St. Paul hosted the third game and night cap of NBC's Hockey Day in America Sunday evening. The Wild hosted the Dallas Stars in a huge Western Conference match-up. Should the Wild win, it would mean they end the night in a playoff spot.
Fast-Forward to the first period. Minnesota came out looking for the early goal, but Stars goaltender Jhonas Enroth, recently acquired from the Buffalo Sabres, had other ideas. He made a few great saves on Zack Parise and Thomas Vanek who both had a couple whacks at a loose puck in close. The Wild got the period's only power play after Jamie Benn coughed up the puck to Nino Niederreiter and then proceeded to hack Nino's stick in half. The Wild were able to get four shots on Enroth and had some decent puck movement. Dallas was then able to re-group and started to apply a little more pressure on the Wild. There was a period of extended zone time by the Stars, but the Wild did a great job of blocking shots and the rest were picked up by Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk. Minnesota finished the period with an 11-7 shot advantage.
There could have been more scoring chances but the Wild were looking for the drop pass more rather than crashing the net. It got pretty frustrating as the Wild misfired in the passes; not to mention the constant passes back to the point that get broken up and make for any easy breakout by the Stars.
The second period actually saw scoring. Minnesota had at one point a series that saw them have almost three and a half minutes of zone time. Ryan Suter was a beast at keeping the blue line and the Wild got some pretty solid chances. Mikael Granlund had a nifty setup for Justin Fontaine when he fell to his knees, but had the wherewithal to keep playing the puck. He pulled the puck between his legs, reached back and pulled it forward after dangling through a Star player's legs and chipped it to Fontaine for a nice chance on Enroth. Then the Wild got into penalty trouble. Mikko Koivu took two straight penalties; one was a tripping minor, and then shortly after that was killed by the Wild, he sent the puck over the glass for Delay of Game. Jason Spezza would rip a slapper from the right circle over Dubnyk's shoulder. That power play goal against would snap a 32 for 32 streak that's lasted for 13 games of very successful penalty killing by the Wild. The Wild awoke and tried to get some pressure going the other way. Parise was clearly interfered with and that went uncalled. Jonas Brodin took a puck to the chin/cheek area right before Koivu airmailed it over the glass. He went straight to the locker room, but returned shortly after.
Other than the impressive 3:30 that the Wild spent in the Stars' zone, there wasn't much for the Wild. The Wild played with fire one too many times and it finally bit 'em as the penalty kill finally broke. Erik Haula was oh-so-close to a short-handed goal, but the shot ended up like many of the Wild's chances - in Enroth's bread basket.
It all changed in the third period. Zach Parise would snap a shot past Enroth to tie the game. It was a big goal as the Wild needed to start somewhere, and the Stars are a terrible third period team. Mikko Koivu followed up with a goal of his own to take the lead. It was a shot from near the goal line to the left of the Enroth that hit the inside of Enroth's left pad and dropped through his five hole. It was huge for Koivu to give the Wild its first lead after his delay of game penalty led to Dallas' goal. He's been on a tear this month as he's helped lead the Wild out of the November/December/January funk.
The winds in the Stars' sails went dead calm as the Wild would tally four more goals for its first six goal period in franchise history. It was Stephane Veilleux that found a puck in Erik Cole's skates that Marco Scandella fired in from the point. Veilleux was able to punch it past Enroth. Then Matt Dumba picked a corner on Enroth on the Wild power play. Granlund was able to find Dumba pinching in from the point down the weak side and fed him a pass in space. Granlund was not to be out-done, he scored on a breakaway after getting denied by Enroth the shift before. The "Sieve" chants wre out in full force at the X. Then Parise would bookend the Wild scoring after getting fed by Granlund.
Jason Spezza would get one back for his second of the night with just under two minutes remaining. But the damage was done and the Wild looked up and saw itself up 6-2 at the final horn and back inside the playoff picture.
Granlund finished with three points with a goal and two assists. Parise had two goals as did Christian Folin. Ryan Suter saw 26:29 of ice time and hurled four shots on goal.
The biggest goal of the night was easily Mikko Koivu's goal. Sure, Parise's was just as huge because it tied the game, but with Dallas incapable of keeping a lead, Koivu's goal from a bad angle really took the wind out of the Stars. As for prettiest goal, Granlund on the breakaway was fantastic, but Matt Dumba's power play goal may give Granlund's goal a run for its money in the Wild Goal of the Week. It's been a battle for the Wild to get a sniff of the playoffs. Now that they're back in the picture, their work is not even close to being over. With 24 games remaining, it's going to be a fight to the finish. They are now in control of their own playoff destiny. They need to keep winning games and continue this amazing run they've been on since Devan Dubnyk's acquisition.