“It’s the first step,” said Stars captain Jamie Benn. “We had a tough first round but we are happy to win that round, and we’ll see who we get next. “
The playoff series win was the first for the Stars since 2008 when they advanced to the Western Conference Finals. The Stars will play either Chicago or St. Louis in round two. The Blackhawks and Blues play a seventh and deciding game Monday night in St. Louis.
“I think we feel good,” said Stars defenseman Alex Goligoski, whose third-period goal ended up as the game-winner. “There are areas of our game we can clean up, but we’ve had some good success and played some good hockey against the two teams we could face.”
Sunday’s game was an adventure as the Stars saw a 4-0 lead shrink to just a one-goal lead in the third period as the Wild staged a furious rally in the final 20 minutes.
“Little bit of a rollercoaster, little bit of a learning experience, I think it’s going to show us how hard it is to put teams away,” said Stars center Jason Spezza. “Give that team credit; they fought to the end. They’re a good, gritty team, and they made it tough for us, but we put ourselves in position to have the 4-0 lead. We were fortunate to keep the lead and win the game, but we’ll learn from that third, but it’s a good feeling for this group to win a playoff series.”
The Stars had a 3-0 lead at the end of the first period on goals by John Klingberg, Spezza and Patrick Sharp and Benn scored late in the second period to make it a 4-0 game. But the Wild scored three goals in a 4:51 span to cut the Dallas lead to 4-3. The Wild came close to making it 4-4 after Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen turned over the puck, but Minnesota forward Jason Zucker lost the puck with a wide open net to shoot at midway through the third.
“That was certainly something I wasn’t happy with, but it was good it didn’t end up a goal,” said Lehtonen, who made 25 saves. “Just kept battling after that.”
About 15 seconds later, the Stars extended the lead to 5-3 when a Goligoski shot ended up landing in the crease and Minnesota goaltender Devan Dubnyk accidentally kicked it into his own net. That goal ended up as the game-winner.
“It doesn’t feel right to lose the game on a goal like that,” said Dubnyk, “but that’s the way it is.”
The Wild scored again to cut the Dallas lead to 5-4 with just under five minutes remaining. And then Minnesota came close to tying the game with 34 seconds left, but Lehtonen made a pad stop on a Nino Niederreiter shot. The play was reviewed and video replay showed the puck came within a hair of crossing the goal line.
“I knew where it was and was just trying to cover it,” said Lehtonen.
“It seems to always comes down to that – inches, a fluky play, whatever you want to call it,” said Wild forward Charlie Coyle. “It’s crazy. It was right there. That’s how it goes.”
The Stars got off to an impressive start, building a 3-0 lead through the first 20 minutes. Special teams play was key early.
After killing off a Minnesota power play, the Stars went on a five-on-three power play for 1:25 after Minnesota’s Matt Dumba took an elbowing penalty and Wild defenseman Marco Scandella got called for high sticking. On the two-man advantage, Klingberg drifted into the left circle, took a cross-ice pass from Spezza and scored off a one-timer to put the Stars up 1-0 at 5:56 mark.
The Stars made it 2-0 at 9:07 of the first when Patrick Eaves put a shot on net, and Spezza scored on the rebound. Sharp extended the lead to 3-0, scoring from the slot with the Stars on an odd-man rush at the 18:11 mark.
Lehtonen came up with big saves in the second to keep Minnesota off the board, including a great one on Niederreiter at the 13:43 mark and then another on a Niederreiter deflection less than a minute later.
Benn made it a 4-0 game with 23.7 seconds left in the second, taking a pass from Sharp and picking a corner over Dubnyk from the left circle.
The Wild came on strong in the third. They scored two goals 16 seconds apart to make it 4-2. Jared Spurgeon scored from close range on the power play at the 3:48 mark and then Jonas Brodin buried a backhand shot off the rush, and the Dallas lead was cut in half. Spurgeon struck again on the power play, taking a nice backhand pass from Mikko Koivu, and scoring from the left circle to make it 4-3 at the 8:39 mark.
Goligoski’s goal that Dubnyk put into his own net made it a two-goal game at the 10:28 mark. Jason Pominville scored off a rebound at 15:13 of the third to make it 5-4, but that was as close as the Wild would get on the scoreboard. They came very close on the Niederreiter shot with 34 seconds left, but Lehtonen made a goal line stand and the Stars are now setting their sights on the second round.
“We won the game, and we’re happy about it,” said Sharp. “A lot of respect for what Minnesota can do on their side. It was a tough series, but we’re happy about moving on.”
Travis Moen played his first game of the postseason, skating on the fourth line with Vernon Fiddler and Colton Sceviour. Moen played 9:24 and had two shots on goal.
“Here’s a veteran guy that has played well for us. He’s real heavy on the puck real reliable,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. “Just to put another veteran guy in the room that’s been there and done that. For me, I am looking to close out a series, and he’s played well. I just felt another guy like that in the room to help these guys out was important.”
The odd man out at forward was Valeri Nichushkin.
“Val is working extremely hard. There hasn’t been a lot of good go for him,” Ruff said. “He hasn’t had a lot of breaks. He hasn’t had an alley-oop, a redirection or pucks go off him. But every shift I put him on the ice, that kid works as hard as he can. This is a big time for him, too. No different than [Mattias] Janmark. I’ve got a few guys that may be in and out, but for Val, it is not about working. Right now, things haven’t come his way, but I really believe they will.”
*The playoff series win was the first for the Stars since they defeated San Jose in the Western Conference Semifinals in 2008.
*Jason Spezza had 4 points (1 goal, 3 assists) in Sunday’s game. Jamie Benn registered 3 points (1 goal, 2 assists).
*Benn registered points in all six games of the series (4 goals, 6 assists).
*Per Elias Sports Bureau, Benn became the first Dallas Stars player since Brenden Morrow (2008) to record points in six consecutive postseason games.
*The Wild outshot the Stars 29-24 and had a 54-49 advantage in shot attempts.
*Patrick Sharp, who had 1 goal and 1 assist Sunday, led the Stars with 4 shots on goal and 9 shot attempts.
*The Stars were 1-2 on the power play Sunday and went 4-19 (21.0 percent) during the series.
*The Stars were 2-4 on the penalty kill Sunday and were 12-16 (75.0 percent) during the series.
*The Stars won 36 of 75 faceoffs (48 percent).
*Jason Spezza won 12 of 16 faceoffs (75 percent). Radek Faksa won 7 of 15 (47 percent). Cody Eakin won 9 of 22 (41 percent). Vernon Fiddler won 4 of 11 (36 percent). Minnesota’s Mikko Koivu won 27 of 38 (71 percent).
*Jason Demers led the Stars with 23:04 of ice time.
*Ryan Suter led Minnesota with 31:42 of ice time.
It’s on to round two of the playoffs. The Stars will play either St. Louis or Chicago. The Blues and Blackhawks play a seventh and deciding game in their series Monday night in St. Louis.
Jamie Benn – Cody Eakin – Patrick Sharp
Mattias Janmark – Jason Spezza – Patrick Eaves
Antoine Roussel – Radek Faksa – Ales Hemsky
Travis Moen – Vernon Fiddler – Colton Sceviour
John Klingberg – Alex Goligoski
Johnny Oduya – Stephen Johns
Kris Russell – Jason Demers
Injured: Tyler Seguin (lower body)
Scratched: Valeri Nichushkin, Jordie Benn, Patrik Nemeth, Jamie Oleksiak
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.