With how impressive the Dallas Stars’ offense has been all season, the last thing the Minnesota Wild wanted to do was trade punches with the Central Division champions. But even in a game where the Wild held the Stars to only one even strength tally, the Stars offense still found a way to connect and the defense stepped up in a big way when it mattered most.
For the second consecutive games, Minnesota’s defense smothered Dallas and offered little in the way of time or space for the offense to operate. The Wild limited the Stars to only 18 shots on goal at 5-on-5, did their best to lay down and block shots where possible and were all around keeping the attempts to the outside. But twice in the game, Minnesota committed infractions that saw them go a man down, and both times Dallas connected on the power play.
Through the first three games of the series, that type of penalty kill play had been atypical of the Wild. Minnesota entered Game 4 tied for third in the playoffs with a 92.3 percent penalty kill percentage and only allowed Dallas’ top-five ranked power play to connect once on 13 attempts. When it mattered most, though, the Wild floundered, and maybe that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Minnesota entered the post-season with the 27th-ranked penalty kill in the league, and only the Arizona Coyotes, Ottawa Senators and Calgary Flames fared worse, and on Wednesday night, the Wild were simply outmatched by a deadly Stars power play.
Dallas’ first power play goal came when Ales Hemsky, who had yet to score this post-season, blasted a slap shot that found net behind Minnesota netminder Devan Dubnyk thanks to a perfect screen by Stars winger Colton Sceviour. There was no chance for Dubnyk, especially given the time Hemsky had to pick his spot, wind up and smoke the puck past the Wild goaltender. And while the second power play goal — a neat deflection by Patrick Eaves — wasn’t nearly as pretty, it’s the type of play that needed to be prevented by the Wild.
It’s not just that the Wild penalty kill failed, though, because the power play is as much to blame. Three times on the night Minnesota had the chance to respond with a power play goal of their own and each time the Wild came up empty.
Blame it on the absence of Zach Parise or Thomas Vanek if you will, but when the Wild were given the incredible opportunity to tie the game with the net empty and a 6-on-4 man advantage, they registered only a single shot. The puck whizzed wide or missed by inches on a few attempts, but the fact is the Wild only forced Stars goaltender Antti Niemi to make one stop. None of this is to overlook the blocks by Dallas defensemen Johnny Oduya or Jason Demers in the final minutes, but Minnesota failed to create a single Grade ‘A’ chance with a nearly two-minute two-man advantage.
Now down 3-1 in the series, the Wild face an incredibly steep uphill climb. Dallas has had Minnesota’s number throughout the season, and this Wild team has won only once in its past nine games dating back to the regular season. Winning in Dallas won’t be an easy task, and even if Minnesota does pull off the Game 5 victory, the combination of injuries, struggling special teams and a hard-to-stop Stars offense doesn’t bode well for the full series comeback. The ‘State of Hockey’ won’t stop hoping, though.