Newly acquired top-6 winger Matt Moulson notched an assist and five shots in 17:09 of ice time tonight, but it still wasn’t enough to lead his new team to victory as the Minnesota Wild fell 4-3 to the division rival Dallas Stars tonight on Mike Modano Night at the American Airlines Center.
After a quick goal right off the bat by Jamie Benn just 0:31 into the game, the Wild regained their composure and went to work. After Clayton Stoner took a delay of game penalty 16:14 into the first period, Stars defenseman Alex Goligoski couldn’t control the puck along the boards, coughing it up to Wild captain Mikko Koivu, who found rookie Erik Haula charging up center ice. Haula forced his way through the offensive zone, firing a quick wrister from the left circle past goaltender Kari Lehtonen for the first shorthanded goal of his young career at the 16:32 mark of the first period. Minnesota finished the period leading in shots by a total of 9-7 with the game tied at one apiece.
Early in the second period and just four minutes into their second power play opportunity of the night, the Stars would strike again. After a quick faceoff win by Jamie Benn, Goligoski would pass the puck over to Tyler Seguin for a one-timer from the left point. The puck found its way through rookie netminder Darcy Kuemper’s pads and Charlie Coyle’s former Boston University line-mate Alex Chiasson would pounce for his 11th goal of the year.
Speaking of Coyle, the 2010 28th overall pick would score his seventh of the season on the team’s third power play chance of the night. With a little over 30 seconds left in a hooking penalty to Shawn Horcoff, Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon faked a slap shot from the high slot, passing the puck to Jonas Brodin at the top of the left circle. Brodin passed it right back to Spurgeon, who then passed it to Koivu along the right wing half-boards. Koivu fired a shot wide of the net, giving Brodin a juicy opportunity at an open cage. Brodin fired, but the shot was blocked by Lehtonen and a sprawling Stars defender before landing right above the crease where Moulson and Coyle made sure the biscuit found its way into the basket. The game was tied 2-2, and Moulson had himself the first point of his Wild career. Even more telling of the period–Minnesota had outshot Dallas 18-13 in the period.
Heading into the third period, the momentum certainly seemed to have shifted to Minnesota’s favor; something very untypical of a building that has, historically, never been a kind place for the Wild. Just 1:23 into the period, third line center Kyle Brodziak would capitalize on a turnover in the Stars’ zone, sending home a wrister past Lehtonen for his sixth goal of the year. It was 3-2 Minnesota. But 1:03 later, winger Matt Cooke would be called for tripping on a clean hip check to Stars rookie Valeri Nichushkin. Though Minnesota killed the penalty, it was just the start of a nightmarish latter portion of the game.
Almost seven minutes into the period, Haula came streaking down the right wing boards, forcing his way towards the crease before colliding with Lehtonen. Lehtonen left the game with what is now being called a concussion, and newly acquired backup Tim Thomas was pressed into duty. Haula was given a five minute major for charging and an early exit from the game. Kuemper and the Wild’s penalty kill fought valiantly for the ensuing five minute penalty kill, but Seguin finally broke through with a little over 30 seconds left in the power play for his 29th goal of the season. With less than 10 minutes to go in the game, it was all knotted up 3-3. Erik Cole would seal the deal for Dallas with 4:49 to go in the game, intercepting a blue line pass from Keith Ballard intended for Clayton Stoner before heading off to the races and beating Kuemper high stick side for his 15th goal of the season. Dallas would win 4-3, outshooting Minnesota in the third period by a total of 18-8.
While there were a lot of positives to this game (hey, these new lines seem to be clicking and the power play is certainly revamped), it was still four points lost–two to Dallas and two that could have gone to Minnesota. The Stars now sit just three points back of the Wild for the top wild card spot in the West. A win against the Central Division-leading St. Louis Blues tomorrow night in St. Paul would go a long way in both points and confidence for a team looking to make its second straight playoff appearance. After stopping 34 of 38 shots against the Stars tonight, it’s all but guaranteed Kuemper will be benched in favor of deadline-eve acquisition Ilya Bryzgalov, who is focused on providing a strong showing in his home debut.
The puck drops at 7:00 PM Central Time. Scott will have your game preview up earlier in the day. Remember to set your clocks forward one hour tonight; it would be a shame to miss out on a whole hour of hockey now, wouldn’t it?