Dallas pushed and pushed, but Minnesota's defense (AKA Ryan Suter and company) refused to budge from their one-goal lead at the AAC Saturday afternoon.
The Stars had the better of the chances through most of the game, but they simply couldn't find a way to produce after the Wild went into their trap in the third, and that was all she wrote.
The BoD line created chances early, with both Seguin and Spezza feeding Benn in the slot in the first 90 seconds, but Benn was foiled both times. Dallas got the first power play after an altercation following a big hit on Ryan Garbutt, but the power play continued its impressive impotence, failing to spend any stretch of time in the offensive zone. I would here like to point out that I don't think the Stars have scored on their first power play of the game for about six years or so, but I haven't finished checking the data yet. Jason Spezza would create another golden chance after receiving a stretch pass and dangling around the defense to feed #91, but Tyler Seguin ripped the ensuing shot wide.
Trevor Daley almost continued his lethality on home ice as he found a seam coming down the slot, but a last-minute block sent his chance aside. Jamie Oleksiak also took maybe the first slapshot I've seen him try, although it was from outside the blue line. Still.
Kari Lehtonen wouldn't be tested until 9:30 into the game, and the long wrist shot almost turned deadly on a good tip and rebound chance in tight. The Wild would get another good chance against the Stars' 4th line a few minutes later, but Kari Lehtonen would hold onto the long shot with about eight minutes to play. Trevor Daley would come back and make another nice play to find his way into the slot, but his shot was again sent aside by the defense.
Dillon again used his skates to get off a shot from the slot, but--stop me if you've heard this one--it was blocked into the netting, which caused the officials to blow their whistles. The period would end right after Shawn Horcoff got penalized for allowing Charlie Coyle to grab his stick, but there's really not much use in complaining about sketchy hooking calls these days. The period would end with shots on goal, hits and faceoffs all more or less even.
Minnesota began the period with about 100 seconds left on the power play, but their unit's ineffectiveness was highlighted by Dillon carrying the puck from his own blue line before a good shot from the circle that was saved by Kuemper. Seguin would then earn a power play for the Stars by stepping on Kyle Brodziak's stick. This man advantage would look much better for the Stars, as Jason Spezza sent a couple of shots towards the net with some traffic. However, a power play is not measured by its smell, but by its production.
Antoine Roussel scored at the 5:34 mark after some good work by Fiddler and Hemsky behind the net. Fiddler's cram attempt bounced to Roussel, who put it over Kuemper, who was in no position to make a save. Hemsky received his second assist of the year on the play.
Hemsky had apparently received a "shoot the puck" directive, as he put another good puck on net a minute later, but Kuemper was able to hang onto this one.
The BoD line shortly thereafter established a great minute so of offensive zone time, but nothing really found its way to Kuemper. Horcoff's line would then follow up that shift with a good one of their own, but nothing came of some good work by Colton Sceviour.
It would again take almost ten minutes for Minnesota to record its first shot on goal, but Kari Lehtonen was able to freeze the attempt without too much trouble. They got a much better chance a few minutes later on a long point shot, but Jordie Benn swept the deflection aside just before Jason Pominville could get to the puck behind Lehtonen.
Kari wouldn't be able to get the next chance, though, as Dillon's point-to-point backhand actually went right to Ryan Carter. Dillon would compound the problem by playing his newly-created 2-on-1 poorly, and Carter easily passed it to the wide-open Erik Haula, who sent a far wrister off the post and in.
The Wild would begin to pour on the pressure after their goal, but the defense was able to hold on (barely), and then the end-to-end chances would begin. Neither goalie would face a grade-A chance, but the Wild were able to create plenty of opportunities, and the period would end with the shots on goal evening significantly over the final five minutes to 17-14, Dallas. Considering the momentum after the Wild's tying goal, the Stars were fortunate to be tied going into the second intermission.
Dallas would create something right away, as Ryan Garbutt's feed into the crease went just wide against the grain off Roussel's stick. It would quickly turn ugly, however, as Charlie Coyle's shot from distance rattled off Lehtonen's right pad and blocker, and Mikael Granlund was able to put away the sumptuous rebound with ease. Lehtonen would certainly want that one back, as they say.
The Wild almost made it 3-1 soon afterwards, but (Jamie) Benn and Dillon were able to clean up some golden chances for Minnesota that were otherwise begging to be put in off the rebound.
Roussel nearly evened things up after a good Ryan Garbutt shot (you may have noticed that he's doing this more lately) led to a loose puck in the crease. Kuemper was able to hold on for the whistle, though.
The next faceoff presented a sight many of us had nearly lost hope of seeing: Hemsky on the ice with Benn and Seguin (with Klingberg and Goligoski to boot). The wonderful line combination of legend spent a ton of time in the zone, but nothing found its way past Kuemper. Spezza would come out with McKenzie and Erik Cole, proving that Ruff had indeed put Hemsky with BennGuin on purpose.
Minnesota went into its defensive shell, and the Stars starting pushing hard. Ryan Suter's near-constant presence combined with the Wild trap stifled them for a good stretch after the halfway mark, however. Spezza's presence on the third line was noticeable, but a bouncing Jordie Benn shot couldn't find a Stars stick on its way in, and McKenzie's effort wasn't able to pose any danger to the by-this-point-completey-passive Wild.
Dallas pulled Lehtonen on a Minnesota icing with 1:30 to go, but their best chances would never connect, as both a Spezza attempt to Hemsky (blocked) and a Seguin feed to Ales Hemsky again (bounced over his stick) failed to find their way to the net. Minnesota would hang on for the victory.
Klingberg was on for the final minute or so, which indicates how much Ruff likes him already (as if we didn't know). JK looked good again today, with a few very silky zone exits, and great poise to keep a couple of pucks in the offensive zone during the final Dallas push.
Lehtonen would definitely want that second goal back. Jordie Benn didn't really lock down his guy in front, but it's a shot that any goalie from juniors on should be able to kick aside to the boards. Lehtonen had trouble with it, and suddenly the Wild found their lead and sat on it.
Jamie Benn had some glorious chances early, but again, the Stars just couldn't capitalize. They had two power plays to Minnesota's one, but they handily outchanced the Wild even before score effects started coming into play. You'd like to see your top players show up in those situations, and Dallas failed to do so.
This game wasn't a disaster, but it was a case of a lot of good-but-not-great plays that failed to penetrate a very sound Minnesota defense. After taking advantage of a struggling Arizona group and a tired Los Angeles team, the Stars weren't able to find another gear, and Minnesota was able to shut them down without too much trouble. You'd have to hope that Dallas can find a way to get more pucks to the net when they out-possess a team as much as they did today.
Minnesota showed why they've been turning some heads even with some scuffling this season. That third period was how you defend a lead in the third period--a lesson the Stars would certainly like to have learned eight or so games ago.