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Hockey

What We Saw, What It Felt Like: Stars-Wild, Game 2

Talent prevails.
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Roope Hintz buried the Wild with skill. Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The playoffs are complicated. Each series is its own story, and each game is its own chapter encompassing a dozen moments and plot points. But the playoffs can also be simple. Each of those moments, those plot points, falls into one of two buckets: the things we observe and the emotions they inspire within us. That’s what we’re here to talk about.

What We Saw

During the second period, after Minnesota scored two quick goals to cut a three-goal deficit down to one, Josh Bogorad used the phrase “plot twist” to describe what was unfolding on the ice. And, boy, was Dallas’ 7-3 win over the Wild ever that. 

Through the first half of the game, the Stars looked like the contenders they’ve been billed as: the team whose skaters outshot Minnesota 66 to 34 in the final two-plus periods of Monday night’s contest. That they continued their assault on Minnesota was a nice reminder of which team nearly won the Central Division.  

On the one hand, the positives from Monday night (and Monday morning) were that much more emphatic on Wednesday night. The chances they created at even strength in Game 1 turned into goals at even strength in Game 2. Roope Hintz, an elite player in general, seems to be an elite player when it matters most, too. Jamie Benn is showing he doesn’t know the meaning of the word “regression.” Wyatt Johnston is quietly one of Dallas’ top forwards in individual shot attempts—and he’s due for several goals that the shot-luck gods denied him through two games. 

On the other hand, Dallas didn’t look composed, which was odd given that they managed to leave Monday’s extracurriculars (and Matt Dumba) behind. It was nice to see them answer back when the Wild came within a goal in the second period, but why was that necessary in the first place? And how much different does this game look if Minnesota doesn’t galaxy-brain the decision to start Marc-Andre Fleury instead of Filip Gustavsson? 

The Wild are a good team, and a good team will challenge a better team. The series goes to Minnesota next, which gives the Wild the upper hand (however slight). The question the Stars must ask while there is whether it can dictate momentum at even strength. Do that, and they’ll have control of this series when it returns to the American Airlines Center. Of course, if Minnesota keeps making questionable decisions and taking ill-timed penalties, the Wild will do the Stars’ work for them. —David Castillo

What It Felt Like

A triumph of skill over starch, precision over persistence. That’s not what sports movies are made of. Those teach us that resolve trumps genetics. That the most determined prevails if he digs deep enough, no matter that the opponent is quicker, faster, stronger, better.

Rarely is that how professional sports work. Just ask the Stars of a year ago, who tried and failed to batten down the hatches against Calgary’s squall of shots. Better yet, talk to their antecedents from 2020, who gritted their way through three rounds only to get filleted by the Tampa Bay dynasty at its most impressive.

Now this franchise is on the other side of that dynamic. As we wrote earlier in the week, the Wild are here to scrap. And after absorbing their opening-period haymaker on Monday, followed by their second-period sucker punch, the Stars remembered they can dance around their opponents. Ever since the third period of Game 1, they’ve done exactly that.  

Consider the goals each side scored on Wednesday. Minnesota got their first two via a clanker off Oskar Sundkvist’s skate and a junk rebound jabbed in by Marcus Johnansson. That, far more than Frederick Gaudreau’s delightful stickwork on the third goal, is who the Wild are.  

On Dallas’ end, there is the Hintz hat trick, the indelible image being the 6-foot-3 Finn zooming down the ice and raising hell. It continues with that pair of redirects with a fencer’s precision: deft and delicate. And Jamie Benn’s wrister five-hole, a bamboozler set up by Hintz befuddling the Wild defense. The cat’s cradle of a fourth goal, with Benn, Wyatt Johnston, and Evegenii Dadonov tangling Minnesota into trouble.

This seven-goal barrage is who the Stars are. For this series, at least, they radiate intimidation—not through aggression but ability. They are frightening on the break and terrifying on the power play. They coax us into expecting any of their top nine forwards to score, because so many of them do—and, on Wednesday, did. For one night, they made Pavelski’s absence feel like an afterthought, a daunting task made all the more impressive because it happened through talent above heart and determination, even if the latter were present and accounted for.

The Stars are the more gifted hockey team. That’s why the Wild will be hard-pressed to write a Hollywood ending in this series. —Mike Piellucci

Authors

David Castillo

David Castillo

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David Castillo covers the Stars for StrongSide. He has written for SB Nation and Wrong Side of the Red Line,…
Mike Piellucci

Mike Piellucci

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Mike Piellucci is D Magazine's sports editor. He is a former staffer at The Athletic and VICE, and his freelance…
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