The Dallas Stars have had a clear edge over the depleted Minnesota Wild during most of the first two games of their Western Conference quarterfinal series.
The Stars even got the big break. Now the Wild want one, too.
“We’ve got to find a way to get our fluke goal,” coach John Torchetti said.
After winning 4-0 in Dallas in Game 1, the Stars took Game 2 on a 2-1 decision on the strength of Antoine Roussel’s contested, implausible score early in the second period when the puck popped off Roussel’s skate behind the net onto the back of goalie Devan Dubnyk’s head. It touched neither the stick of Roussel or Ales Hemsky, who was credited with an assist after the ricochet off his skate set up Roussel for his.
Conventional hockey wisdom calls for grittier work to get those lucky goals.
“We still have five or six guys that have to play a harder game,” said Torchetti, whose team has played without key forwards Zach Parise and Thomas Vanek.
Game 3 is Monday in Minnesota (8:30 p.m. EDT, CNBC).
“We knew two games weren’t going to win a series, that’s for sure,” Wild defenseman Matt Dumba said. “We’re happy to go back home, and we’re going to be prepared for those games.”
The Stars are already on notice. Two years ago, the Wild were down 2-0 to Central Division champion Colorado before rallying to win the series in seven games.
“It’s just going to get harder. Their compete and their will to win is just going to get higher,” Stars scoring leader Jamie Benn said.
Here’s a look at the other action on the schedule for Monday:
Capitals at Flyers, Washington leads 2-0, 7 p.m. EDT, NBCSN
Mike Richards remembered from several past runs with the Philadelphia Flyers just how loud Wells Fargo Center can be in the playoffs.
“It’s a great place to play hockey just with the atmosphere with how intense everybody is,” said Richards, now Washington’s third-line center. “You get chills every time with Lauren (Hart) singing ‘God Bless America’ with Kate Smith there.”
The arena is sure to be an emotional environment Monday before Game 3, when the Flyers pay a tribute to founder Ed Snider, who died last week at age 83 after a two-year battle with bladder cancer. The fact that the Flyers trail the Capitals 2-0 won’t lessen the intensity.
“We want to go home and have a good showing in front of the home fans,” said goaltender Steve Mason, who’s trying to bounce back from allowing an embarrassing goal from beyond the red line in Game 2. “Obviously, with the bigger picture, with the Snider family, we want to go home and get this a little closer.”
The Flyers must find a way to crack Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby, who has only allowed one goal on 61 shots through two games.
“He’s going to spring a leak eventually,” Philadelphia forward Wayne Simmonds said.
Holtby’s brilliance combined with Washington’s special teams domination (3 for 8 on the power play and 7 for 7 on the penalty kill) has made this a lopsided series so far, but the shift in venues can often cause a change in momentum.
“Going into Philly, if we had the games like we had these last two games, we’re probably not going to come out on top because of discipline issues,” Holtby said. “Going into Philly, you need to be disciplined. You can’t get worked up, sucked into their crowd, sucked into their atmosphere.”
Kings at Sharks, San Jose leads 2-0, 10:30 p.m. EDT, NBCSN
The Sharks have returned to familiar territory from their last trip to the playoffs, having taken the first two games on the road against the Kings. After squandering a 3-0 lead in the first round against Los Angeles two years ago, however, the Sharks are far from overconfident even though they’re back in the Bay Area with an early edge in the series.
In the history of the NHL playoffs, teams that have won the first two games on the road have an all-time series record of 65-18.
“What’s happened in the past, it’s in the past,” Sharks captain Joe Pavelski said. “You take those lessons. You try to become a better teammate from those, better player. We’re still trying to win four games in this series and we got two. It’s a good start for us, and we realize there’s more work.”
San Jose controlled much of the first two games, allowing just one even-strength goal. That’s not a new development. The Sharks have played like that frequently on the road, where they had the NHL’s best regular-season record.
Transferring that success to home ice has been the problem. San Jose’s 18 home wins were the fewest of any playoff team in 2015-16.
In order to maintain their momentum, the Sharks must continue to keep Kings stars Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty and Tyler Toffoli quiet. Each of the three players tallied 50-plus points in the regular season, but the trio has been limited to a lone assist by Kopitar in this series.
The return of right wing Marian Gaborik after a two-month absence to a knee injury gave the Kings a boost in Game 2, but they’ll need more Monday in Game 3.
“We’ve got to stop playing with frustration and start using our emotion in the right way, because frustration is a waste of emotion,” Kings left wing Milan Lucic said. “We’ve got to go out there with determination and start playing our game.”