The Minnesota Wild Look to Steal the Series After Game 5

Everyone knew the Minnesota Wild and Dallas Stars would battle hard for Game 5, but no one could have scripted the back and forth that was the Wild’s 5-4 overtime win over the Stars.

The Wild dominated the first period as they had a 2-0 lead by 5:16 into the game.  Even after the Stars made it 2-1 before the first intermission it looked as if the Wild were on a mission and could not be denied.   The back and forth battling was epic, as both teams looked like exhausted boxers trading punches and neither one was going down.

Then in the third period with the Wild up 3-2, the Stars threw two huge haymakers in the form of goals from Jason Spezza and Minnesota native Alex Goligoski both just 28 seconds away from each other.  As hard as the Wild tried, it just looked like they would be unable to get the equalizer.

Then with just over three minutes to go, the artist formerly known as playoff scoring challenged Mikko Koivu made a great snap shot to beat Antti Niemi and send the game to overtime. Overtime would find Koivu as the hero once again as he made a masterful deflection of Michael Granlund shot to win the game just short of 5 minutes in.

Game 5 was as promised by the Wild.  They battled hard and did their best to win, and it worked for them.  They put forth the effort and it just seemed that the team was ready to play, executed, and most of all was resilient. A lot of ups and downs, so let’s take a look back at some of the key areas of Game 5 as we prepare for the battle that will be Game 6 and hopefully Game 7.

Puck Possession

Despite the final score, the Stars outplayed the Wild in puck possession.  There was a virtual back and forth by both of the teams so at times it was hard to get a grasp on exactly who had the edge in the puck possession department at times. Still when the dust settled it was the Stars with a big advantage in that area.

At the end of the second period the Stars were up 20-18 in scoring chances, and ahead in Corsi (team shots at the net) 47-33.  By the end of the third period, the Stars had increased their lead in scoring chances to 34-26, and Corsi increased to 86-46. Combine that with the fact that the Wild were outdone 41-24 in shots on goal, it says the Stars were generating more offense through puck possession than the Wild.

Fortunately, for the Wild, it didn’t matter that the Stars out did them in puck possession, shots, and scoring chances.  Devan Dubnyk and the Wild defense were the difference that made these possession stats a virtual non-factor.  Still this can’t happen every night, the Wild will need to find a way to conquer this possession gap and generate more shots than the Stars.  After all, it’s much easier to score more than your opponent if you outshoot them.

Defense and Goaltending Advantage Are Essential to the Wild

Devan Dubnyk was solid in Game 5.  He did give up four goals but in the end, he stopped 37 of 41 shots for a 0.902 save percentage.  That might seem average, but when compared to Antti Niemi who stopped 19 of 24 shots on goals for a 0.79 save percentage, Dubnyk is definitely the better of the two netminders.

The 41 shots on goal for the Stars on the surface looks like the Wild’s defense was lacking.  That was not really the case as the Wild defense was key. According to Michael Russo of the Star Tribune the Wild had a franchise record 34 blocked shots.  The Stars shot a ton, but the Wild did a very good job of keeping a lot away from Dubnyk.

Additionally, the Wild used turnovers to their advantage as in many cases they would straight pick the pockets of the Stars not allowing them to produce much offensively.  Jared Spurgeon had a ton of great steals and break-ups that were key to stopping the Stars and sparking the Wild.  His coach Torchetti explained Spurgeon’s play best when he said after Game 5 “If I had another “A” he’d probably be wearing one.”

It keeps coming up that the goaltending of Dallas is their weak point.  The Wild have their defense and goaltending working well enough to win, so the key going forward is to pepper Dallas’ goaltenders for three periods solid and contain their forwards for three periods as well.

Mikko Koivu is Leading on The Ice

One of the strongest critiques of Mikko Koivu’s career to this point is his lack of production in the playoffs.  This year though he has done his part to reverse that narrative and show everyone that he’s wearing the “C” for a reason.  He’s doing his talking on the scoreboard with three goals in five playoff games.

Not only is he scoring goals he’s doing the things he normally by using his big frame to be a force in the physical game.  Even more importantly Koivu is doing what he does best and winning faceoffs.  Captain Finn has won 58 faceoffs in the five games of this playoff series.  That’s an average of about 12 faceoff wins a game!

Perhaps his best accomplishment came Friday night when he netted the game-tying and overtime winning goals.  He’s been challenged directly by John Torchetti to do more, and in an elimination game, he answered his coach’s challenge the best way a player can.

The Wild Grow Stronger Every Game

The Stars as the number one seed in the Western Conference should have dispatched the Wild in short order.  Alas, this did not happen and the Wild grow stronger with every shift and every win.  The Wild continue to take every moral victory and pull themselves out of the hole that they were in to start the series. The bottom line is they have played better every subsequent game in this series and grow stronger as the series labors on.

The Wild continue to solidify themselves as a team.  As Torchetti explains the team is playing for each other and their confidence grows each game.  Ryan Suter after Game 5 in a postgame interview explained that “There’s no quit in the room.”  The Wild are not going to give up and their play the last three games especially has shown that.

As the Wild return to St. Paul for this afternoon’s Game 6 tilt, there seems to be an optimism that the Wild could actually steal this series from the Stars.  After game one there seemed like there was no way that’d happen, but as the team continues to tweak their game and grow more confident in themselves there’s certainly more than just a hope that they can win it.  If Game 5 taught us anything, it is that the Wild will not quit till the final horn sounds.  For now, it’s all about as Torch preaches the winning the small battles that make up the larger game.  The battles resume this afternoon.