The West-leading Stars are getting all they can handle from the Wild, and now have to go to Minnesota for Game 6.
The injury-riddled Minnesota Wild weren’t supposed to pose much of a challenge to the Dallas Stars. Sure, the Stars don’t get much respect despite having the best record in the Western Conference and being the highest scoring team in the league. But few pundits gave the Wild any hope of keeping up with the Stars. They haven’t won anything yet, but they’re giving the Stars all they can handle.
Mikko Koivu scored late in regulation to tie the game, then scored the winner in overtime for a 5-4 Wild win on Friday night. The series is heading back to Minnesota for Game 6 on Sunday with the Stars leading 3-2.
The Stars scored goals 28 seconds apart in the third period to take the lead and looked to be in control. But Koivu tied it with just over three minutes to go to send the game to overtime. That set the stage for his game winner, a beautiful deflection of a Ryan Suter point shot.
The Wild got into the playoffs with just 87 points, least among all the playoff teams. But through five games they’re showing they’re not just content to be cannon fodder for the first-place Stars. Even with Zach Parise and Thomas Vanek injured, and Devan Dubnyk being just okay in goal, the Wild are proving to be a tough out.
The Stars will be looking for answers heading into Game 6, and it wouldn’t be at all surprising if they turned to a familiar tactic – changing their goalie.
Kari Lehtonen started the first three games of the series, and was totally solid. He pitched a shutout in Game 1, and had a 1.69 goals-against average and .931 save percentage through three games. But, the Stars lost Game 3. So as is usually the case he was yanked in favor of Antti Niemi. Niemi stopped 28-of-30 shots and the Stars won Game 4.
Niemi got the start in Game 5 and was very ordinary making 19 saves on 24 shots. Either goalie seems perfectly capable of performing well, but with every goal that goes in the starter has to be looking over his shoulder. That’s not a recipe for success, and goalie platoons have proven to not work in the playoffs, as colleague Matt Larkin has pointed out. Who gets the net in Game 6?
The Stars haven’t won a playoff series since 2008, and suddenly, this one is looking like anything but a sure thing.