With a chance to change the dynamic of the series and return to Dallas tied 2-2 for a pivotal Game 5, the Minnesota Wild couldn't capitalize and now find themselves on the brink of elimination.
It wasn't for a lack of trying, though. The Wild demonstrated their value in the first period, playing the kind of physical hockey that John Torchetti wanted his team playing against the sublimely skilled Stars. And for a while, it seemed to take the Stars off their game. Minnesota jumped out to a big shot lead before Dallas started applying pressure about midway through the first. Even then, the Wild were able to engage the Stars physically in front of the net, who had been frustrated by Minnesota since the start of Game 3.
The scoring would open in the second period, when Nino Niederreiter did what he often does- create a scoring chance. He drove to the net and drop-passed to Erik Haula, then picked up Haula's rebound, which grazed Pominville before going in. Pominville would get credit for the goal, but I'm sure Nino couldn't have minded, seeing as the Wild took a 1-0 lead on the Stars.
Then a few minutes later, Matt Dumba tried clearing the puck, but it went over the boards, which is an automatic penalty. This has been a huge problem for the Wild this season. See, Devan Dubnyk was amazing for the Wild's #1 penalty kill last season, but this just nurtured the PK's dependence on Dubnyk. As Dubnyk is no longer the second coming of Dominik Hasek, this has been an issue as the penalty killers in front of him struggled.
But in fairness, the Wild's PK was running really well for the first 1:40 or so on that kill, disrupting the Stars at every turn. Dallas eventually did get set up, and Ales Hemsky was able to score through a Colton Sceviour screen to tie the game at 1.
We've seen this Wild team struggle with adversity, seeming to neglect emotionally when punched in the mouth. But this isn't the Wild team we saw in January and February. Or last week, even. They showed some resilience coming back from down 2 goals in Game 3. So a tie game was nothing to them, and it was Charlie Coyle's turn to inspire hope in the Wild faithful.
Coyle created a chance by chipping a puck away from Alex Goligoski, where Jason Zucker collected it and dished it back to Coyle, who was off to the races. With Gologoski draped on him, Coyle was able to control a bouncing puck- sometimes with just one hand- and practically willed the puck into the net. Seriously. Just watch this goal. It's right up there with the crazy goal he scored in Edmonton last year.
But again, another penalty would give the lead right back to the Stars. Niederreiter committed a slash and watched as Patrick Eaves tipped a Kris Russell shot past Dubnyk to knot the game up.
Near the end of the period Minnesota would get a golden opportunity to re-gain the lead when Jamie Benn went to the penalty box. But they squandered the power play and it was Dallas instead who would capitalize. Jason Spezza scored the go-ahead goal off his skate with 70 seconds left in the period, and the Wild finished the second down 3-2.
Minnesota would pressure in the third as Dallas stopped trying to pressure. A Mikko Koivu - Mikael Granlund - Coyle line started crashing the net. Antti Niemi got just enough of a Marco Scandella slap shot to prevent the tying goal. No dice, and it came down to the final minutes, when the Wild pulled Dubnyk and sent out Niederreiter as the extra attacker. But despite an Antoine Roussel penalty to put the Wild at a 6-4 advantage, the Wild weren't able to put on any real pressure, meaning that the Spezza goal had separated the Wild entirely from the lead.
This is probably the end of the series for the Wild. Winning 3 straight against the Stars is a tall order, and having to win two on the road makes this even more difficult for a team that's long struggled in Dallas. The Wild fought valiantly, and could've won Games 2 and 4 had things gone differently. But things didn't quite break Minnesota's way, and this was a series where things were going to have to be perfect for the Wild to pull off the upset.
The Wild fell short, and they fell short in almost every aspect of the game. Their power play was feeble. Their penalty kill was leaky. They were out-shot, out-chanced, out-attempted by the Stars. Without a couple of great efforts from their strongest players (Niederreiter, Coyle), this game would've been more out-of-reach.
The Wild will return to Dallas for Game 5 on Friday. We'll see if the season ends there. Stick with Hockey Wilderness for full coverage until then.