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After wasting strong start to season, Wild running out of time to end slump

Minnesota Wild defenseman Mike Lundin (2) attempts to keep the puck away from Columbus Blue Jackets right wing Derek Dorsett during the first period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Feb. 11, 2012, in St. Paul, Minn. At left is Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom, of Finland. (AP Photo/Genevieve Ross)

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Minnesota Wild defenseman Mike Lundin (2) attempts to keep the puck away from Columbus Blue Jackets right wing Derek Dorsett during the first period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Feb. 11, 2012, in St. Paul, Minn. At left is Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom, of Finland. (AP Photo/Genevieve Ross)

ST. PAUL, Minn. - The Minnesota Wild were bewildered by their latest loss.

They shot 65 times, and 35 of them were on target. Only one went in the net. This is the way a once-promising season is going for the sputtering Wild, who not only wasted a Saturday night at home full of stellar scoring chances but suffered their second loss of the week to the NHL's worst team.

"I'm pretty sure we controlled that whole game," said right-winger Devin Setoguchi, who had the only goal in a 3-1 setback against Columbus. The Wild lost by the same score on the road on Tuesday.

More humbling for the Wild was the fact that this came against their former coach, Todd Richards. Fired after two seasons in charge of the Wild, Richards is now the interim coach for the Blue Jackets.

"Honestly, it's not about me. It's not about me feeling good. I'm happy that we won the game as a team," Richards said.

So for all the areas in which they could point out positives, the Wild were forced to swallow the bitter pill of another loss. In February, for teams with designs on playing in the post-season, forechecking, passing and skating well simply aren't enough. The only fundamental that truly matters at this stage is the standings.

"This time of year, we know we need wins. At this time of the year, outplaying a team unfortunately doesn't matter a whole lot," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "Deserving to win, unfortunately, doesn't count for a whole lot. We have to find ways to win. We have to win games where we outplay the team like we did tonight, and we have to win games sometimes where it's even or 50-50."

The Wild allowed only 19 shots on goal to Columbus on Saturday, but they didn't play with ferocity in front of either net. That's an attribute their game could use a lot more of, whether it's muscling for position for the rebound poke-in or moving a scoring threat out of the goalie's way.

There is a certain finishing touch they've been lacking since racing to a 20-7-3 record, the best in the league at that point in mid-December. Since then, they're 5-15-5.

Following Saturday's loss, they are 12th in the Western Conference. They're an insignificant four points out of the eighth and final playoff spot, but they're four teams behind now, and that is significant.

"This isn't the time of year for moral victories. We have to find a way to put points on the board," centre Matt Cullen said.

The Wild got captain and first-line centre Mikko Koivu back from a left shoulder injury last week, but they were outscored 8-3 in their first two games with him in the lineup. They've scored only six goals in the last five games.

"If I knew the answer to scoring goals, I'd have 50. It's a confidence thing for us right now," Setoguchi said.

There are no road trips longer than two games left on the Wild's schedule, so that should help their cause. After tearing into the team following a loss on Thursday to the Vancouver Canucks, Yeo has opted for the more-uplifting approach, trying to remind his players of what they're capable of.

"This team's not going to go away. We're going to get back to work and find a way to win," Cullen said.

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