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Overtime hero Captain Koivu staves off elimination as Wild down Stars 5-4

Mikko Koivu had perhaps his biggest game ever when his team most needed him.

In case you've never seen this before, it's called "Joy on Mikko Koivu's face".
In case you've never seen this before, it's called "Joy on Mikko Koivu's face".
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

With the Minnesota Wild down 3-1 in their series against the Dallas Stars, few expected Minnesota to pull off a Game 5 upset at American Airlines Center, where they've historically struggled.

But against all odds, this series will head back to St. Paul. Minnesota has their Captain to thank for that.

Like the Stars in Game 3, the Wild jumped out to an early lead to try taking the Dallas crowd out of the game. Mikael Granlund got things going by jamming home his own rebound in a very Parise-esque manner. Minnesota doubled the score when Ryan Suter got a wrist shot from the outside through to Antti Niemi, creating a rebound for Jordan Schroeder to knock in. All of a sudden, the Wild had 2 goals on 4 shots.

Other than a couple of good chances from Mikko Koivu, the Wild backed off and the Stars pressed for the rest of the period, finally getting rewarded when Ales Hemsky crashed the net to create some chaos. In the fray that ensued around the net, Radek Faska picked up the puck and dished it back to Johnny Oduya, who buried his chance, drawing Dallas within a goal at the first intermission.

There weren't necessarily any huge moments in the second period, but it was quite a run-and-gun affair, with 25 total scoring chances. Charlie Coyle got a chance similar to his Game 4 goal, but he wasn't able to flash the skill to beat Niemi. There was an amusing moment where Granlund lost his stick in the defensive zone, and he had to adapt by kicking the puck out of danger. He got knocked over for his trouble, but he did help stop a dangerous Stars attack.

The third period was where all the action happened. Koivu appeared to be headed towards goat status when his failed clear was corralled by John Klingberg and dished to Jamie Benn, whose fancy stickwork was more than a match for Devan Dubnyk. Wild fans have seen this script before: An early lead to Dallas evaporates as the Stars prevail. But Nino Niederreiter responded almost instantly, getting behind Klingberg to score on a backhander.

But Dallas' quick-strike offense did what it does best- strike quick. Jason Spezza scored an impressive goal, carrying the puck from behind the net, facing away from the net to protect the puck from Erik Haula. He then casually rotates, and somehow slides the puck past Dubnyk. Another step in Spezza's great series. Alex Goligoski scored the go-ahead goal 28 seconds later, when Marco Scandella's attempt to clear Patrick Sharp from the front of the net ended up screening his goalie.

But Koivu wouldn't let his team go away. As the Wild pressed at the end of the third, the Wild got possession near the net after a Jared Spurgeon shot attempt. Granlund grabbed the puck behind the net and made an almost-impossibly-angled passed to Koivu, who one-timed it to force overtime. Koivu again was the hero in overtime, tipping-in a Ryan Suter shot to prolong this series.

Not only did the Wild win against the superior Stars in an arena that this team typically struggles in, they managed to do it playing a Dallas Stars-type of game (to the best of their ability, anyway). Instead of locking down the Stars and grinding it out with boring hockey, the Wild were surprisingly willing to trade chances (the 67 scoring chances from both teams is a series high, by a wide margin) and managed to come out on top. You can't predict hockey, I guess.

For the flak that Mikko Koivu takes in this market- having his talent and leadership ability regularly scrutinized and regularly being in offseason trade rumors- Koivu finally had a defining playoff moment to justify his place in Minnesota. Not only did he have those two goals, but aside from his clearing gaffe, he was buzzing all game, working quite well as a trigger man for Granlund. With Zach Parise out and the Wild facing elimination, Koivu had the biggest game of his career.

The Wild will return to Minnesota, where they've fared decently this series and will have the benefit of last change. If Minnesota can come through for the home fans, it goes to Game 7, where, as the 2003 Wild will tell you, anything can happen.

Game 6 will be a Sunday matinee, starting at 2:00 PM Central. We'll have full coverage at Hockey Wilderness through the rest of this playoff run, so stick around.