As the Stars and Wild opened their playoff series Thursday night, everyone in the State of Hockey was worried about the Wild's chances to make it a series with Zach Parise, Thomas Vanek, and Erik Haula all sidelined with injury. The Wild was going to have defend its way to a victory, but ultimately, a couple neutral zone miscues made the score insurmountable.
The Wild from the opening faceoff tried to play a physical brand of hockey, Charlie Coyle made a nice hard hit. Jarret Stoll caught John Klingberg behind the net with a solid check. Matt Dumba stepped up and cut-off Mattias Janmark as he tried to cut back to the middle of the ice and laid him and himself out. Meanwhile, as the Stars were getting shots on goal, it took until 8:39 remaining in the period for Nino Niederreiter to tally the Wild's first shot on goal, and there was one power play in that stretch too.
The Wild had to do a lot of defensing in the first period. Being short-handed three times, the Wild and Devan Dubnyk on the penalty kill held strong. But there were some awfully close calls and some incredible saves from number 40. Ending the period with a 14-2 shot disadvantage, the Wild were lucky to have escaped the first period in a scoreless tie.
The Wild came out for the second period with three quick shots and chances on net, surpassing their shot total from the first period. The tight checking that was in the first period, seemed to open up a bit as the Wild and Stars traded a few end-to-end chances. Jarret Stoll, on a breakout of his own zone, had his pass blocked by Ales Hemsky. Hemsky then found Radek Faksa in the high slot as the late trailer. Faksa's wrist shot then beat Dubnyk over the shoulder for the series' for goal.
Minnesota was able to get shots on goal, and have some decent offensive zone time. Kari Lehtonen even looked sketchy at best when he had to make a save, bu the Wild couldn't get enough pucks to the front of the net. Jason Spezza made the score 2-0 when he made a goal scorer's goal. He looked like he was going to shoot from the right circle, but he held back on his shot, got Dubnyk to move again and sniped the top corner. It was a really nice shot, but bad for the bad guys. The Wild out-shot the Stars 11-8 for the period and had a power play cut short by 16 seconds when Niederreiter paid back an elbow that he took to gain the power play.
Halfway through the second period, Dubnyk made a poke check to keep the score at 1-0. It was a ballsy poke check, but great timing, and a just an overall fantastic goaltending move. It was the kind of play that could make a team gain some momentum, but the Wild are just lacking some top scoring names, and they just couldn't capture that with a goal.
Dubnyk poke check pic.twitter.com/S9OHLLwVqo— Stephanie (@myregularface) April 15, 2016
The Wild couldn't get through Lehtonen in the third period. Not to mention another penalty in the most inopportune time killing any smidge of momentum. Patrick Eaves scored on the power play. Jason Spezza's shot from the point was originally stopped by Dubnyk, but the rebound got away from him and Eaves just had to get a good whack a the puck. He had time to do it as the Wild defensemen - Jonas Brodin and Marco Scandella - never touched him. John Torchetti pulled his goalie for the extra attacker. While the Wild did get a couple good shots, a fumbled puck at the blue line ended up with Jamie Benn scoring in to the empty net. Minnesota could just never get the offense going, and without keeping pressure on the defensemen of Dallas, there was only so much Dubnyk was going to do for his team. He kept his team in the game for the most part, but the top scoring team in the league was just too much for the Wild to handle.
A key to the series for Minnesota was playing disciplined hockey. Six penalties later, the Wild most assuredly ruined any chance for momentum throughout the game by giving the Stars too many man advantages. Lehtonen didn't look particularly solid, but the lack of getting to the net with shots and bodies and traffic, there just wasn't enough second-chance opportunities.
Game Two is Saturday night at 7PM.