It was a hard-fought game from the beginning — a game that could only be expected between two teams right on top of each other in the bruising Central Division. The Wild entered the night with a five-point cushion and a game in hand Dallas, but the Stars closed the gap with a 4-3 win tonight.
While the two went back-and-fourth, often with the Stars holding the lead and the Wild evening the score, it was Dallas who had the final say as Erik Cole netted the game-winner on a breakaway late in the third.
When it comes to tough matchups, special teams are always important, and that certainly held true tonight.
Though the Wild faced a 1-0 deficit for much of the opening period thanks to a Jamie Benn goal just 31 ticks into the contest, Erik Haula netted his third goal of the season, shorthanded, to even the score. Haula picked up the pass from fellow Finn Mikko Koivu and broke towards the faceoff circle where he fired a wrist shot past Dallas netminder Kari Lehtonen.
Special teams play was just getting started. Dallas added a power play goal early in the second as Alex Chiasson put home a puck that trickled through Darcy Kuemper. The Wild struck back on its third man advantage opportunity of the night. Charlie Coyle banged home a loose puck in front of the net, breaking a 15-game scoring drought.
It still wasn’t over. Haula, who got the special teams scoring started, took a five-minute major in the third after barreling into Lehtonen. In his defense it looked like he got tangled up as he got off his shot and lost his balance, causing him to drive into the Dallas goalie. The Stars used the situation to its advantage as Tyler Seguin netted a power play goal with about a minute and a half left in the penalty to even things up 3-3.
With new faces in the line the Wild debuted a pair of new lines tonight. After a tough start, Koivu, Coyle and Matt Moulson settled in and started to translate what chemistry they had in practice this week into the game. Though they were tough on the puck and created several opportunities, it wasn’t until the power play when they finally connected for a score.
In his debut with the Wild, Moulson already showed signs of why the Wild front office brought him to Minnesota. He picked up his first point with the team, assisting on Coyle’s goal and extending his point streak to seven games. He also registered a team-high five shots on goal, matching Zach Parise.
But Moulson wasn’t the only new Wild face picking up ice time tonight. Cody McCormick also made his Wild debut, working on the fourth line with Haula and Dany Heatley. McCormick brought what he said he would: energy, grit and a big body. He had a few conversations out there as the contest wasn’t short of physical play.
Speaking of physical play, tonight’s game was full of it.
With the amount of special teams scoring mentioned above, it only makes sense. The Wild and Stars combined for 29 PIM — nine penalties — on the night as well as 45 hits.
If you were feeling tired at all prior to puck drop, the feeling quickly evaporated as the Wild and Stars seemed to just beat each other up play after play. But the Wild don’t get a break from it as its back in action tomorrow to continue a stretch of 20 games in 37 games, which started with tonight’s loss.
It was an extra special night in Dallas and not because of the Central Division match up or the importance of the game. No, Saturday night was special before the puck dropped as the Stars retired Mike Modano’s number 9.
In a pre-game ceremony with the lights all turned low, Modano came out onto the ice in the spotlight and watched his number rise up into the rafters, immortalizing his 20-year career in the Stars and North Stars organization.
Our Wild PR friends shared a photo of the Wild taking in the ceremony while the Stars players all wore no. 9 sweaters during warm-ups, including a few of the North Stars variety. But all of it is well deserved for the legendary player who holds records in goals (561), points (1,374), playoff points (145), and games-played (1,499) for American-born players. Check out what Modano had to say about the honor.