Following Wild games, Content Coordinator Evan Sporer will give the Five Takeaways that he remembers from the contest. Tonight, he looks back at the Wild's 3-2 loss against the Dallas Stars in Game 4 of its first round Western Conference Stanley Cup Playoff Series at Xcel Energy Center.
If the past three games of this series have taught us anything, it’s how incredibly tight the hockey is between these two teams when they’re each playing up to snuff. We should come to expect nothing less after five regular season games.
The margin for error is incredibly slim, and on Wednesday in Game 4, the little things the Wild was not able to do made up the difference and accounted for the deficit.
The special teams battle, something the Wild would have been content to come out simply even in, was tilted in the Stars favor, Dallas scoring twice on the power play, and Minnesota with an 0-for.
“They won that battle,” Jason Pominville said. “They feed a lot off their power play and tonight was a good example of it. When you lose the special teams battle, you’re usually not going to win the game. That’s what happened.”
Dallas’ third goal of the game, which gave it its first lead, came on the heels of a killed penalty, where momentum can be earned.
Flip a coin, and that game can go either way. Dallas was the beneficiary of another fortuitous bounce, when the game-winning goal deflected off Jason Spezza’s skate as he was being defended in the slot.
“I liked our game as a team,” interim Head Coach John Torchetti said. “I liked our work ethic.”
Bounces tend to even out though, and Dallas doesn’t find itself in that situation if not for a rush that begins with a quick defensive-zone breakout.
When a situation calls for the most desperation, when your backs are fully against a wall, and when the phrase “must-win” is no longer a cliché, the true character of a team is revealed.
That’s what we’ll learn come Friday for the Wild.
“I’m not worried about us there,” Torchetti said. “I’m looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to seeing who is going to step up.
“That’s something that, when you’re a coach, you want to see that character. Everyone always has character when you win, but your real character is revealed when you’re losing.”
Suffice to say, the Wild was and will be much better served in this series playing at even-strength, or more specifically, not shorthanded.
The Stars are a “give-it-an-inch, it will take a mile” kind of team. So when the Wild committed its first two penalties of the game, the Stars used those power-play opportunities to erase separate one-goal deficits.
“We just have to find a way to win those games, being at home, having a lead twice,” Jared Spurgeon said. “We have to find a way to come out with a win.”
This was nothing new for the Wild in terms of having its guard up when it came to avoiding trips to the penalty box. The Wild was shorthanded a combined 11 times in Games 1 and 2.
The Wild was shorthanded twice in Game 3, a marked improvement, but the most effective kind of penalty kill, as Torchetti has joked in the past, is staying off it. As the Wild learned, it only takes one opportunity for the Stars to cash in, which they did, twice.
“We had the crowd into it, the momentum was on our side and then we seemed to take the penalty,” Ryan Suter said. “We had been doing such a good job killing it, so it was very disappointing to let them in.”
Considering the kind of momentum the Wild was generating at five-on-five, it’s also worth noting at the very least the Wild was creating two-minute stretches where it was forced to abandon that momentum.
“Then we take two penalties … we can’t take those penalties, especially non-scoring penalties,” Torchetti said. “We have to process the game a little better, but we also have to kill it off.”
The Wild scored two goals in the second period doing things that it predicted could lead to its offensive success.
The first was via Pominville, in very similar fashion to how he scored his first goal in Game 3. Pominville crashed the net, and had a Nino Niederreiter shot deflect off the inside of his right skate and past Antti Niemi.
The Wild wanted to get more traffic around Dallas’ crease, and make life more difficult on its goalies. Check.
When Charlie Coyle scored to give the Wild a 2-1 lead in the second period, it came off a turnover that Coyle forced at Minnesota’s defensive blue line. He blitzed Alex Goligoski, forcing the play south, before he used his foot speed to overtake the Dallas defender.
From there, Jason Zucker joined the play, corralling a loose puck, and then pushing it back in Coyle’s path. Finally, the 6-foot-3 power forward did the rest, carrying Goligoski with him toward the crease (Coyle would have been awarded a penalty shot had he not scored) and deking Niemi before tucking the puck past him.
Minnesota also wanted to play to its defensive-identity and use that to create offense. Double-check.
Another game of the Wild doing a lot of things effectively in the neutral zone, which, in turn, allowed the chips to fall in other areas of Minnesota’s game.
The Wild hounded Dallas when it had possession between the two blue lines, forcing the Stars into turning pucks over, or dumping pucks deep, either way, results the Wild can live with.
When the Wild had control, it lived by the ‘TWIG’ acronym its head coach drills into them: take what is given.
If the Stars sagged back, the Wild wasted no time, and attacked them in possession, skating the puck into the zone.
When Dallas gapped up, the Wild flipped the puck deep, and quickly got on the forecheck. Most importantly, the Wild wasn’t turning pucks over near the red line, a formula for catalyzing the Stars transition game, one of its lethal strengths.
An effective game for the Wild’s fourth line, playing its second game together, and doing the kinds of things bottom-six forwards can do to make an impact on a game.
The trio of Chris Porter, Zac Dalpe, and Kurtis Gabriel played a physical game, and by doing so, took away time and space.
The line also drew a penalty in the first period when it created a d-zone turnover, transitioning up ice and putting Dallas on its heels before Gologoski was forced to hook Chris Porter.
It was the kind of game Torchetti said it needed to play to be effective, and it did.