Dallas Stars head coach Lindy Ruff said there were parts of Thursday's game one that he did not even want to review on tape with his team, knowing how much different game two was going to be.
That prognostication proved a good one, as the Minnesota Wild brought a desperate effort Saturday night equaled, fortunately, only by Kari Lehtonen's netmending. As the series shifts to the road he knows it only gets harder from here.
"I think anybody that knows playoff hockey knows and when we go into their building with their fans, their emotion will be jacked up. The games are only going to get tougher for us."
Game threes are pivotal. It's probably inane to say so. Every contest is such a potentially huge swing. Tonight's game represents a chance to "hold serve" for the Wild. "A series only starts when a road team wins," and all of that. Etc.
For the Stars it's a chance to put foot on throat- To kill any chance that this could turn into a protracted effort. For a team trying to learn how to win its first playoff series in eight years that might be a high bar, but consider a resting Stars team while the Blackhawks and Blues bash each other's heads in. It's a fairly tantalizing proposition as a fan.
The team, of course, has its focus on the next game only. On the next shift.
Saturday's pre-game activities revolved solely around one Mr. Tyler Seguin. After abstaining from "line rushes" in warmups it appeared as though Seguin would not return after all. When he was indeed in the lineup it was speculated that he would take fourth line minutes to get his feet wet.
Less than minute into the game Ruff threw him on the ice. With Jamie Benn on a would-be top line. The Stars surrenderd a breakaway to Nino Niederreiter seconds after that, emblematic of the line's night as a whole.
"I think you can see that stepping inside a playoff game, with a playoff-type intensity, is different than just trying to step in the regular season," Ruff said of the tough start. "So, he's playing catch up a little bit for us."
By evening's finish, even before the Stars had their second goal and 2-1 lead to protect, Seguin had been placed on the fourth line, his minutes reduced.
It's a really tough place to step in- Even for a world-class league leader like Tyler Seguin, and now it presents the Stars with a real challenge on the road. Dallas was able to survive Benn and Seguin being their worst possession line in game 2 thanks to the Wild's scoring slump, but will that work when Torchetti has the benefit of last change, able to avoid the Fak 'em line where he wants?
"It's just going to get harder," Jamie Benn said after game two. "Their compete and their will to win is going to rise.
His output has been tremendous, but his team-worst 44% Corsi at 5v5 Saturday will have to improve- That may mean separating him from Seguin, but Seguin needs ice time to get back into the swing of things. How much leeway can Ruff afford as wins become harder to get in a raucous Xcel Energy Center?
It's been reported that Mattias Janmark (who looked quite spiffy in his suit in the press box, btw) will likely go back into the lineup. Who comes out is the subject of much speculation.
Meanwhile, let's go to Minnesota to take the pulse of the media and fanbase...
The problem with being the NHL team in the state of hockey is you can't fool anyone. The fans are too knowledgeable.
That's why there are suddenly tickets available at Xcel Energy Center for a playoff series against the most natural rival the Wild can have, the team that sneaked away in the night because of a sleazy owner, stealing a beloved franchise from its natural home.
That team's eventual replacement, the Wild, will play an important game on Monday night at the X, a game that could lead to a franchise overhaul if it is lost. The Wild trails the Dallas Stars 2-0 in the series. The Wild has lost seven consecutive games, managing just seven goals during that stretch. The ice has been tilted against this team for weeks, and no one seems to have a crampon.
The franchise player, Zach Parise, is coming off a terrible season on the ice and in the organization and now has a serious back injury with nine years remaining on his contract.
The longtime captain, Mikko Koivu, has scored two goals in his last 30 playoff games.
The veteran players brought in to ensure playoff success have faded. Thomas Vanek was frequently an embarrassment this season, and Jason Pominville is 33 and scored a career-low 11 goals this year. [Star Tribune]
Wow. And there's more where that came from if you want to check out the Star Tribune.
There isn't much more to say. The Wild aren't scoring right now and that just isn't good enough. They held the Stars to two goals and some feel just one, Saturday night- If you can't beat the Stars when they only tally twice you've missed a golden opportunity.
The Wild fanbase last witnessed a home win (4-1 over Chicago) on March 29th- A capper on a four-game streak at "The X". Two of those game-winners during that streak were scored by Zach Parise.
Torchetti says Parise is not any closer to returning. #mnwild— Minnesota Wild (@mnwild) April 17, 2016
So there figures to be little change in the Wild lineup, if any at all. Devan Dubnyk will continue to try to be the difference maker, and they'll continue to hope that special teams can be a difference maker.
Special teams were anything but for Dallas Saturday night, as the power play that's fueled them at times instead sapped their tremendous momentum at even-strength. The Wild have been uncharacteristically undisciplined through two games, afford the Stars more chances than they ordinarily do. If they re-find that aspect of their game the Stars will have even fewer chances to turn their fortunes around on the job.
7:30pm start tonight, and we'll see you back here for some game thread fun and community nail biting. Try to get some work done today in the mean time. Or don't ;)