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Vanek ends goal drought, helps Wild top Stars

by Dan Myers

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- After Thomas Vanek scored his first goal with the Minnesota Wild on Saturday, a goal that snapped a nine-game drought, he didn't raise his arms. He didn't even smile. Still, the relief was palpable.

The Wild killed two birds with one stone in their 4-1 win against the Dallas Stars at Xcel Energy Center; Vanek's first goal ended Minnesota's 0-for-28 power play drought to start the season.

"First of all, I'm not that much of a celebrator, unless it's a really big goal," Vanek said. "It's just more of a relief than anything I guess. Even better that it was on the power play. As you guys know, we've struggled on the power play. It was nice to break my streak and break our team's streak at the same time.

"Even though it didn't look like much, it felt great."

Clinging to a 2-1 lead in the final minute of the second period, Mikko Koivu passed to Zach Parise behind the net. Vanek slithered free near the right hash, accepted a pass from Parise and beat Dallas goaltender Kari Lehtonen to the short side.

"That's where he's made a pretty good career," Parise said. "It's something we talked about, from a previous power play. That little pocket was open and he jumped into there and I was able to find him just behind the D-man."

For Vanek, the nine goalless games to start the season was the second longest such streak of his career, the most since it took 14 games for him to score his first NHL goal as a rookie with the Buffalo Sabres in 2005.

The power-play goal ended Minnesota's nine-game drought, which set a new Wild record.

"You guys can talk about something else now," Parise said. "The last couple games it's been better, it's moving better. We weren't as stagnant. We went pretty dry there for a couple games where we weren't even getting chances."

Early in the third period, the Wild power play connected again, this time on a tip in front by Nino Niederreiter, giving Minnesota a three-goal cushion with 14:57 remaining. The goal was Niederreiter's third.

"We were due," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "I had a feeling that when we got one, we would get more than one. The way it's been going, it definitely relieves a burden, there's no question."

Minnesota outshot Dallas 12-8 in a scoreless first period, but was lucky to escape with the game tied. The Stars had several quality chances, hit two posts and had 1:18 of 5-on-3 power-play time, but they could not find a way to beat Wild goaltender Darcy Kuemper.

"There just wasn't enough energy in that 5-on-3," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. "We didn't make good decisions. Actually, I think it gave them a lift."

"Definitely have to give some props to our penalty kill," Yeo said. "Huge, huge 5-on-3 kill. They did the job all night long."

Early in the second period, Wild forward Mikael Granlund scored his first goal of the season, firing a shot through a screen at 4:21. Nearly nine minutes later, defenseman Matt Dumba made it 2-0, ripping a slap shot from just inside the blue line for his first goal.

Dallas made it a one-goal game eight seconds later when defenseman Jamie Oleksiak sprung Vernon Fiddler into the Wild zone with a stretch pass off the faceoff. Fiddler fired a shot over Kuemper's glove and under the crossbar at 13:21.

"We have to be a little more urgent, a little more scared to lose," Fiddler said. "Right now, we're not. These games matter. You play 82 games, but at the same time, these games can make or break you. You have to stay with the pack."

Parise had two assists Saturday, giving him six this season. Ryan Suter assisted on Niederreiter's goal.

The Wild outshot the Stars 30-20. They have outshot their opponent in all 10 games.

Kuemper made 19 saves for his sixth win. Minnesota is 5-0-0 on home ice.

For Lehtonen, who stopped 26 shots, it was his first loss in regulation (4-1-4).

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