DALLAS – This time, the Wild held on to its lead and shut down the NHL’s most potent offense.
After blowing 3-0 and 2-0 advantages at home in the previous two meetings with the Western Conference-leading Dallas Stars, the Wild reached the season’s halfway point Saturday night by hanging on to beat the NHL’s best home team 2-1 at American Airlines Center.
“It’s not an easy task to come in here and hold that team to one goal and to no 5-on-5 goals, so credit to everybody,” coach Mike Yeo said.
After a first period in which Devan Dubnyk made 11 saves and faced a barrage of 32 shot attempts, the Wild calmed down and took a 2-0 lead on second-period goals by Ryan Carter and Thomas Vanek.
Jamie Benn, the NHL’s leading goal scorer with 25, scored a 6-on-4 power-play goal with 3:13 left, but Dubnyk robbed Benn twice late in the third and made 15 of his 34 saves in the final 20 minutes.
“That’s not us as a group those couple games where we allowed them back in the game,” Dubnyk said. “We’re so good at not allowing that to happen. It was great to see the guys continue to work tonight.”
The Wild, which blocked 26 shots, played six minutes in the third period without top-pair defenseman Jared Spurgeon. Tyler Seguin took a baseball swing at a puck in midair and instead nailed Spurgeon on the chin. No penalty was called despite Spurgeon bleeding. He brushed it off afterward, saying, “Just a couple stitches.”
Yeo wanted a five-minute major. The refs told the Wild they didn’t know whose stick hit Spurgeon.
“I said, ‘Why would our sticks be swinging toward our net?’ ” said Dubnyk, adding he felt it was a well-officiated game.
He had reason to feel that way. In the first period, John Klingberg’s goal was erased when Yeo won his second of five replay challenges this season. Yeo challenged that Antoine Roussel interfered with Dubnyk.
After reviewing the goal, referee Garrett Rank determined Dubnyk “could not play his position.” There barely was contact, but Roussel was standing in the crease. Dubnyk said Roussel skated into his stick and blocker. “I was not going to be happy. They got the call right. My arm doesn’t even move toward the puck because it can’t. He’s got both feet in the blue.”
Mike Reilly was able to take a big sigh of relief, because on his second NHL shift, it was his turnover that led to Klingberg’s goal.
“I settled in and felt more comfortable and got the nerves out a little bit,” Reilly said.
The Wild looked like a different team to start the second period. It got great shifts by the Mikko Koivu and Mikael Granlund lines, and 3:34 in, Carter scored after a gritty shift with fellow fourth-liners Jarret Stoll and Erik Haula.
Later, Charlie Coyle knocked down Cody Eakin’s outlet pass. Vanek, trailing the play, picked up the puck between the circles for a short breakaway. He made about three dekes before beating Antti Niemi for his 13th goal.
The Wild has 52 points in 41 games. That is two points better than the 2002-03 team — which went to the Western Conference finals — for best first half in team history (there were no shootout points back then, though).
“I don’t think that there’s a team in the league right now that feels that they’re playoff ready or feels completely comfortable necessarily with even the spot that they’re in,” Yeo said. “I would say for the most part our game’s been pretty consistent, we’ve been building that consistency and working on setting ourselves up for a pretty decent second half.”