The Dallas Stars have seen two goal leads evaporate this season. Many of them. Four times this year they've turned two-goal leads into eventual losses,even. So when the Wild tied the game 2-2 headed to the third period Friday night there were some anxious moments at American Airlines Center.
Jaromir Jagr's 1,000th career assist and Jamie Benn's first goal in over a calendar month, luckily, arrived to save the day as a strong third period push gave the Stars a 5-3 win.
The Stars pushed Minnesota hard in the first period, jumping out to a 2-0 lead while out-shooting them 16-5 at one point. Ray Whitney's power play goal off a Jamie Benn faceoff win opened the scoring and Tomas Vincour added his second of the year on a rebound at the side of the net.
Then the dreaded second period malaise set in a little early. Devin Setoguchi would score on his favorite net down there at the south end of the building to end the period like he did so often with the Sharks, and then Minnesota would control play for the majority of the second, eliminating the Stars' once two-goal lead with a Spurgegon power play goal and the teams went to the third period tied.
Dallas would stop its capitulation there, however, in a big way. Erik Cole and Jamie Benn scored two goals on two shots in the first two minutes of the final frame to put Dallas ahead by two once more, and that would be enough as the Wild's push withered down the stretch.
The win is big, but there was loss as well as Vernon Fiddler went down about three minutes into the first period with an apparent leg injury of some kind (vague speculation). We'll get an update on his lower body malady here in a bit, but it's potentially a big blow to the penalty kill unit that surrendered the tying goal late in the second period.
As we detailed earlier in the week, Jamie Benn hadn't scored a goal in a long time. A very long time. So for him to get that 5-on-3 goal to put the Stars up by two in the third period was huge.
He could have had more, if not for some heroics by Hackett earlier in the second period. His assist on the Ray Whitney goal is important to note as well, as it was a face off win while on special teams - Something this team needs to do more of to tip the odds in their favor at times.
Antoine Roussel was skating so fast on that rush (and Fiddler tried to keep up) I think he may have had as much to do with Vern Fiddler getting injured as Mikko Koivu did.
Fiddler's status in the game was merely called "questionable" though, so perhaps it's not as dire as it looked as he hobbled in a lot of pain down the tunnel for what seemed like a long time after going down.
A long term injury raises some substantial questions. Like what they will do at the center position if Derek Roy is indeed traded. Cody Eakin has played a lot of games this year. A lot. He's not where he was in January (through no fault of his own) (Update: I write this and then he scores a goal. Clever, Eaks). Can Roussel play center on a "fourth line"? What then of the other spot? Do you bring back Tom Wandell? Ask Vincour to play center as they've done on brief occasions in the past?
Something to think about.
How does it continue? It happened again tonight.
The Stars have now been out-scored 29-44 in second periods this season, and the 44 leads the National Hockey League for most given up, just ahead of Steve Ott's Buffalo Sabres.
Gulutzan continues the refrain that they need to play a full 60 minutes, but it's just been too hard for this team to come by. The Kings are next, and they are far better than the Wild.
- I'm still not sure how Hackett got that Loui Eriksson shot at the end of the first period. It seemed Loui had nothing between the puck and the goal line, and that Hackett's glove sucked it up from above somehow. Good bounce for Minnesota or miraculous save. Maybe some of both.
- That was a pretty great ovation Jagr received from the AAC crowd for tallying his 1,000th assist in a Stars uniform. If I were him that would prompt me to sign a contract extension right away.
- Not a goal scorers goal on Vincour's first period tally, but a big confidence booster anyway for him. They need him to get going here with... uncertainty among the forwards surrounding the trade deadline and injuries.
- All Ray Whitney does is produce. Heika agonized over the three start tonight, but Jagr got #1 with his 1,000th assist, because why not?
- What in the world did Reilly Smith do to deserve any of that at the end? How is that not simply Mike Rupp and Konopka picking on someone smaller than they are? I'd be happy to re-write this if there's something that happened earlier in the play but I can't for the life of me figure out what Reilly Smith did to initiate that.
- Kari Lehtonen left the game in the frenzied beginning to the third period but returned. It appeared to be an equipment issue as "Sudsy" was working on him in the tunnel.
- How the officials decided to call much of the first portion of the game - letting everything go, and then changing that up at times in the third period is a mystery. The Stars got away with some things, and so did the Wild. Good on the Stars for capitalizing on the power play tonight when it wasn't entirely clear how fair any of it was over the course of 60 minutes.
- Boy, people like Mike Modano.
- If you're the guy who yells "get it out of there, come on" when the Stars don't have possession of the puck - I know many people who want to fight you. What do you think they're trying to do, exactly?