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Five keys for Wild vs. Stars, Game 4

Minnesota, Dallas each relying on veterans, goaltenders

by Dan Myers / NHL.com Correspondent

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Dallas Stars and Minnesota Wild will play Game 4 of their Western Conference First Round series at Xcel Energy Center on Wednesday (9:30 p.m., ET; NBCSN, FS-SW, FS-N, FS-WI, SN360, TVA Sports 3). The Stars lead the best-of-7 series 2-1.

Here are five keys for Game 4:

1. Veterans lead the way, Part II: It was Dallas' veteran core of Jamie Benn, Ales Hemsky, Jason Spezza and goaltender Kari Lehtonen who played big roles in the Stars' two wins in Dallas to open the series.

Minnesota responded in Game 3, largely because of veterans Jason Pominville and Mikko Koivu. Pominville had a goal and two assists, and Koivu scored the game-winning goal and played an important defensive role as the game evolved.

Who will it be in Game 4?

For Dallas, Patrick Sharp scored two goals in Game 3 and has played well against the Wild in his Stanley Cup Playoff career (nine goals, eight assists in 18 games). Alex Goligoski, a native of Grand Rapids, Minn., has been Dallas' best defenseman in this series and is capable of chipping in offensively; he had 32 assists during the regular season.

Minnesota's David Jones was as physical in Game 3 as he has been since acquired in a trade from the Calgary Flames on Feb. 29. That style typically lends to more offensive chances, and Jones is playing on a line with two skilled forwards in Koivu and Mikael Granlund. Defenseman Ryan Suter set career highs in assists and points during the regular season, but is scoreless in the first three games of the series.

Video: DAL@ANA: Niemi makes a pair of big saves

2. Hot goalie: Stars goaltender Antti Niemi will make his first start of the postseason. Niemi hasn't played in 11 days, but the layoff isn't new for him: He had two 11-day breaks in March alone.

"I think you just have to prepare yourself for one game at a time and see it as that," Niemi said. "It's not the best situation, but same thing there, you want to do the same thing every day and you'll be ready to play every day."

Game 4 will mark the 63rd playoff appearance of Niemi's career.

Minnesota will once again lean on Devan Dubnyk, who made his NHL playoff debut last season and already has played more postseason games than any goalie in franchise history.

Dubnyk's stat line in Game 3 didn't look good (14 saves on 17 shots), but one particular save in the first period, when the Wild already trailed 2-0, may have played a part in Minnesota's come-from-behind victory.

"Could have been 3-0, but [Dubnyk] makes a big save there right after they just scored," Wild coach John Torchetti said. "It would have been hard to come back from that. It's hard enough coming back 2-0."

Video: MIN@DAL, Gm2: Lehtonen stuffs Grandlund in front

3. Something Gran': Mikael Granlund has been Minnesota's best player in the series, but has yet to cash in. He had a handful of grade-A scoring chances during Game 2 in Dallas but could not convert.

His scoring chances were down in Game 3, but Granlund more than made up for it in other areas; blocking shots, finishing checks and playing with speed. Granlund's 11 shots on goal are the most on the team through three playoff games, but he's looking for his first point.

"I know that he's got a big compete inside that heart. He's always had it," Torchetti said. "I like his game. Got to shoot a little bit more for me. But good things to come. Just the type of kid that has a great future here."

Video: DAL@MIN, Gm3: Haula deflects it home to even score

4. Whose line it is anyway? The line of Erik Haula, Pominville and Nino Niederreiter started Game 3 with the assignment of defending Dallas' top line of Benn, Sharp and Cody Eakin. Sharp scored twice in the first 4:10, so Torchetti made a change, putting the Koivu-Granlund-Jones line against Benn's group and saw immediate results.

That allowed Haula's line to focus more on contributing offensively; Pominville scored two goals and had an assist, and Haula and Niederreiter each had two-point games.

"It freed them up," Torchetti said. "I thought Mikko did a great job. It just leads to better puck possession time if we're forechecking right."

Not only did the Haula group breakout offensively, but Koivu's line picked up the physical play, routinely finishing checks and limiting chances for Benn and Sharp the rest of the game. Haula's line has been Torchetti's go-to defensive line since his arrival in mid-February. Will he go back to them in Game 4? Or will he stick with what worked in Game 3?

5. Terminate or replicate: The Game 3 win for Minnesota has a chance to be a major tipping point in this series. The Stars have done everything they can to put the loss behind them.

"We weren't satisfied with the effort we put forward in Game 3, and that has to change tonight," Benn said. "[We have to] put it behind us and find a way to win this game."

The Wild believe they have found something, both in their room and on the ice. Torchetti has preached a physical, checking game for weeks with inconsistent results.

For the final 50 minutes of Game 3, the Wild followed that plan and ended a seven-game losing streak, dating to the regular season, in the process. Can they replicate it?

"The key is to continue to build [our game]," Suter said. "The further on you go in series, the harder the games get. We have to up our intensity even more than we did last game and continue to do the right things over and over again."

Said coach Lindy Ruff: "For us, it's push-back time. This is the biggest game of the series, obviously, for both teams."

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