The Xcel Center was rocking Monday night as the Minnesota Wild found their game, dominated the Dallas Stars, and ended their seven game losing streak and get their first win of this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs.
After two quick Patrick Sharp goals the Wild faithful were almost ready to head for the doors rather than stay and bear the embarrassment of another loss. Then with less than a minute to go in the first period Chris Porter took the rebound from an Erik Haula blueline shot and fired it past Kari Lehtonen and in an instant the game seemed different. Then in the second period the momentum stayed with the Wild and they dominated the Stars for the remainder of the game with four more goals to win 5-3.
Jason Pominville said, "We could have easily folded" after their poor start. #MNWild
— Chad Graff (@ChadGraff) April 19, 2016
The Wild fans came alive for the first time in ages and showed their appreciation to the team who continued to feed off the recently endangered chant of “Let’s go Wild!”. It was a defining win where the Wild showed their fans, the doubters, and the Stars that they weren’t going to go quietly.
Game 3 showed us another side to this series where the Wild played up to their potential. Many doubted this team could even muster enough hardnose play to compete with the Stars much less beat them in one game. The Wild showed energy and a superior game plan with few key adjustments that carried them to a series changing win.
Pommer Steps Up
Jason Pominville’s performance on the ice has been up and down this season, but in Game 3 it was certainly up at the right time. The former 30+ goal scorer showed a glimmer of that scoring prowess as he took over the game with two goals and an assist. He sparked the second period domination by blasting a rocket from the left side that was deflected by Erik Haula tying the game. Then 13 minutes later he took advantage of a huge rebound from a Nino Niederreiter shot to give the Wild their first playoff lead since last season.
With Zach Parise out, Pominville has been given the alternate captain “A” with the expectation that he’s step up and fill the void for a player that John Torchetti has called the teams “hardest worker”. The Wild needed Pominville and he answered their call in this game. His intensity sparked the scoring run to win the game, leading his team in the best way possible with intense play on the ice.
Smart Physical Play
The Wild were not going to be intimidated in this game. From the opening whistle they looked to push Dallas around rather than be pushed around. Moreover, they did it smartly by staying out of the box and not falling into the penalty pitfall that had plagued the 1st period of Games 1 and 2. They decided that it was time to send a message to Dallas’ agitators like Antoine Roussel that they were not going to be taken off their game.
Torchetti has said the team needed more net presence to create goals, as he said the team needed “gritty goals”. The physical play needed to do that was certainly alive in the Wild’s game as they frustrated Kari Lehtonen with screens giving him little sight to the shot. Porter’s goal was a direct result of smart physical play in front of the Dallas net.
Resilient, Positive, Play for Each Other
The beginning of the game looked as if the Wild could have folded quickly. Down 2-0 in the series, they gave up two quick goals in the first five minutes of play to Patrick Sharp. The Wild faithful thought “no way can they make this up”. The Wild decided to keep on their game and grind till the goals came which was something the team lacked on its seven game losing streak.
Devan Dubnyk continued to battle back and kept the Stars off the board until late in the third period, giving the Wild the foundation to comeback. Pominville described the team’s resilience in Game 3 best in his postgame interview with Ray Ferraro when he said it was all about keeping “positive energy”.
Torchetti himself knew the team could be successful if as he told Michael Russo of the Star Tribune they “give up more for each other”, he wanted to make a team where every player is accountable to each other and rewards the guy next to them for hard efforts. The Wild seem to channel that positive energy and accountability into a great game where they played for each other and the fans who rewarded them with outstanding energy. It really was what made the difference in Game 3.
The Stars will make adjustments just as the Wild did to win Game 3. Still if the Wild play and execute like they did on Monday, they will have the foundation to be successful in the face of whatever the Stars put in front of them. If a team is playing for something more than just a win like the fans or each other, they have something that will translate into all facets of the game. All the great dynasties of the NHL can point to a cohesion of players that allowed them to transcend and overcome any opponent’s game plan.
Make no mistakes Lindy Ruff will have the Stars ready for Game 4. But the Wild showed in Game 3 he’s going to have to find out another way other than what they’ve been doing as the Wild can match them in the physical game he’s been using to beat them in Games 1 and 2.
Stars coach Lindy Ruff: "That's probably as bad as I've seen us play in maybe five weeks." #MNWild
— Chad Graff (@ChadGraff) April 19, 2016
Game 3’s performance gave the Wild faithful a new breath of energy and a huge dose of hope. Is it enough for a series turnaround? Tune in tonight to Game 4 for that answer.
Danny Lambert has been covering the Minnesota Wild for some time now, and is back again as contributor to THW staff. A native Minnesotan he’s always had his eye on the State of Hockey and is proud to write and represent such a great market and fans. Follow him on Twitter at @dannylambert17