The Minnesota Wild couldn’t defeat the Dallas Stars in regulation or overtime, but five rounds into the shootout, Chris Stewart handed the Stars their first such loss this season. The 3-2 win moved the Wild alone into first place in both the Central Division and the Western Conference, while the so-called “loser point” kept the Stars within striking distance of the final playoff spot.
After the game, frustration was a key discussion topic in the Stars’ dressing room.
“Yeah, it’s definitely frustrating because I think we were playing an okay game,” said Stars captain Jamie Benn. “We’re giving ourselves a chance to win these games and not coming out with the results.”
The captain followed up on that comment with a positive message, saying, “I think we have to…stick to the game plan because it’s working. We are playing an okay game and sooner or later we will get a result.”
Stars coach Lindy Ruff also addressed the topic. “There’s frustration but your character has got to come out,” said the coach. “When you’re struggling, you’ve got to put your best foot forward and try to earn your wins.”
The Stars will try again Thursday night when the Buffalo Sabres come to town. How important is a win for the Stars? Coach Ruff summed it up succinctly:
“It’s paramount, really.”
The Stars kept the Wild off the scoreboard for the first 13 minutes of the opening period, which was a significant improvement over the last time these teams met.
Four minutes in, Devin Shore had perhaps the Stars’ best scoring chance of the period when winger Lauri Korpikoski sent the puck toward the net from the left corner and Shore took a couple of whacks at it from the edge of the crease. The pair accounted for half of the Stars’ eight shots on goal in the period.
The puck would stay out of the Wild net despite five scoring chances and one power play opportunity for the Stars, who struggled with missed shots. One of those misses ricocheted off the corner boards and out of the zone, turning into a two-on-one for the Wild, which Jason Pominville roofed for the game’s first goal.
Pominville’s snipe would be the only goal of the period. With 40 seconds left, Antoine Roussel was convicted of slashing Ryan Suter and sentenced to two minutes in the box. The period ended with Roussel still incarcerated and the Wild leading 14-8 in shots.
Adam Cracknell drew a holding call on a shorthanded chance with 34 seconds remaining in Roussel’s sentence to effectively kill the penalty. The Stars failed to convert on their abbreviated power play, however, and Esa Lindell’s holding call two minutes later resulted in a Mikko Koivu power-play goal, giving the Wild a 2-0 lead.
Exactly five minutes after the Wild took a two-goal lead, the Stars cut it in half. Jason Spezza forced a turnover in the Wild zone and deftly dished the puck to Roussel, who fed it to Tyler Seguin, who didn’t miss.
Less than a minute after Seguin’s score, Roussel went back to the box for crosschecking Mikael Granlund. His teammates covered for him admirably on the penalty kill, and the Frenchman emerged two minutes later with no harm done.
For the next 10 minutes, the Stars kept the game close with individual effort and a little luck. Netminder Kari Lehtonen stopped Zach Parise in close twice, Dan Hamhuis stick-checked Nino Niederreiter to break up a potential breakaway, and when Pominville found himself alone in the slot with the puck on his stick, his shot went wide.
The home team got a break late in the frame when Jared Spurgeon was boxed for interference. On the ensuing faceoff in the Wild zone, Eric Staal tripped Stars captain Jamie Benn, giving Dallas 1:52 of five-on-three time with 41 seconds left in the period. Twenty seconds later, Patrick Eaves swatted the puck out of midair and into the net to tie the game.
The period ended with the Stars still on the power play, the game tied at two goals apiece and the Wild maintaining a slim 20-19 lead in shots.
Dallas began the third period with 1:19 of five-on-four time remaining, but couldn’t beat Dubnyk. During that time, Lehtonen made a huge stop on Pominville to prevent a shorthanded goal.
Ryan Suter crosschecked Eaves after the whistle at 8:46 of the period, sending the Stars back on the power play. Again, the home team threatened and again, the visitors eliminated the threat.
After Suter exited the penalty box, both teams spent the majority of the period playing a safe, patient, chip-and-chase kind of game and waiting for their opponent to make a mistake. In that regard, both teams were disappointed.
With 1:52 remaining on the clock, the Stars’ luck seemed to run out when Spezza was whistled for tripping. The team doggedly gnawed away at both the puck and the clock to get the game to overtime and earn a desperately-needed point.
Determined to earn the full two points, the Stars went on the offensive after killing off the final seconds of Spezza’s penalty. Their best chance came when Wild forward Charlie Coyle fell down in the offensive zone, giving the Stars a three-on-none. In a scene emblematic of the Stars’ night, if not the season, Lauri Korpikoski dished the puck to Cody Eakin, who shot it over the net.
missed the net pic.twitter.com/nLm5Z5l7Z5
— GIF Grand Maester (@myregularface) January 25, 2017
Eakin’s shot was the Stars’ last, best chance at victory. After exchanging a handful of lesser chances, the teams headed to the shootout to decide the contest.
Eaves led off the skills competition with a goal and Pominville answered for the Wild. The goalies were perfect in rounds two and three, but Jamie Benn and Koivu both scored in the fourth round to extend the shootout. After Spezza missed, Chris Stewart beat Lehtonen to win it for the Wild in the fifth round.
MIN – Jason Pominville (8) unassisted
MIN – Mikko Koivu (14) (PPG) assisted by Nino Niederreiter (19) and Mikael Granlund (29)
DAL – Tyler Seguin (17) assisted by Antoine Roussel (13) and Jason Spezza (21)
DAL – Patrick Eaves (18) (PPG) assisted by Jamie Benn (28) and Jason Spezza (22)
THW Three Stars
First: Jason Pominville (1 goal)
Second: Patrick Eaves (1 goal)
Third: Devan Dubnyk (35 saves)
Buffalo Sabres at Dallas Stars
American Airlines Center – 7:30 p.m. CST on Thursday, Jan. 26
Broadcast channels: FS-SW, MSG-B
2016-17 Season Series: January 16 – Sabres 4, Stars 1
St. Louis Blues at Minnesota Wild
Xcel Energy Center – 7:00 p.m. CST on Thursday, Jan. 26
Broadcast channels: NBCSN
2016-17 Season Series: Oct. 13 – Blues 3, Wild 2
Nov. 26 – Blues 4, Wild 3 (SO)
Dec. 11 – Wild 3, Blues 1
Matt blogged about all things hockey at On Goal Analysis/The OGA Blogs from 2008-2014 and has written several travel articles for The Dallas Morning News. He began covering the Dallas Stars and Florida Panthers for The Hockey Writers in August 2015. Matt is also writing a biography of “Tex” Rickard, the Texas cowboy who founded the New York Rangers and the Madison Square Garden Corporation.