The Stars got blown out by playoff standards on Monday night. The defense was shaky and Kari Lehtonen was unable to bail them out. The team knew that the Wild would push back in their building, but Monday seemed to catch them by surprise. The power play was stuck in the mud, and Tyler Seguin was still in Dallas. Game 4 felt very decisive.
Dallas began the game expecting a similar effort from the Wild, and Minnesota did not disappoint. The Stars prevailed 3-2, but the Wild were not willing to go quietly. It was a furious affair, up and down the ice, and the bad blood bubbled to the surface. Antti Niemi got the start in net, and the team would need every save he could muster.
The first period started with the Wild playing like their hair was on fire. Minnesota was able to establish a forecheck and they played with speed. Their energy was high and that forced the Stars to absorb pressure early. The shot clock was dominated by the Wild early on. Good news for Dallas was the first 10 minutes of clock time took about 40 real minutes to play, possibly stunting the flow of the Wild.
Alex Goligoski took the first minor penalty of the game and the Dallas penalty killers played the "bend-but-don't-break" game. The Stars were probably fortunate to survive the kill but they did. The momentum started to shift and Dallas started to break the forecheck, getting some decent looks at Devan Dubnyk's net. The period ended with a lot of energy, but neither team had anything to show for their efforts.
Needless to say, things opened up in the second.
Even though the second started the same way the first did (slow), that changed in a hurry. The scoreless draw was broken when Pominville banged home a rebound with 5 minutes played. The Wild were playing inspired hockey.
The power play woes of the Stars in the series are well-documented, but Ales Hemsky got the team on the board with a power play goal. There was a great screen by Sceviour, and Dubnyk was mystified. Charlie Coyle would answer on a breakaway only a few minutes later to reclaim the lead, but Dallas was put on the job again. This time, it would be Patrick Eaves. A shot by Russell was tipped in front, and the Stars had another equalizer.
Dallas was staggered in the first, but started to find their game in the second. After Jamie Benn was called for holding the Stars were able to successfully kill the penalty. This proved a costly missed opportunity for Minnesota, as Jason Spezza was able to deflect a pass from Jason Demers on a rush started by a freshly liberated Benn. The period ended with the score 3-2 Dallas.
It would be hard to accuse Dallas of turtling in the third, but there is little denying the fact that the Wild turned up the heat. Minny out shot the Stars through the final frame, but Antti Niemi was able to hold the fort. He wasn't special, but he was good enough. To be fair, the defending was sound and there wasn't much room for the Wild to operate.
Pominville and Haula got very close to tying the game with 5 minutes to play, but Niemi made the stop. As the desperation of the Wild became more apparent, Dallas leaned on their goalie and promised to block as many shots as they could. Minnesota got clogged by a committed neutral zone effort, and tried to dump and chase. The forecheck was there all night and Minnesota never lost their energy. It was an all-out Alamo defense by Dallas down the stretch.
Antoine Roussel took a double minor high-sticking penalty with 1:24 left in the game. The Wild would go on the power play, and the game was on the line. With Dubnyk on the bench, and the siege in full force, Dallas held the fort.
It was a truly heroic effort by the Stars' penalty kill in their final shifts. Niemi was competitive and battled through a frantic final 84 seconds.
Make no mistake, the Wild played some really good hockey in the third period. Realistically, they played really well all night long. Dallas fans probably had more than one cardiac event in the final 20 minutes.
But the playoffs are about battling when the other team is throwing the book at you. Dallas withstood a desperate hockey team tonight. Antti Niemi was solid and gave the team exactly what they needed.The power play responded in the best way, scoring two huge goals in the second period.
Did anyone else grow a few more gray hairs in the third period? What a game. We will see you Friday night at 8:30 when the Stars will try to close out their first round series.