric Staal put the Wild in front by lifting a close-range effort into the net’s upper corner. Having gone to overtime in their previous two games, the Ducks couldn’t muster a comeback. In the final minutes, Zach Parise added an empty-netter for the Wild.
“I thought we played a good game,” Rakell said. “We were hungry on the puck. We had a good forecheck. We definitely had a chance. … It’s a tough one.”