Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella has a saying: “Don’t let it get good to you.” It’s Torts’ way of reminding his players not to become complacent when things are going well. Dallas Stars bench boss Lindy Ruff could’ve – and should’ve – used that saying on his team after they jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead against Minnesota Monday night.
The Stars, up two games to none in their best-of-seven series against the Wild, scored twice in the first five minutes of Game 3, then promptly fell into the trap. They let it get good to them, and the game soon got away from them.
Fourth-liner Chris Porter put Minnesota on the board in the final minute of the first period with a beautiful redirect of a hard Erik Haula pass. The goal provided the Wild with just the spark they needed, and they controlled the ice for the final 40 minutes. The home team turned a 2-0 deficit into a 4-2 lead before the visiting Stars mustered a response.
Colton Sceviour’s goal at 13:45 of the final frame cut the Wild lead to one, but the Stars’ comeback ended five minutes later when an egregious turnover by John Klingberg gave Wild wing Jason Pominville an easy shot into an empty net.
Dallas must regroup and reload. Wednesday night they must respond. Monday’s loss brings with it the Stars’ first taste of adversity in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs; how they deal with it will impact the remainder of their postseason run.
Nino Niederreiter-Erik Haula-Jason Pominville: Before this playoff series began, an astute observer said this line could give Dallas fits. Last night, the trio did just that, combining for 3 goals and 4 assists. Before the series began, Wild coach John Torchetti referred to this as his “shutdown” line; last night, they did so much more. Haula and Pominville earned first- and third-star of the game honors, respectively. Dallas’ challenge now is to shut down Minnesota’s shutdown line.
Wild Special Teams: The Wild penalty kill went two-for-two Monday night, including a critical kill while holding a 3-2 lead at the beginning of the third period. Dallas’ power play, fourth-best in the NHL during the regular season at 22.1 percent, is now fourth-worst in the playoffs, sputtering along at just 7.7 percent.
Minnesota’s power play, on the other hand, is producing at a 22.2 percent rate through three postseason contests. Team captain Mikko Koivu scored what would be the Game 3 game-winner with the man advantage early in the third period. The Stars’ penalty kill was red-hot entering the playoffs, but is struggling against the Wild attack.
Stephen Johns: Johns was the only Star to shine in Game 3, registering two hits and two blocks in 20:15 on the ice. With his combination of vision, poise and skill, it’s hard to believe Johns made his NHL debut just over a month ago. The big (6’4″, 225) 24-year-old has added a physical dimension to the Dallas blue line which was sorely lacking for much of the season.
John Klingberg: Klingberg was on the ice for all four of Minnesota’s even-strength goals. As mentioned earlier, his unforced error gave the Wild the final nail in the coffin that was Pominville’s empty-net goal. Pominville’s first goal of the night was a direct result of Klingberg’s “traffic cone” defense on Niederreiter’s drive to the net, in which he failed to slow the hard-charging Wild forward but succeeded in interfering with netminder Kari Lehtonen, leaving Pominville with an easy tap-in. Were the young Swede skating on Dallas’ third pairing, his Game 3 performance would undoubtedly earn him a seat in the press box for Game 4.
Jordie Benn, Jason Demers and Alex Goligoski: The pairing of Jordie Benn and Jason Demers was particularly troublesome, as an obvious lack of chemistry and communication led to several turnovers and scoring chances for the Wild. Alex Goligoski was, in part, a victim of Klingberg’s struggles and was on the ice for two even-strength goals against, as well as the game-winning power play goal.
Stars Special Teams: If Minnesota’s power play and penalty kill are on the plus side, Dallas’ special teams, by definition, must be a minus. Through three games, the Stars have mustered just one power play goal in 13 attempts. The penalty kill has allowed two goals in nine attempts over the same span. On nights when the opposition is carrying the play at even strength, special teams can be an equalizer. Monday night, this was not the case.