The Minnesota Wild are on a roll right now. This evenings game was one heck of a lot of fun to watch if you’re a Wild fan and a bit painful if you support The Dallas Stars. Minnesota marched into American Airlines Center and outworked, outsmarted and defeated the Dallas Stars by a 7-4 final score. This is a team that has been slaying dragons as of late. Minnesota has gone into opposing arenas, where there had been only losses for years, and defeated playoff teams on their home ice. After the game Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo has this to say,”I give them credit for continuing all game long,for continuing to push forward and stay with it and finding a way to win the game.” First it was Vancouver, then Detroit and now Dallas. Minnesota had not won in American Airlines Center in 16 straight contests since March 21, 2003, a span of 10 years and 4 days. Only one current Wild players was in uniform the last time Minnesota beat the Stars, That was a younger Pierre-Marc Bouchard and he was back with a vengeance this time around. The boys from St. Paul scored 7 goals on Stars net minder Kari Lehtonen, 5 goals at even strength, one shorthanded and one empty netter. This was a night of firsts, milestones and significant goals for Minnesota. The victory vaults the Wild back in the lead in the Northwest Division and third place in the Western Conference. Their 40 points tie them with the Canucks but Minnesota has first place on the ROW tiebreaker, that is total regulation and overtime wins. Those two squads are distancing themselves from the bottom three teams in the Northwest. The Wild are 11 points up on Edmonton, 12 up on Calgary and 14 points ahead of last place Colorado. Minnesota has just 5 games left this season against divisional opponents, the remaining 12 contests are teams in the Pacific division 7 times and teams in the Central division 5 times. The Wild are playing their best hockey of the season right now and many would argue their best hockey in several years. Over the last 10 games Minnesota has out scored their opponents 39 to 22, a 17 goal, positive margin. This is the same team that was dead last in average goals scored per game 10 games into the season and has since climbed to 15th, averaging 2.68 goals per game. Minnesota has become a bear to play against giving opponents an average of just 2.39 goals a game the fifth lowest total in the league. Going a man up doesn’t help much as Wild opponents score just 14.4% of the time, the 4th lowest rate in the NHL. Another area the Wild excel in is face offs in which Minnesota ranks third overall.
Dallas did jump out and score the first goal of the game at the 5:31 mark of the 1st period. Alex Goligoski took a feed from Derek Roy and beat Niklas Backstrom from the top of the slot. Roy did something not many players have done and took the puck away from D-man Ryan Suter. After the takeaway he fed Goligoski who one timed it into the net to taking a 1-0 lead in front of a whole lot of empty seats. The Wild didn’t let that get them down though as they tied the score roughly 2 minutes later. Zach Parise scored his first of the night and his 13th of the season. Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen had stopped Devin Setoguchi in close, but Parise knocked the rebound out of the air and off the crossbar behind Lehtonen, Parise got to the puck first knocking it over the goal line to make it a 1-1. The Stars would score one more to make it 2-1 Dallas after the first stanza. After just one period of play the Wild led the Stars 17-14 in shots on goal. With Jonas Brodin in the box serving a tripping penalty the Star’s Jaromir Jagr would pick up a power play goal, Dallas’ first in their last 26 tries with the man advantage. The goal was Jagr’s 14th of the season. There was a scary moment for the Wild as Cal Clutterbuck had to be helped off the isce after an awkward collision with the net midway through the period. While it looked bad at the time he was able to return to the ice in the second period, he did appear to be in considerable pain and was seen limping around the locke rroom after the game however. We will have to wait until some time Tuesday for an update on his condition. The second period would be as active and and even more high scoring than the 1st. A little after 3:30 had elapsed in the second period when Mikko Koivyu tied the score a two apiece. Parise skated into the zone and dropped a nifty backhand pass to a waiting Koivu who buried it five-hole on goalie Lehtonen. The goal was Mikko’s 8th of the season and the second of the game for Minnesota’s top line. It wouldn’t take long fo the Star’s to answer back as Trevor Daley put the puck past Backstrom to retake the lead for Dallas. This was the type of shot from the top of the circle that the Wild net minder usually stops with ease. Several time throughout the evening Backstrom seemed to be fighting the puck and struggling with routine saves. Luckily for him the Wild provided plenty of goal support throughout tonight’s action. The Wild would battle back again to knot the score at 3. Captain Koivu wpould win a face off in the Dallas zone against Vernon Fiddler, after gaining control of the puck he found Parise with a perfect centering pass that the winger slid past Lehtonen for his second goal of the night, 14th of the season. The score was tied 3-3 but neither team was done yet. The Wild would take the lead for the first time in the game on a milestone goal by Matt Cullen. Minnesota defenseman Jared Spurgeon would unleash one of his patented slapshots form the point, Lehtonen knocked the puck aside where Bouchard found it and fed Cullen for the tough angle shot from below the right circle. The goal gave Minnesota it’s first lead of the game, 4th even strength goal of the game, Cullen’s 4th goal of the year, and the 200th of his career. That’s a lot to ask of a single goal! Matt Cullen is now just the 9th Minnesotan to score 200 NHL goals and the 37th American to accomplish that as well. As if that were not enough the goal gave Cullen his 4th multiple point game of the season and raised his career point total to 557. He’s been credited with 357 assists to go with 200 goals, 17 of those helpers are from the current NHL campaign. After Cullen’s goal the Wild led on the score board 4-3, they also out shot the Stars 31 to 19 through 2 periods of play. Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu had a third of the shot total themselves. The see-saw scoring affair would continue into the 3rd period with Dallas tying things up one again at the 6:02 mark as Mike Rupp turned the puck over in the neutral zone Philip Larsen picked the long rebound of a Dallas shot and snapped past Backstrom before he had a chance to get set after the first shot. That would be the end of the Star’s scoring but not your Minnesota Wild. At the 12:18 mark of the final period Mike Rupp would take 14 minutes ( yes that’s right 1-4-minutes) in penalties. He received a double minor of high sticking Dallas’ Ray Whitney. The cut inflicted by Rupper’s stick would take several butterfly stitches to close on the while he stayed on the bench. During some “discussion” by the Star’s and Rupp over his failure to control his stick, Rupp was given a 10 minute misconduct after he asked a Dallas player to perform an anatomically impossible act and then punched nim in the mouth for emphsis. This would be the turning point in the game. All too many time in the past a penalty like this and a failure on the Wild’s part to kill it off has resulted in at best a tie or worst a loss. This time Cal Clutterbuck, he of the injured leg, scooped up an errant pass near the blue line and charged into the offensive zone. He snapped off a shot that caught Dallas net minder Lehtonen up high and bounced out creating a juicy rebound. Kyle Brodziak was charging down the slot, craching the net and rammed the puck mone for a short handed goal. The shortie was the first the Wild have scored all season and it couldn’t have come at a better time. One could hear an audible “whoosh” as the air was let out of the Dallas Stars and their fans .Star’s CoachGlen Gulutzan has this to say about the shorthanded goal,” We had an opportunity to win. Seven minutes left, four-minute PP and you think you’re in the driver’s seat, We made a pass, a D stepped up on our guy, turned it over. He jumped and capitalized. It’s a lot of the story of our game tonight.” Brodziak’s short handed goal was a dagger to the heart of Dallas’ hopes of a three game win streak. The Wild’s balanced scoring attack continued as Dany Heatley jumped in on the scoring action, scoring his 9th of the season, upping his point total to 18. He backhanded the puck home on a feed from Brodziak. The play developed in the neutral zone as the Star’s committed yet another turnover. Brodziak carried the puck into the zone flipped a backhander at an exhausted Lehtonen with a minute and a half left to play.. Heatley was crashing the net as the Wild had been doing all game and flipped the rebound in for the goal. That mad the score 6-4. The only trick that Star’s had left in their bag was to pull the goalie for the extra attacker with 1:28 to go in the game. With all the offensive lines getting in on the scoring action tonight, it was Bouchard on the receiving end of a Jared Spurgeon pass. Bouchard cleared the red line before he tossed a shot into the open Dallas net for the Wild’s 7th goal. The final score was Wild 7- Stars 4. This was the second time in 6 games that Dallas has allowed 7 of more goals. After the game Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said, “We’re a hard team. We’re physical, we defend hard, offensively we’re hard as well.” Minnesota had several players with multiple point games tonight. Defensemen Clayton Stoner and Jared Spurgeon both had 2 assists on the night giving them season totals of 7 helpers each. Rookie sensation Jonas Brodin added an assist upping his season point total to 6. Pierre-Marc Bouchard has responded well since his 3 game benching ,scoring a goal and adding an assist tonight upping his season totals to 4 goals to go with 10 assists. The Wild’s top line was flying high tonight as Captain Koivu had a goal and an assist, Parise had 2 goals and an assist, that totals 5 points for the #1 line. The 2nd line of Cullen, Bouchard and Setoguchi had 5 points with 2 goals and 3 assists. The third line of Heatley, Brodziak and Clutterbuck totaled 2 goals and 4 assists for 6 points. The grind line had no points but contributed with their relentless forecheck, sound puck movement and making sure no liberties were taken against the top lines. Defensively a couple of Wild records were set. The defensive pairing of Jared Spurgeon and Clayton Stoner matched a club record by going a +5 for the game. That is some impressive defensive work and jumping into the offense as needed without becoming a liability. This was a fun game to watch. The Wild have little time to enjoy the victory however. The fly home for a quick stopover to face the Phoenix Coyotes Wednesday night at the Xcel Energy Center. The get to do it all over again in Dallas, same bat time, same bat channel as the Wild face the Stars for the second time this week. Game time is 7:30 pm Friday at American Airlines Center. GonePuckWild will be with you every step of the way. Until next time this is Scott Drain saying, “LET’S GO WILD!!”