DALLAS – Injuries to Zach Parise, Thomas Vanek and Erik Haula, five consecutive losses to enter the postseason and the fewest points of any playoff participant during an 82-game season in the shootout era meant pundits wrote the Wild off before its series against the Dallas Stars even started.
The Wild was well aware and didn’t like it.
Wild players said early Thursday they’d use the underdog card as motivation. Hours later, though, the undermanned team that skidded into the playoffs looked like it didn’t belong on the same ice with the Stars during a 4-0 Game 1 loss at American Airlines Center.
“Turnovers,” right wing Charlie Coyle said. “Three out of the four goals, we had the puck and gave it to them in transition. That’s giving them an easy game.”
The Wild defended hard, but it defended a lot because it barely posed a threat offensively as players, yet again, refused to commit to getting pucks deep.
The Wild took three first-period penalties and six for the game. It had no shots in the first 11 minutes, 21 seconds, registered two first-period shots (a franchise playoff low for a period) and ultimately wasted Devan Dubnyk’s attempt to steal a game.
Despite the Wild being outshot 14-2 in the first period and generating zero scoring chances, Dubnyk kept the game scoreless until the Wild got careless in the second.
Veteran Jarret Stoll was stripped of a puck at center ice by old Oilers teammate Ales Hemsky en route to Radek Faksa scoring his first playoff goal in his playoff debut.
Dubnyk saved Coyle’s bacon by ruining Hemsky’s breakaway with one heck of a poke check after Coyle’s turnover, but Jason Spezza scored a terrific goal to make it 2-0.
Nino Niederreiter couldn’t stick-check a player off the puck, then defenseman Marco Scandella’s weak attempt at a stick check led to Matt Dumba and Scandella crossing sides on the back check. Dumba, a minus-3 in the game, gave Spezza all sorts of room, and the talented center scored a beauty by faking a shot, then roofing the puck over a stunned Dubnyk.
“We can’t get into that game with them. We know that,” Dubnyk said. “We cannot get into that odd-man-rush game with them. That’s what we did in the second period, and that’s what cost us.”
Coach John Torchetti typically wants 70 shot attempts a game. The Wild finished with 46.
The Wild has scored six goals in the past six games, and Thursday, the top line of Jason Zucker, Mikko Koivu and Coyle finished with two total shots. Torchetti indicated they’d be broken up in Saturday’s Game 2.
“Got to get more from everybody. Our best forward was [checker Chris] Porter tonight,” Torchetti said.
What’s daunting is envisioning how the Wild will manage to generate offense against the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed.
The Wild made Kari Lehtonen’s presence in the Stars’ net feel like a rumor. He was barely tested during the 22-save shutout. The Wild’s power play was its usual ghastly self, going 0-for-2 with no shots on goal.
As suspect as the Stars allegedly are defensively, coach Lindy Ruff has loved their play away from the puck lately. And the Wild is playing without two of its top scorers in Parise and Vanek and maybe its best player the past three months in Haula and is getting squat recently from Coyle, Zucker and Jason Pominville.
“The guys that are out are offensive guys, but we’ve all got to step up and create offense any way we can,” Stoll said.
Oh, and guess what, superstar center Tyler Seguin might return Saturday in Game 2.
The winner of Game 1 of a best-of-seven Stanley Cup playoffs series holds an all-time series record of 437-200 (68.6 percent).
The Wild has a lot of work to do.
“We’ll make adjustments and be better,” Pominville said.