Global series Wild sider

STOCKHOLM – The Minnesota Wild didn’t get the four points they were looking for in Stockholm, but they are coming back to North America with perhaps something more important -- their identity.

Playing a stronger defensive game while scoring some timely goals, the Wild were able to take the Toronto Maple Leafs to overtime before falling 4-3 in the finale of the 2023 NHL Global Series Sweden presented by Fastenal at Avicii Arena.

The Wild, who came to Europe on the heels of an 8-3 loss to the Dallas Stars last Sunday, earned two points on the trip, the first coming in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Ottawa Senators on Saturday.

“We have a lot of good things to take away from this trip,” forward Marcus Foligno said. “We came here as a team, had some fun off the ice, and at the same time we found our game a little bit on the ice and that’s what we came here to do. (We) could have easily had four points.”

Nothing has been easy for the Wild lately. They lost three straight in regulation before heading to Sweden, having been outscored 15-6.

They fell behind 3-1 at 4:22 of the third period against the Maple Leafs, but battled back to tie it. First, defenseman Jake Middleton scored on a wrist shot from the point at 6:10, then forward Mats Zuccarello had a crossing pass in the slot bounce of his skate into the net at 8:42.

TOR@MIN: Zuccarello tips it in to even the score

The Wild outshot the Maple Leafs 36-25, but missed the net 14 times, some from prime-scoring spots.

“We had golden looks and we just, for whatever reason, aren’t scoring right now,” coach Dean Evason said. “And it’s right now. We talked today about last year, we were in the same type of situation, we didn’t score, we didn’t score, and I think [Ryan Hartman] had one go in off his head or his butt or something and then it just snowballed from there.

“We have to believe that’s going to happen. It hasn’t happened yet. We scored some goals obviously tonight how we can score goals, but the ones that are wide open, we’re not finding the net, we’re missing the net. We had the puck in great spots and miss the net by a couple of margins. We outshoot them, we probably outchance them, we probably do a lot of really good things in that hockey game and don’t get rewarded.”

The best chance for the Wild came 30 seconds into overtime when defenseman Jonas Brodin found forward Joel Eriksson Ek all alone in the slot. Eriksson-Ek tried to dangle around Maple Leafs goalie Joseph Woll, but couldn’t slide the puck under his pads. About two-and-a-half minutes later, William Nylander scored the game-winner for the Maple Leafs.

“The players know how we have to play to have success, and having said that, we can score goals that we scored tonight, great, we can get to the net and shoot pucks, we get pucks there, we get people around the net, and score those gritty goals,” Evason said, “but we have to score a few pretty ones too when we have that opportunity, and those are the ones that aren’t going in. We’ll keep pushing to find those.”

But a Wild team that is allowing an average of four goals per game, which is the second highest in the NHL, looked better on defense in Sweden, holding the high-scoring Ottawa Senators to one goal, and keeping the Maple Leafs in check during regulation to earn one point.

“Our sticks were way better tonight with our stick-on-puck, our dislodges,” Evason said. “Toronto is probably one of the best teams in the League at stealing pucks and having good sticks and skills defensively.

“We thought we didn’t quite start that way in the first period, but we got to that. Listen, when you don’t score goals, you better keep it out of the net, and for the most part we have here as of late, we have to keep that theme for us, and then believe we’ll get on track offensively.”

The Wild say they need to find a way to turn their better defense and timely scoring into victories, something they will try to do when they host the Colorado Avalanche on Friday in their next game.

“We’re happy with our game, there’s a lot to be proud about,” Foligno said, “but still a sour taste of letting two points slip away. We got two and we built our game back up a little bit.”

Now it’s on the Wild (5-8-4) to end their five-game losing streak (0-3-2) using the effort they displayed here in Stockholm.

“I love the way we battled back in the game, but just disappointed to come out on short end,” said goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who made 21 saves against the Maple Leafs. “Obviously we need more, we want more, but it’s a step in the right direction.”

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