ST. PAUL, Minn. -- With the momentum on the side of the Minnesota Wild, the Dallas Stars leaned on their veterans in Game 6 of their Western Conference First Round series at Xcel Energy Center on Sunday.
Dallas' veterans came through, scoring four goals in the first two periods and another in the third, as the Stars held off the surging Wild with a 5-4 series-clinching victory.
The Stars won the best-of-7 series 4-2. Dallas will play the winner of the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks series in the Western Conference Second Round. The Blues and Blackhawks play Game 7 in St. Louis on Monday.
The two constants for the Stars throughout the series were forwards Jamie Benn and Jason Spezza, who seemed to be in the middle of everything again on Sunday.
Benn scored at least a point in all six games of the series (four goals, six assists) and is one game shy of tying a Stars record for most consecutive games with at least a point to start a postseason (Dino Ciccarelli, 1983).
Video: MIN@DAL, Gm5: Ja. Benn beats Dubnyk with nifty move
Spezza tied a Stanley Cup Playoff high with four points (a goal, three assists), and Benn capped a fantastic series with a goal and two assists.
"I thought [Benn] set the tone for the team," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. "He came out hitting right off the first shift. He was skating. You look to your leaders. Our leaders of the team with [Spezza] and Benn and [Patrick] Sharp, the veteran leaders are the guys that you need in a game like this to make a difference, and they get all the credit for leading the way for us."
Defenseman John Klingberg, another critical component in the Stars lineup, scored the first goal of the game on a pretty set-up by Spezza, who had four goals and nine points in the series.
For Spezza, it's clear being back in the postseason after a two-year absence suits him.
Video: DAL@MIN, Gm6: Spezza adds to lead in 1st period
"[I'm] just trying to be hard on pucks. I have a good role here, feel comfortable, really enjoy my teammates right now, we don't want to stop going," Spezza said. "I think we got a good thing going here."
Already with a 2-0 lead late in the first period, it was another veteran leader, Patrick Sharp, who added to the goal parade. Even on a new team, Sharp tormented the Wild in the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season. After scoring seven goals and 15 points against Minnesota in the postseason with the Chicago Blackhawks the past three years, Sharp scored two goals in Game 3, and added a goal and an assist in the deciding Game 6.
"I've played here enough over the years, it's a tough place to play," Sharp said. "I don't like playing the Wild. They made it hard to get to the net, they make it hard all over the ice, they check well, they play well. [But I've] been on some good teams and had some success."
Benn's goal late in the second period gave the Stars a 4-0 lead through two periods Sunday, but the Wild scored the next three over the first 8:39 of the third period to make it 4-3.
Video: MIN@DAL, Gm5: Goligoski's shot finds the net for lead
Then it was another veteran, defenseman Alex Goligoski, who came through.
After being benched for most of the first period in Game 5, the Grand Rapids, Minn. native got his revenge on his hometown team, although it came with a bit of puck luck.
Goligoski flipped the puck toward Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk from the top of the left circle, only to see it deflect thanks to traffic in front and into the air. It landed at Dubnyk's feet and the goaltender swept the puck into his own goal.
Luck or not, Goligoski scored and good things happened as a result.
"One play can change the game, change the series," Sharp said. "It certainly it did out there."
Minnesota made one final push later in the third when Jason Pominville scored to make 5-4 with 4:47 left, but the Stars hung on.
Video: DAL@MIN, Gm6: Sharp beats Dubnyk for a 3-0 lead
Game 6 was an important teaching moment for some of the Stars' younger players.
"You just got to make hard plays, take deep breaths, make quick plays out of your d-zone and make strong plays in the offensive zone and try to hang on to it as long as you can," Spezza said. "I think you got to play quick through the d-zone to get it out of the zone, but you also got to hang onto it when you get some offensive-zone chances."
Spezza said it was important for Dallas' veteran players to lead the way with things going haywire late in the game. He said the experience was evident.
"We're a relatively inexperienced team together and I think you can see some of the guys that have played [in this environment]," Spezza said. "Patrick Sharp was great tonight, Johnny Oduya was great. You can see those guys, they know how to play these games."