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Five keys for Wild vs. Stars, Game 3

Creating traffic in front of Lehtonen, scoring first critical for Minnesota

by Dan Myers / Correspondent

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Dallas Stars and Minnesota Wild will play Game 3 of their Western Conference First Round series at Xcel Energy Center on Monday (8:30 p.m. ET; CNBC, FS-SW, FS-N, FS-WI, SN, TVAS2). The Stars lead the best-of-7 series 2-0. 

Here are five keys for Game 3:

1. Game 3 magic: Minnesota is 4-1 in Game 3s the past three seasons, with all five of those games played at Xcel Energy Center. The only loss during that stretch was 1-0 defeat against the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 5 of the second round last year.

In 2014, the Wild trailed the Central-Division champion Colorado Avalanche 2-0, won Games 3, 4 and 6 at home, and then won Game 7 in Denver to advance. 

"We don't want to be going into the fourth game down 3-0, so it's pretty much a desperate game for us that we have to play," Wild interim coach John Torchetti said. "I think we have to play for each other and that should motivate us and give us an opportunity to win the game."

Only four teams in NHL history have recovered from a 3-0 deficit in a series, including twice in the past 40 years. If the Wild want to make a series of this, they must take advantage of home ice in Game 3.

2. Net-front presence: Torchetti has talked ad nauseam over the past week about creating traffic in front of Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen. The Wild didn't do a good enough job of that in Game 1 and for most of Game 2, but finally broke through with a power-play goal from the point by defenseman Marco Scandella.  

Video: MIN@DAL, Gm2: Scandella rockets home PPG from point

Because of traffic in front, Lehtonen never saw the puck until it whizzed by him. Now the question is whether the Wild have finally taken Torchetti's message to heart.

Without injured forwards Zach Parise and Thomas Vanek, arguably their best two goal scorers, offense won't come easily for the Wild. That will make getting bodies in front of Lehtonen, and creating screens and taking advantage of any rebounds, even more important. 

"You definitely want to get inside his skates a little bit so he's not comfortable being on top of the crease," Torchetti said. "He's a big guy, so you have to make him not see shots. He's a difference maker right now."

3. A depth game: Parise is missing his fourth game (third of the series) because of a back injury and Stars forward Tyler Seguin did not travel to Minnesota because of an issue related to his Achilles. 

Each team has felt the effects of not having their star players in the lineup, but Dallas has done a better job weathering the storm: The Stars were 9-2 without Seguin during the final 10 games of the regular season and in Game 1 of this series. 

The Wild have lost seven consecutive games prior to Game 3, having scored seven goals total during that span. Parise missed three of those games but was playing through his injury in the others. 

"They're in the same position that we are having lost [Seguin]," said Stars captain Jamie Benn. "It's tough to lose a player like that. I'm sure it's tough on them because he's such a big part of their team."

Video: MIN@DAL, Gm2: Ja. Benn finishes great outlet pass

4. Veterans lead the way: With Seguin out in Game 1 and ineffective in Game 2, Dallas' veterans have picked up the slack.

Jamie Benn leads all scorers with two goals and four points, including the game-winner on a breakaway in the third period of Game 2. Jason Spezza, Ales Hemsky and Patrick Eaves have two points apiece. 

Spezza and Hemsky are each 32-years-old, and Eaves turns 32 in 13 days. Lehtonen, another 32-year-old, was fantastic in Game 2, especially in the final minutes when he helped preserve a one-goal lead.

Dallas coach Lindy Ruff also noted the contributions of veterans Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya, two playoff-tested former Chicago Blackhawks, each of whom he has leaned on for leadership and will do so again in Game 3.

"You can be nervous going into tonight. We've got some young players who have never played in a road playoff game," Ruff said. "It's going to be a new experience for them. I think having an Oduya, a Sharp in the room is a big positive for us. And those guys have played some of the biggest games on the road to win the Stanley Cup in these previous years."

On the flip side, Minnesota is still looking for a point from a player over the age of 26. Key veterans Mikko Koivu, Jason Pominville and Ryan Suter have combined for zero points, 11 shots on goal and a minus-2 through two games.

5. Who scores first: The value of getting on the scoreboard first is important during the regular season but is amplified even more in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

It may be even more important in this series, especially to the Wild.

The Stars were 31-7-3 during the regular season when scoring the first goal and 19-16-6 when an opponent scored first. The 19 wins were the most in the Western Conference and second-most in the NHL.

The Wild were 33-8-5 in games where they scored the first goal.
But no team won fewer games than Minnesota (five) when allowing an opponent to score first. The Wild finished 5-25-6, coming back to win fewer than 14 percent of the time when falling behind 1-0.

The team to score first has won each game of this series so far, a trend that seems likely to continue moving forward.

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