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Third line helps Wild cruise past Stars

by Dan Myers /

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Minnesota Wild coach Mike Yeo met with his third line early Saturday and told them their task for their game against the Dallas Stars would be shadowing a first line that figured in four goals the night before in a win against the Winnipeg Jets.

Matt Cooke, Kyle Brodziak and Justin Fontaine were up to the task, virtually shutting down Tyler Seguin, Rich Peverley and Jamie Benn while also scoring the game's first two goals in a 5-1 rout of the Stars on Saturday night at Xcel Energy Center.

"They wanted it. They wanted that challenge," Yeo said.

Matched up with the Seguin line to start the game, the Wild grabbed the lead just 12 seconds in, as Cooke took advantage of a Stars turnover at the blue line, pouncing on an errant pass and passing to Fontaine, whose slow backhander beat Dallas goaltender Dan Ellis five-hole for his first career NHL goal.

"Ill-advised play in our own zone," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. "That gave them life right off the bat."

The goal was the fastest scored in Wild history, besting Dany Heatley's old mark of 13 seconds on Feb. 9, 2012.

"That's a good way to start the night," Fontaine said. "We wanted to take it to their top line all night. Starting with a goal is huge."

Cooke made it 2-0 10 minutes later, taking advantage of another mistake by a Dallas defenseman. After Seguin won a faceoff cleanly to Ellis' right, Alex Goligoski overskated the puck behind the goal line. Cooke swooped in and whipped a wraparound shot into the net to make it 2-0. The goal is Cooke's third in his first five games with the Wild since signing a three-year contract during the offseason.

Cooke had a shorthanded breakaway chance later in the period to extend the lead, but couldn't capitalize.

"Nothing pretty about that one," Cooke said. "And the one I have a chance to do something fancy, I miss.

"What's most important to me is wins. Tonight was a step in the right direction. That was our first, full 60-minute game."

Minnesota extended its lead to three in the second period on Mathew Dumba's first NHL goal following a great cross-zone pass by Heatley. Dumba's snap shot from the left faceoff dot snuck just under the crossbar at 8:23 to make it 3-0.

Just 1:57 later, it was 4-0 when Nino Niederreiter's wrister from below the left circle slipped between Ellis' pad and the post. It was Niederreiter's first goal as a member of the Wild after being shipped to Minnesota by the New York Islanders over the summer in exchange for Cal Clutterbuck and a draft pick.

"We just have to make sure we see it every game," Yeo said of Niederreiter. "It's a big responsibility playing on a line like that. I think he's shown a lot of maturity the way he's approached every game."

Along with Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu, the Wild's top group was in the Stars zone all night and combined for 14 shots on goal. Koivu assisted on Niederreiter's tally and Parise scored a power-play goal with under six minutes to play in regulation.

Minnesota outshot Dallas 36-19 on the night, continuing a remarkable trend for both teams: The Wild have outshot every opponent through five games this season, while the Stars have been outshot in all four of their contests.

Asked if he knew how his team could snap such a streak, Ruff said he won't rush to judgment.

"I don't want to use tonight as an assessment because tonight would be a pretty poor night," Ruff said. "We have players that need to play better. Obviously, our defensemen didn't play well tonight. We had a couple of guys that played OK, but four of the six really struggled to move the puck."

Josh Harding won the night in a battle of veteran backups in net. With starters Niklas Backstrom and Kari Lehtonen both out with lower-body injuries, Harding made 18 saves to improve to 2-1-0. His lone blemish came at 12:40 of the second period on a power-play goal by Jordie Benn.

Harding has allowed one goal in each of his three appearances this season.

Ellis struggled early but stopped 32 shots, including several Grade-A chances in the first 20 minutes to keep the Stars within two goals.

Dallas wraps up its three-game road trip Tuesday night against the Colorado Avalanche. Minnesota kicks off a seven-day, four-game road trip against Eastern Conference teams Monday night against the Buffalo Sabres.

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