In the words of Dr. Frankenstein, “It’s alive!!!”
The too-often-lifeless team that backed into the playoffs looked as if it was well on its way to backing out of the playoffs Monday night.
Only 26 seconds into Game 3, the Dallas Stars had a lead against the Wild. That lead became two goals not long after, and suddenly, the understandably antsy crowd of 19,038 audibly groaned as restless fans began to expect an eventual 3-0 series deficit and potential season-ending first-round sweep Wednesday night.
But out of nowhere, the Wild, with injured Zach Parise watching from the press box, came back to life by rallying to end a seven-game losing streak with a 5-3 victory at Xcel Energy Center.
“We were sleeping at the start of the game, and that put us back,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said. “But whatever it takes to light a fire and get us going, that’s how we’re capable of playing from the start. This is going to give us confidence how to go about things to beat these guys.”
Chris Porter, slapping frantically on the ice to get Erik Haula’s attention, scored a momentum-turning goal in the last minute of the first period. Interim coach John Torchetti followed with some choice words during a fiery first intermission inside the locker room.
“We weren’t happy, he wasn’t happy,” veteran Jason Pominville said. “He challenged a few of us, and we had to respond, and we did.”
Torchetti said he just told the team to “give up more for each other. That’s how you win the playoffs. You have to sacrifice something.”
The Wild put forth a furious push to start the second period. Besides tons of offensive pressure, the Wild didn’t allow a shot in the first eight minutes. Haula tied the score by deflecting a Pominville pass intended for Nino Nieder- reiter, then Pominville buried Niederreiter’s rebound in the final minute of the period.
That gave the Wild its first lead in seven playoff games, ending a 399-minute, 13-second streak of being tied or trailing that dated to Game 6 of last year’s first round.
The Wild killed a penalty to start the third period, then captain Mikko Koivu, whom Torchetti told he wanted more from on the ice Monday morning, scored the eventual winner on a power play. It was Koivu’s third goal in the past 31 playoff games and led the Wild to its seventh victory in its past eight Game 3s.
“Mikko’s our leader, he’s a guy we have to count on,” Torchetti said.
Colton Sceviour scored a fluky goal late, but Pominville’s empty-netter and 19th career playoff goal delivered the Wild’s first comeback playoff victory from two goals down since Game 7 of the 2003 Western Conference semifinals at Vancouver.
“That’s probably as bad as I’ve seen us play in maybe five weeks,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. “We were just slow.”
The Wild held Dallas, the NHL’s highest-scoring team this season, to 17 shots, including 10 in the first 40 minutes.
The comeback began with Porter burying Haula’s pinpoint pass for a pretty redirection from inside the right circle. “I just gripped the stick and swung it like a golf club,” Porter said.
Added Haula: “It was a great tip. I mean, I haven’t seen a tip like that. It’s so hard to do, almost like a wrist shot.”
Niederreiter, Haula and Pominville combined for seven points, and the raucous fans, so frustrated by the Wild’s 6-11-3 home record in 2016, were along for the ride. “We fed off the crowd and everything went our way,” Niederreiter said.
Fourth-liner Zac Dalpe, playing his first home playoff game, said: “I couldn’t really hear the line calls on the bench. It was so loud.”
It was music to Torchetti’s ears, who said the Wild owed the team’s fans a great game. “They deserved that type of play, and … if they come out and support us like that, we want to give them a hard game again,” he said.