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Stars-struck Wild blow 3-goal lead, lose 4-3 to Dallas

The Wild continue their slump in face-palming fashion.

Antti Niemi didn't look sharp tonight, but he didn't have to, as the Stars made his shaky night irrelevant.
Antti Niemi didn't look sharp tonight, but he didn't have to, as the Stars made his shaky night irrelevant.
Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports

The Wild entered this game having lost 5 of their last 6, with Coach Mike Yeo challenging the Wild the night before. After appearing lifeless in last night's loss to Winnipeg, Yeo called out the Wild's lack of commitment to the structured game he demands, and further challenged them by spelling Devan Dubnyk for Darcy Kuemper. Over the past season and a half, the Wild's back-up goalie has done little to inspire the confidence of his teammates, and his wild inconsistency meant that the Wild would likely have to be solid defensively in order to beat the ultra-offensive Dallas Stars with the enigmatic Kuemper in net.

The Wild responded to this challenge early on, taking charge of the Stars in the first period. Minnesota's top-line of Jason Zucker, Mikko Koivu, and Nino Niederreiter were tasked with shutting down Dallas' potent duo of Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, and they erased them. While the Koivu line was bringing the defense, Thomas Vanek took care of the Wild on the offensive side of the puck. Vanek started off the scoring by recovering his own blocked pass and shooting a fluttering puck through traffic. Later in the period, Justin Fontaine passed to Vanek to create a two-on-one. Vanek had Antti Niemi convinced of a shot, giving Vanek the chance to slide the puck over to Charlie Coyle, who scored on an easy one-timer.

The Wild also started out strong to begin the second period, with Jason Pominville firing an absolute laser in the top corner of the net for his first goal of the year. After that, the Stars started adjusting, and the Wild stopped pressing quite so hard. Minnesota would manage to hold off each of Dallas' 19 shots in the second, thanks to Darcy Kuemper bringing his A-game through the first two periods.

While the Wild did have the shutout going into the third, it's nearly impossible to keep a team as skilled as Dallas from scoring when you've given them carte blanche to shoot the puck. Instead of being more aggressive and pushing the puck into the offensive zone, we saw more of the same. Dallas was able to shoot the puck with impunity, and it finally paid off for them when Alex Goligoski beat Kuemper with a bouncing puck shortly after a Stars power play expired.

It got worse when Johnny Oduya cross-checked Parise to give the Wild the man advantage. Granlund tried to connect to Parise on a cross-ice feed on the ensuing power play, but the puck was picked off by Jamie Benn, who beat Kuemper cleanly for a short-handed goal. John Klingberg would then tie the game with 5 minutes remaining, and the Wild barely hung on to get into overtime. Minnesota spent the majority of overtime in possession of the puck, but despite a couple of shots, they were unable to convert. As had been the story all game, Dallas took advantage of the Wild's inability to close them out when Benn raced behind the net and dished the puck to Seguin, who fired a backhand past a sprawling Kuemper to complete the comeback.

It's obvious that the Wild did nothing but retreat into a defensive shell once they grabbed their 3-0 lead, and I would like to instead turn the spotlight onto another factor that cost them the game: Their 3-on-3 personnel. The Wild started out by icing Mikael Granlund, who has essentially done nothing this season, and has already turned in one awful performance in 3v3 play. They then iced a combination of Mikko Koivu and Ryan Suter not once, but twice. Suter and Koivu are both great options at 5v5, but they're not fast, making the two of them a bad option to stop the Dallas' speedy stars with so much open ice. Both were on for Seguin's winning goal.

The Wild have now lost 6 of 7, and they are now clinging to the West's second Wild Card spot by a mere point. With the return of Fontaine tonight, and Marco Scandella expected to come back from injury on Tuesday, Minnesota will now have a healthy lineup at their disposal. There can be no more excuses. They have to find a way to put teams away, or they'll be deservedly on the outside of the playoff bubble.

The Wild will face off against Chicago on the road Tuesday night. As always, Hockey Wilderness will be here to provide you with coverage leading up to, during, and after the game.