The Minnesota Wild were an increasingly desperate team as the third period moved along in Game 4.
Why wouldn't they be? After all, there's a huge difference in a 2-2 series and a 3-1 deficit. And with the Dallas Stars protecting a 3-2 lead to try and have a chance to clinch in Dallas, that was absolutely the time for desperation.
So the Wild launched 21 shot attempts in the final frame (which is pretty average for Dallas, which had 27 in the first, but high for most other teams). Fourteen of those eventually found Antti Niemi. But crucially, in that last two minute stretch with six Wild shot attempts, only one snuck through.
Because the Stars mastered what most thought was their weakness last night - the art of team defense that allows a team to create shot attempts but not dangerous ones. And that, more than anything else, explains why they could end the series tomorrow.
From War-on-Ice, here are the team possession numbers for the game:
|Team||All Sit CF||All Sit CF%||All Sit SCF||All Sit HSCF||5v5 CF||5v5 CF%||5v5 SCF||5v5 HSCF|
The most interesting thing to me here, again, is the scoring chances. The Stars have had a reputation of giving up a lot of prime scoring opportunities, but even in a situation where the Wild got increasingly desperate, the Stars kept things in decent control.
The Wild had three high-danger scoring chances, two at even strength, in the third period but only six in the game, the second fewest over the night behind the four for the New York Islanders. And a large chunk of their possession numbers came from power play time and 4-on-4 play.
With two successful power plays, the Stars spent just 2:50 with the man advantage tonight while the Wild had a full 5:24, including the final 1:30 with the goalie pulled. Minnesota generated 16 shot attempts when the manpower was something other than 5-on-5 while the Stars had just five (but notably converted on two of them).
And the Stars were able to control those attempts even in that final frantic penalty kill. After Antoine Roussel took the double-minor with 1:24 left, the Stars blocked two shots, forced two shots wide and allowed just one on net from Nino Niederreiter, the lone scoring chance allowed on the power play.
That special teams discrepancy is also slightly visible in the Stars individual numbers, though where you'll really see it is later with the Wild:
|Player||All Sit CF||All Sit CA||All Sit CF%||
|5v5 CF||5v5 CA||5v5 CF%||5v5 Zone Start|
The Roussel-Hemsky-Faksa trio continues to roll merrily along with possession, and the Stars ability to throw most players out there with solid-to-good possession numbers is what really sets them apart. There's not a line the Stars really want to hide - even Jason Spezza's line, which struggled in that regard just a smidge, is so dangerous that the low numbers don't bother you that much.
Which brings to Nichushkin, who struggled last night. But for the series he's been very good in the category, so more than some of his teammates, he's riding a roller coaster of matchups, particularly on the road. He's 21. It happens.
And for as much as the Alex Goligoski-John Klingberg unit struggled with some turnovers, they continue to create scoring opportunities. They're riding a little bit of an overtry/bad luck streak in regards to goals given up, but the way they are playing overall indicates they should be due for a turnaround there.
Minnesota's swing's are much wilder - they have some sacrificial lambs in the possession department but also some players who were extremely dangerous every time they were on the ice.
|Player||All Sit CF||All Sit CA||All Sit CF%||All Sit Zone Start||5v5 CF||5v5 CA||5v5 CF%||5v5 Zone Start|
Like I said earlier, you can really see the special teams discrepancy in some of the Wild players driving some of their higher-possession players (hi Charlie Coyle, Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon!). On the other hand, a few players got relatively buried in the defensive zone and did not handle it well, such as Prosser and Dalpe.
The Wild, much more than the Stars, were a product of who was on the ice last night. While the Stars had fairly steady possession across all four lines, with some natural variation, the Wild had real peaks and valleys, especially at even strength.