(The Sports Xchange) - One game later than expected, the addition of Erik Haula to the Minnesota Wild lineup was a difference-maker.
Haula started the game at center and had a goal and an assist as Minnesota rallied from an early two-goal deficit to beat the Dallas Stars 5-3 on Monday in Game 3 of their best-of-seven first-round playoff series.
Jason Pominville scored twice while Chris Porter and Mikko Koivu also had goals for Minnesota, which had lost its previous six consecutive playoff games.
“That’s what everyone feels like, that the series was over before it even started,” Haula said. “We don’t care if we’re the only ones who believe we can beat that team. We’re just going to go out there, battle for 60 minutes, give it all we’ve got and try to prove everyone wrong.”
Devan Dubnyk had 14 saves for the Wild, who were the eighth seed in the West and now trail Dallas 2-1 in the series.
Patrick Sharp scored twice in the opening five minutes for the Stars, who had won the series’ first two games in Dallas, holding Minnesota to just one goal in the process. But they could not hold the lead on Monday despite a 20-save effort from goalie Kari Lehtonen. Colton Sceviour added a late goal for the Stars, who are the top seed in the West.
“Give them credit, they played a good game, they played with a lot of speed and scored some timely goals,” said Sharp, who played for Chicago last season when the Blackhawks swept Minnesota in the second round of the playoffs. “You could tell that they fed off the energy of their fans. It was a fun game to be a part of so we’ll take what we can as far as positives from this game and be ready for Game 4.”
Haula, who had missed the first game of the series with a lower-body injury, had a career-best 14 goals in the regular season, and has emerged as an offensive catalyst for Minnesota, especially with forwards Zach Parise and Thomas Vanek missing from the lineup due to injury.
“He gives us so much confidence on the penalty kill, down low, exits, speed, and that line really works well,” said Wild interim coach John Torchetti, praising the line of Haula, Pominville and Nino Niederreiter. “They complement each other, they talk on the bench, they make adjustments as they go along, and they do a really good job. They play for each other, and that’s why they’re a very successful line.”
With Minnesota leading 3-2 after 40 minutes, Koivu gave the Wild a two-goal lead with a power-play goal early in the third period. But Dallas answered with some puck luck, as a shot from the blue line by Dallas defenseman Jason Demers deflected off the hand of a Wild player, hit Sceviour in the chest and landed in the net, pulling the Stars back within a goal.
Pominville put his second goal of the game into an empty net with 74 seconds left, as the Wild won for the first time since March 29.
Dallas needed just 26 seconds to effectively take the raucous crowd out of the game, at least for a time. Wild defenseman Ryan Suter’s backhand clearing attempt from behind the net was intercepted by Stars defender Alex Goligoski along the boards. He shot a waist-high puck toward Dubnyk, and Sharp deflected it past the goalie for a 1-0 Stars lead on the game’s first shift.
Sharp doubled the Dallas lead four minutes later, taking a long lead pass from Cody Eakin and blasting a low shot past Dubnyk’s glove hand.
After Dallas killed the game’s first penalty, Porter got Minnesota on the board with less than a minute to play in the first period. Wild defenseman Jonas Brodin worked the puck to Haula at the blue line and Haula shot wide of the net to the right. But Porter was there and was able to reach around a Goligoski and re-direct the puck. It beat Lehtonen low, making it 2-1 and re-igniting the Minnesota crowd.
“We did a great job as a team re-grouping after they scored two there,” Porter said. “Not the start we wanted. We wanted to get the crowd into it early. But we did a great job of settling down and getting the fans back into it. They kind of carried us there in the second and third.”
The second period was all Minnesota, as the Wild dominated early in the period and tied the game on Haula’s first of the playoffs. Pominville put a shot on net that Haula tipped past Lehtonen. Dallas made a push in the middle of the period, but couldn’t solve Dubnyk.
“We didn’t play near as well as we needed to play. That’s probably as bad as I’ve seen us play in maybe five weeks,” Dallas coach Lindy Ruff said. “A lot of it was execution. Playmaking, our transition game from defense to forwards, we turned over some pucks that cost us goals. We turned over plenty of pucks. As soon as we got it deep, we created something, we were just slow.”
The Wild took their first lead of the series in the final minute of the second period. The teams were skating 4-on-4 when Pominville capped a rush to the net, popping a shot past Lehtonen on the glove side.