Niemi, power play help Stars to 3-1 series lead over Wild
Special teams and late-period goals were the difference in Dallas’ Game 3 win over Minnesota.
On Wednesday, the Stars connected on both of their power play chances and got a fluky bounce off the leg of forward Jason Spezza in the dying moments of the second period to clinch a 3–2 win over the Wild.
The victory, their first on the road in the playoffs since 2008, gives the Stars a commanding 3–1 series lead. Game 5 is on Friday night in Dallas.
Here are three thoughts on Wednesday’s game:
Power play comes to life
Dallas ranked fourth in power play success rate during the regular season at 22.1%, so their one-for-13 effort through the first three games of the series was a cause for concern coming into Game 4.
"The power play, for me, is a little bit stuck between playmaking and taking shots," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said on Tuesday. "We've got to get back to attacking the net more. It's as simple as that."
Simplicity ain't sexy, but it worked. The Stars scored on both of their chances during a three-goal second period by putting pucks on the net and getting bodies out front.
The second unit clicked first to tie the game at one. Ales Hemsky rotated to the point, took a pass from Jason Demers and launched a rocket that took advantage of a Colton Sceviour screen to beat Devan Dubnyk high to the short side. Just over four minutes later, the first unit made it 2–2. Kris Russell carried the puck into the zone and sent a simple wrister toward the net. Patrick Eaves timed his crossover perfectly, tipping the puck behind Dubnyk at 13:24.
That goal seemed to turn the tide in Dallas's favor. The Stars were outshot the rest of the way, but had the better of the scoring chances, including the eventual game winner that saw a Demers pass ricochet off the leg of Spezza with 1:09 remaining in the second.
Niemi shines in playoff comeback
The last time Antti Niemi started a playoff game, he was between the pipes for the San Jose Sharks facing the Los Angeles Kings in Game 7 of the 2014 opening round.
This appearance went considerably better. The Finnish goalie was solid, and occasionally something more, in stopping 28 of 30 Minnesota shots. He was really aggressive from the start, challenging shooters and battling in his crease. He came up big early, saving Dallas's defense as the Stars struggled to find their legs, and eventually settled into a nice rhythm that the team fed off of.
It was exactly the performance Dallas needed, and earned him the start for the potential clincher Friday night.
Wild almost out of lives
The Wild have knocked off Central Division champs each of the past two years and if they hope to run that streak to three, they'll have to be much better in Game 5.
There was plenty to build on in this one, though. They drummed the Stars out of the face-off circle, winning 61% of the draws. They dominated when Dallas's No. 1 pair of Alex Goligoski and John Klingberg were on the ice. They got pucks to the net, outshooting Dallas 30-22, and sent bodies crashing in after them. They held the Stars without a shot for the final 15 minutes of the game. And they won the five-on-five battle, outscoring the Stars 2–1 thanks to their relentless work in the neutral and defensive zones.
But in the end, this team suffered through the same problems that waylaid it all season long. The penalty kill that ranked 27th during the regular season reverted to form at the worst possible moment. And when the Wild had a power play of their own for the final 1:24 of the game, they couldn't beat a goaltender who was making his first start in two weeks.
Execution was always going to be a challenge with both Zach Parise and Thomas Vanek out of the lineup. Hard to believe that will change enough to see the Wild sweep the next three games.