The Dallas Stars had their show on the road once again tonight, meeting a Minnesota Wild team in their famously hard-to-play-in barn in St. Paul. To say this game was a big one for the Stars was an understatement. After a big win in Buffalo and a three-point lead on the Wild in the Western Conference Wild Card standings, the Stars had a chance to gain some ground on their divisional rival.
The Stars rolled into St. Paul winners of four of their last five games, including a three-game win streak on the road. The Stars’ record in their last 10 games was an impressive 7-3-0, with three of the wins coming via shutouts. Speaking of shutouts, you might have heard that Ben Bishop has three of them, in a row, and entered the game with a chance to overtake legend Ed Belfour for the longest streak in North Stars/Dallas Stars history.
Down the hall from the Stars were the home team Minnesota Wild (no relation to the Minnesota North Stars), who were coming off two straight losses. Over their last 10 games, the Wild had played some pretty good hockey, going 6-2-2, and kept a hold on the second Wild Card spot in the West.
It was a playoff-type game in St. Paul, with playoff positioning on the line and 13 games left in the season.
The game started rather gingerly for both clubs as the first few shifts lacked in whistles but also lacked in any meaningful action. The best chance of the first five minutes came via a shot from John Klingberg that was partially blocked on a rush that saw the Stars catch the Wild in an odd-man situation. To make up for the lack of shots in the early moments of the period, the two teams made a point to set a tone physically, with big hits dished out by both sides.
As the period approached the 10-minute mark, the Stars seemed to find a little bit of space when entering the Wild zone. The Stars exploited the lax defending by the Wild when Tyler Seguin breezed into the Minnesota zone, slipped a nice pass to Roope Hintz, whose shot was narrowly thwarted by the skinny part of Devin Dubnyk’s stick. For all of the inaction of the first 10 minutes of the period, when there was action, it was in the Minnesota end of the ice, as the Stars held a 7-to-1 shot advantage at the halfway mark. The Stars were also able to establish their cycle, and activate their defenseman with regularity, which seemed to cause a bit of a panic in the Wild for zone coverage.
On the other side of the rink, Ben Bishop’s quest for the franchise shutout streak record had started quite well, as the goaltender’s only action was the occasional dump-in by the Wild and two rather innocent shots. The Wild finally established pressure in the Dallas zone when Jared Spurgeon fired a long tester on a screened Bishop, who swallowed it into his midsection. The shot by Spurgeon kicked off a flurry of activity in the Dallas zone for a shift, as the Wild seemed determined to make Bishop earn his franchise shutout mark. Earn it he did, as at the 219:27 mark, Bishop passed legend Ed Belfour for the longest streak in Dallas history and the 25th longest in NHL history.
As the period approached its dying moments, the Stars seemed to find some prime scoring chances as the Wild turned the puck over repeatedly. The best of the chances came via a Roope Hintz backhand that was the result of a poor breakout pass by the Wild. Miro Heiskanen also had a prime scoring chance, but pushed the puck just wide of the Wild net. When the period ended, the score read 0-0 in a frame where it can be argued the Stars deserved a lead as they walked into the dressing room.
Shots: Dallas 9, Minnesota 7
Score: Dallas 0, Minnesota 0
The middle frame began with a bit more pace than the first period, with both teams moving briskly out of their own zones. An early theme for the Stars was the effectiveness of their neutral zone defense, which the Wild seemed to have a bit of trouble with. When Minnesota did find some space, they usually had to dump the puck into the Dallas end, which led to an easy breakout with Bishop acting as a third puck carrier.
The Stars’ effort, cycle, and forecheck finally paid off as Blake Comeau fired a shot towards the Wild net that would be deflected by Radek Faksa for the opening goal of the game. The goal was truly earned by the Stars, as they worked the puck deep into the Wild zone, pressured the puck and had the Wild out of position. A bit of controversy ensued in the 14th minute of the period as Roope Hintz found the back of the net after a bad Dubnyk rebound. The goal was not called on the ice as the Stars celebrated. However, upon further review it was found that the puck crossed the line and the beat would go on for the young Finnish forward.
A little more than a minute later, the Stars again robbed the Wild in their zone. Jamie Benn streaked into the opposing end, picked up his own rebound and made a perfect pass to Joel L’Esperance, who deflected the puck into the net for his first NHL goal.
However, there was reason to worry for Stars fans. While the goal was occurring, Ben Bishop left the Dallas net and went back to the dressing room with a lower body injury. After the game, head coach Jim Montgomery did not have an update on Bishop’s status. He’s expected to be further evaluated and an update will come tomorrow when the team faces the Vegas Golden Knights on home ice in the second half of this back-to-back set.
The first penalty of the game came courtesy of a Hintz holding call, which sent the Wild to their first power play. The first 30 seconds of the advantage began well for the Stars, as the Wild were unable to establish zone time and the Stars cleared rather easily. After an easy face-off win for the Wild, Jason Zucker slipped a puck past Antoin Khudobin to put the Wild on the board and snapping the Dallas streak of 15 penalties killed. Khudobin came into the game cold and the penalty was called almost immediately. The goal for the Wild breathed some life into the roster and into the Xcel Energy Center, as they seemed to find another gear while the period continued.
The Wild found themselves in penalty trouble when Jonas Brodin incurred a hooking infraction against Roman Polak. The power play for the Stars proved to be a rather uneventful one, with the best chances coming in the dying moments of the advantage, when Heiskanen elected to pass instead of shooting in tight on the Wild net. The Wild killed the penalty, giving them an advantage in the special teams category on the night.
The Stars battled through the rest of the period, doing the things that had made the game a good one for them. The Stars were hard on the puck, were going into the tough areas of the ice, and their defense was solid — with the exception of the power play goal by the Wild. At the end of the period, the Stars went to the dressing room with a two-goal cushion.
Shots: Dallas 20, Minnesota 12
Score: Dallas 3, Minnesota 1
The Wild came out rather aggressively in the first five minutes of the period, testing Khudobin early and often. So often so, that the first four shots of the period belonged to Minnesota, as their forecheck and puck pressure looked dangerous for the first time all night. The pressure by the Wild seemed to bother the Stars a bit, as the defense struggled with their zone exits, which gave the Wild more chances at the Dallas net. The troubles wouldn’t relent for the Stars as the Wild had them squarely on their heels, shift after shift. By the 15-minute mark, the Wild held a 7-0 shot advantage.
The period rolled along quickly, and the Wild seemed to take their foot off the gas a tad. The Stars were able to reestablish their zone exits, and Jason Dickinson would leg out an icing to keep the clock moving in the Stars’ direction. As the period inched towards the 10-minute mark, the game settled into a defensive one for the Stars, as they routinely made crisp zone exits and thwarted the Wild in the neutral zone.
The first quality of the chance of the period for the Stars came with the two rookies on the ice, Dickinson and the newly-minted goal-scorer Joel L’Esperance. Dickinson rushed in on Dubnyk, who poked at the puck as it was tangled in the skates of the Stars’ center and the Wild defenders. The shot gave Dallas a 24-19 advantage, meaning the Wild hadn’t recorded a shot since their early period chances when they took the above mentioned 7-0 shot advantage.
Wit the game creeping under the five-minute mark, the line of Hintz, Tyler Seguin, and Alexander Radulov dominated the Wild in their own end as they established a really effective cycle. The best chance of the shift came from Seguin, who had Dubnyk stretching to the near post to keep Seguin from wrapping it in the net.
The Wild pulled Dubnyk at the three-minute mark of the period, which gave the Wild a man advantage for the remainder of the period. The Wild took this as a chance to load up their group with their top-end players, but the Stars nearly made it a moot point. Jamie Benn stole the puck at the Dallas line, chipped it up to Seguin, who then went with Radulov on a two-on-one. Seguin slid a pass to Radulov, who, despite the open net, was whistled for off-sides. The score remained 3-1 in favor of Dallas. The Wild started to make a final push with under two minutes to go, as they worked the puck deep into the Dallas zone, before instantly funneling the puck toward Khudobin.
Dallas nearly iced the game on an empty net, but Seguin missed by shooting the puck way high over the net and into the safety netting, saving the Wild once again. Missing the empty net three times was not to be, as Radulov dangled through the Wild defense before depositing the puck in the empty net for a 4-1 Stars lead and eventual win.
Final Shots: Dallas 31, Minnesota 22,
Final Score: Dallas 4, Minnesota 1
The Stars return to Dallas to face the Vegas Golden Knights tomorrow. Puck drop will be at 7 p.m. CST.