Saturday April 23rd, 2016

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When they needed him most, the captain delivered.

Mikko Koivu scored late in the third period and again in overtime to lead the Minnesota Wild to a thrilling 5–4 win over the Dallas Stars on Friday night.

With the win, the Wild avoided elimination and cut Dallas’s series lead to 3–2. Game 6 is on Sunday in Minnesota.

Here are three thoughts on Friday’s bonus-sized thriller:

Finding a way

Coach John Torchetti had full faith that his Wild would find a way to get this series back to Minnesota.

“I know there is another level this team can get,” he said.

With their season on the line, the Wild found it. That said, it was far from pretty. They blew an early 2–0 lead, and later coughed up a pair of goals in 28 seconds. Hardly the template for playoff success.

But give them credit. The Wild may have bent but they didn't break.

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Full marks to goalie Devan Dubnyk, who actually looked pretty solid despite giving up four goals. He made a few massive saves early, robbing Jason Spezza twice on a first-period four-on-three penalty kill, and then came up big again in overtime when Spezza wired one that was heading for the top corner before he threw his shoulder in front of it.

The Wild got a nice effort out of forward Jordan Schroeder, who scored his first career playoff goal in the first period and used his speed to make a difference at both ends of the ice. Jarret Stoll, drawing back in after sitting out Game 4, made his presence felt on the penalty kill, helping to keep the Stars off the board.

But it was the big line that made the difference. Koivu was omnipresent, using his size and determination to create havoc down low. Mikael Granlund got the Wild on the board early with his first goal of the playoffs, and then won a pair of puck battles behind the net to set up Koivu for both the equalizer and the winner.

Hardly a formula for success the rest of the way—Minnesota’s not going to win many track meets with the Stars. But a win’s a win, and at this time of year, the Wild will take one any way they can get it.

Net difference

Stars coach Lindy Ruff said ahead of the playoffs that he expected to use both Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi between the pipes. He’s already made the switch once, going from Lehtonen to Niemi for Game 4. Looks like he’ll have to make the change again.

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​Niemi came into Game 5 with a 4-1-0 record, a 1.80 GAA and .941 in his past five starts, but he simply wasn’t ready to answer the bell in this one. He was beaten twice in the first six minutes—the first on soft post coverage and the second after a Ryan Suter point shot fell out of his glove and onto the stick of Schroeder.

Hard to blame him for Nino Niederreiter’s partial breakaway goal, but he was at fault again on Koivu’s late equalizer, playing small and deep, leaving half the net open for Minnesota’s captain. And while Koivu’s overtime winner was a deflection out front, he was completely amorphous on the goal. That’s one he simply has to get a piece of.

Niemi ended the night with 19 saves on 24 shots. That’s not going to cut it. Count on him wearing a ball cap rather than a mask in Game 6.

Johns on the spot

Patrick Sharp may have been the marquee name in the cap-related off-season deal between the Stars and Blackhawks, but insiders knew it was only a matter of time before that swap became known as the Stephen Johns trade.

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The big defender spent most of the year with AHL Texas, but his late-season call-up changed the complexion of Dallas’s defense, giving it the heavy, physical presence it desperately needed. That skill set was on display in Game 5, possibly his first truly dominant performance in the NHL.

With Alex Goligoski benched after a first-period blunder, Johns stepped into the breech. He punished intruding Wild forwards—his massive hit on Erik Haula was felt all the way up in the nosebleeds—and threw his body in front of several shot attempts. But it was his bold puck movement that stood out, with a pair of daring rushes that showcased his soft hands and left Minnesota's defense on its heels.

It was a terrific game from the youngster, making him a player to watch if the Stars advance.

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