As the pendulum has swung back and forth over the Minnesota Wild's first three playoff games, from needing to defend better, to the need to score more, and there and back, the Wild did something quietly efficient in Game 3 that it is hoping can carry over into Wednesday.
Minnesota held the Dallas Stars to 17 shots on goal, matching the fewest Dallas has taken in any game this season. The Stars, who took the third most shots in the NHL during the regular season, and scored the most goals, were held to 10 over the first two periods of Minnesota's Game 3 victory.
A similar kind of effort, predicated on puck possession and neutral zone structure could go a long way in helping the Wild even its best-of-7 series against the Stars at 2-2 Wednesday night in Saint Paul (8:30 p.m. CT; FOX Sports North, NBCSN, SN360, TVA3).
"We played tighter last game," Jonas Brodin said. "We had better sticks, we had a better forecheck, and we had a better game last game. We have to keep that going tonight, and keep pushing."
It wasn't just the low shot-on-goal total that was indicative of the performance the Wild sustained over 60 minutes. After allowing two quick goals to open the game, the Wild completely locked up the Stars top offensive line of Jamie Benn, Patrick Sharp, and Cody Eakin.
Wanting to play a more disciplined game, committing 11 penalties over Games 1 and 2 at American Airlines Center, the Wild made two trips to the box on Monday, accounting for Dallas' other shot on goal.
It wasn't a low total just by Dallas's standards: the 17 shots-against matched the second-fewest the Wild has conceded in any single-game this season.
"We weren't turning the puck over," Ryan Suter said. "The first game, we had the puck before every one of their goals, whether it be a turnover or just an errant pass. We basically put the puck on their tape for them, and we've been managing the puck a lot better the last couple of games."
Interim Head Coach John Torchetti said that the Wild's willingness to shoot also eliminated such opportunities for Dallas.
"It creates rebounds, and chances, and then seams," he said. "We create shooting, which takes away from their structure. It gives us more puck possession time, and takes away from them."
It wasn't that the Wild was sitting back, conforming into a shell and playing an overly defensive game.
"I don't think it necessarily has anything to do with defense as much as playing fast, turning pucks over, and going the other way," Dubnyk said. "I don't think you saw us sitting in our end and blocking a bunch of shots to keep them away.
"We had the puck, and we were turning pucks over in the neutral zone, and going the other way. That's our identity as a group, and that's how we're going to have to play if we're going to win this series."
The Wild is expected to go with the same lineup it did in Game 3. The Stars could be making a few changes. Defenseman Kris Russell, who missed Game 2 due to an illness, is feeling better according to Head Coach Lindy Ruff, and is a possibility to play.
Goaltender Antti Niemi was also the first to leave the Stars morning skate after Kari Lehtonen started the first three games of the series for Dallas. Niemi and Lehtonen started 43 and 39 games respectively during the regular season, primarily splitting time.
Here is the Wild's projected lineup:
Mikael Granlund – Mikko Koivu – David Jones
Nino Niederreiter – Erik Haula – Jason Pominville
Jason Zucker – Charlie Coyle – Justin Fontaine
Chris Porter – Zac Dalpe – Kurtis Gabriel
Ryan Suter – Jared Spurgeon
Jonas Brodin – Matt Dumba
Marco Scandella – Nate Prosser
After participating in an optional practice on Tuesday, forward Thomas Vanek joined his Wild teammates for morning skate on Wednesday prior to Game 3.
"I really ramped it up the last few days here, and I feel good, but again, I just need time, and there's not a whole lot of it right now," Vanek said. "I'll just keep pushing it and see where it goes."
Torchetti said Vanek, who has not appeared in the playoffs yet, is day-to-day. He also said forward Zach Parise, also out with an upper-body injury, is week-to-week.
"Any time you're injured and you have to watch games it's tough," Vanek said. "This one [stinks] for me because usually I feel like I'm pretty good playing with pain, but this one just needs time, and that's what the worst part about it is."
Vanek didn't rule out playing in the first round, and sounded hopeful he would get into a postseason game.
"I'm confident I'll get in there if it's in the second round, or whenever," he said. "The guys who are playing are doing a great."
Wild fans attending Game 4 on Wednesday sshould to be aware Interstate 94 will encounter an overnight detour at the Lowry Tunnel in Minneapolis April 20 and April 21.
I-94 will close in both directions at the Lowry Tunnel from 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. each night while crews clean the tunnel, weather permitting.
Motorists will be detoured around the closure via the Hennepin Avenue/Lyndale Avenue Exit.
For real-time travel information anywhere in Minnesota, visit www.511mn.org or dial 5-1-1.