The following video clip best describes the Dallas Stars’ 3-2 victory over the Minnesota Wild Wednesday in Game 4 of their Stanley Cup playoff series:
Just as some goals are beautiful and some are scored by Pat Verbeek, not all wins are created equal. Wednesday night’s Stars victory would’ve made the original “Little Ball of Hate” proud.
The Wild carried the play through the first half of the opening frame before the Stars, looking rather tentative and unfocused, found their footing and offered a response. Dallas outshot Minnesota, 10-9, in a scoreless first period.
Minnesota’s Jason Pominville, who scored just 11 goals during the regular season, opened the scoring with his third marker of these playoffs (he scored twice in Game 3) just over five minutes into the second period. Four goals – three for the Stars and one for the Wild – followed in the next 13:50. Dallas’ power play, which had been all but dormant to this point in the series, scored twice. With 1:09 remaining in the period and the score 2-2, this modern art masterpiece by Jason Spezza broke the tie and turned out to be a rather unlikely game winner:
Minnesota dominated the final twenty minutes, outshooting Dallas, 14-2, but Antti Niemi stood tall in net and the Stars’ penalty kill came up big, killing off a six-on-four Wild power play for the final 1:24 to secure the victory.
“Modern art masterpiece” it may have been, but it was a critical win, nonetheless. With the victory, the Stars return to Dallas holding a commanding 3-1 lead in the series. A win at the American Airlines Center Friday night will put the injury-depleted Wild out of their misery and propel the Stars into the second round of the playoffs. A Game 5 loss, on the other hand, merely makes Dallas’ road a bit more rocky. There’s a vast divide between 3-1 and 2-2 in a best-of-seven series, and the Stars used character, grit and the law of averages to bridge the gap Wednesday night.
Antti Niemi: In his first playoff appearance as a Dallas Star, Niemi stopped 28 of 30 shots faced and earned the win in a very close contest. The Finn made Minnesota work hard for their goals; both pucks were fired from the edge of the crease. Without question, Niemi played well enough to earn another start, though Kari Lehtonen has been quite solid, too. At this point, either is a good choice to start Game 5.
Stars Special Teams: In Game 3, Dallas’ special teams earned a “minus.” Game 4 was a different story, as the power play struck twice (Ales Hemsky’s first playoff goal since 2006 and Patrick Eaves’ second marker of this series) and the penalty kill denied the Wild thrice. After Minnesota pulled goalie Devan Dubnyk late in the third period, Dallas killed off a six-on-four power play over the final 84 seconds. In short, the Stars’ special teams were the difference in Game 4, in a good way.
More Line “Ruffling”: The Stars’ top line of Jamie Benn-Cody Eakin-Patrick Sharp struggled against Minnesota Wednesday night. Benn and Eakin were on the ice for both Wild goals. After the second Wild score, Coach Lindy Ruff altered his lines, putting Benn with Spezza, Mattias Janmark in Benn’s spot, and swapping Valeri Nichushkin and Eaves on the second and fourth lines, respectively. Minnesota didn’t score again, so the “Ruffling” gets a plus.
More Line “Ruffling”: Before Ruff made his changes, the Janmark-Spezza-Nichushkin line was the Stars’ best trio, controlling the puck, moving it smartly and generating scoring chances. Often, the coach changes up his lines to generate offense. In Game 3, however, the move was purely defensive in nature. As a result, Nichushkin ended up on the fourth line, through no fault of his own. The young Russian is still developing and needs more than fourth-line minutes. We need to see what Janmark, Spezza and Nichushkin can do together over the course of a full game.
NBC/Washington Capitals/DART: The Washington Capitals failed to close out their series against the Philadelphia Flyers Wednesday night. As a result, NBC (make no mistake, the network, not the NHL, holds sway over playoff start times) set an 8:30pm Central start time for Friday night’s Game 5 between the Stars and Wild. Just as in Game 1 of the series, Dallas Area Rapid Transit won’t be running a postgame “special event” train on their Orange Line. Should Game 5 go beyond a single overtime period, fans riding that particular line will have a tough choice: Do I stay for the end of the game, or catch the last (12:14am) Orange Line train home?