Spezza's skate lifts Stars past Wild 3-2 in Game 4
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) With a determined victory in Minnesota's deafening arena, the Dallas Stars picked up a valuable souvenir for the trip home.
They revived their lagging special teams, too, pushing the Wild to the edge of elimination.
Jason Spezza scored the go-ahead goal with his skate, Ales Hemsky and Patrick Eaves each scored on a second-period power play, and the Stars defeated the Minnesota Wild 3-2 on Wednesday night to push their series lead to 3-1.
''It's a typical playoff road win right there,'' Spezza said. ''Just hunker down in the third period and hold a lead, big saves from our goalie, and good penalty kills.''
Antti Niemi assumed the net from Kari Lehtonen, who started the first three games, and stopped 28 shots for the Stars. They'll host Game 5 in Dallas on Friday.
''That's a luxury that we've had all year. You're starting to see the benefits of having fresh goalies all the time,'' Spezza said.
Jason Pominville and Charlie Coyle both gave the Wild the lead with second-period goals, but they weren't able to sustain the momentum from that spirited comeback in Game 3 for the entire night.
''I liked our game. Hey, you know what? We've just got to go win a game in their building. That's the bottom line,'' Wild coach John Torchetti said.
The Wild finished the game with a 6-on-4 after a high-stick penalty on Antoine Roussel with goalie Devan Dubnyk pulled, but the Stars tightened and allowed only one shot on target over the 84-second two-man advantage. In fact, the Dallas defense was sound from start to finish, clogging the seams and steering many of Minnesota's shots to the outside for bad-angle attempts.
''When we made a few mistakes,'' Pominville said, ''they made us pay right away.''
By the time the first period was half-finished, the Stars had cast aside their sluggishness from the previous contest that saw them manage only 17 shots on net. After a scoreless but fast-paced first period, the floodgates opened on both sides in the five-goal middle frame.
Pominville, playing on that thriving third line with Erik Haula and Nino Niederreiter, scored his third goal of the series by crashing the crease and knocking in Niederreiter's fluttering rebound shot off his shin.
Then the Wild got a little sloppy, and the Stars seized the opportunity. With Colton Sceviour screening Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk, Hemsky's slap shot evened the game with 6 seconds left on the first Dallas power play.
Fourth in the NHL during the regular season at 22.1 percent, the Stars scored only once in 13 opportunities over the first three games of this Western Conference quarterfinal matchup.
''We went back to just trying to shoot the puck,'' coach Lindy Ruff said.
Coyle answered 63 seconds later with the most skillful goals of the series, fighting through a would-be hooking penalty on Stars defenseman Alex Goligoski as he nudged the puck forward, snagged it in the air and set it back down to set up a right-left deke on Niemi and backhand it in the corner.
Niederreiter took a slashing penalty a few minutes later, though, and Eaves followed with a redirection that eluded Dubnyk.
''We had the crowd into it, the momentum was on our side and then we seemed to take the penalty,'' Wild defenseman Ryan Suter said. ''We had been doing such a good job killing it, so it was very disappointing to let them in.''
Finally, with 69 seconds remaining before the second intermission, Jason Demers launched a shot that ricocheted perfectly off the front of Spezza's left foot for a 3-2 lead.
After acquiring Niemi in a trade with San Jose last summer to pair him with Lehtonen, the Stars carefully rotated the 32-year-olds throughout the season, with each goalie getting exactly 25 wins. Lehtonen posted a shutout in Game 1, but he wasn't as sharp in Game 3, making the transition a natural one for Ruff.
''We've stayed with the program. We've used both of them. We're comfortable using both of them,'' Ruff said. ''Both of these guys have done a real good job.''
NOTES: Wild LW Thomas Vanek is still carrying the ''day to day'' label with his upper-body injury. ''I really ramped it up the last few days here, and I feel good, but again, I just need time, and there's not a whole lot of it right now. I'll just keep pushing it and see where it goes,'' Vanek said. ... Niemi raised his career postseason record to 36-26. ... Stars D Kris Russell returned to the lineup after missing the last game with an illness. ... Haula has 10 goals and 14 assists in 30 games including the playoffs under Torchetti, who replaced Mike Yeo in mid-February.