Thursday, September 15, 2011

Minnesota vs. Dallas: 5th Place Game at the 2011 NHL Prospects Tournament


Despite a reasonably strong effort in trying to defend last year's tournament title, the Minnesota Wild finished round-robin play at the 2011 NHL Prospects Tournament 1-2-0 (good for 3rd in the Howe Division), and were slated to face-off against the Dallas Stars, who matched Minnesota's 1-2-0 for 3rd place in the Gretzky Division.  The two Western Conference foes faced off for 5th place in this year's tournament.  The Wild would do so without a pair of first-round draft picks, center Zack Phillips (2011) and defenseman Tyler Cuma (2008), who were scratches for the contest (no word on if either scratch was due to injury).

The game started at a fast pace and quickly took on a physical turn, as Minnesota's Carter Sandlak apparently had a bulls-eye on his jersey only Dallas skaters could see.  Stars' blueliner Jace Coyle collided hard into Sandlak early on, and later in the frame Cole Grbavac took aim with a flying open ice hit on Sandlak with the Wild on the attack.  The period would lack many quality offensive chances, which seemed to force Dallas' defensemen into the offensive attack.  Brendan Dillon frequently pinched deep into the Minnesota zone, but showed quick hustle to get back into position when the Wild pushed the puck up the ice.  Jamie Oleksiak led the charge for the Stars on a few rushes, skating smoothly and fluidly through traffic.  Matt Fraser - after looking dazed last game thanks to an elbow to the head by St. Louis' Stefan Della Rovere - showed little fear and hesitation in charging the net.  But Fraser would be knocked to the ice in the neutral zone after moving the puck forward with his head down. 

Despite the offensive pressure Dallas would mount, many of the Stars' shots missed the mark, sailing wide of Wild goalie Darcy Kuemper.  Kuemper also showed quality stick work in poke-checking the puck away for Dallas attackers trying to circle the net.  Minnesota gained a slight edge in shots for the first frame at 11-10, but both teams went into the lockerrooms in a scoreless tie after 20 minutes.

The toll of yesterday's 6-1 loss seemed to show for Dallas in the second period.  Dallas missed a golden chance when a rare defensive breakdown by the Wild allowed a 4-on-1 Stars' rush, only to end in Fraser missing the net badly.  Minnesota took advantage of Dallas' fatigue - as well as the Stars' short bench, since Dallas' coach seemed to be rolling only three lines at this time.  Joey Martin's aggressive fore-checking paid off with just under 11 minutes to go in the second when he chipped the puck past Dallas' Jack Campbell for the game's first goal. 

Minnesota then proceeded to keep the puck in the Dallas end for most of the period, eventually outshooting the Stars 21-7 in the period.  A scrum for the puck in front of Campbell was eventually knocked in by the Wild's Taylor Peters with 3:05 to play in the second.  Dylan Willick floated down the left wing to beat Campbell short-side nearly two minutes later to increase the lead to 3-0 in favor of the Wild.  Though Campbell worked hard to see the puck, he was often leaving a bit of daylight along the posts and was flopping around in the crease frequently, evoking memories of Dominik Hasek.  Campbell was fortunate on one 2-on-1 rush where he was beaten by the initial shot, but the puck scooted along the crease and into the corner.

Dallas went into desperation mode in the third, continuing to fire rubber towards Kuemper - but not at him, still firing wide on many occasions.  Oleksiak had a great chance on a shorthanded rush but hesitated to shoot with Kuemper closing off any daylight, skirting across the crease from left-to-right.  Matt Tassone scooped up the puck on a nifty neutral zone steal, but fired wide on Kuemper on the ensuing breakaway.

Sandlak went top shelf on Campbell's glove side with about 8 1/2 to play to give the Wild a 4-0 advantage.  Kuemper was bracing for a shutout, but Matt Carter scored off Nick Layton's face-off win deep in the Minnesota end with 34 seconds left to spoil the goose egg.  Kuemper still finished with 30 saves in a winning effort, while Campbell stopped 36 of 40 Wild shots.

FINAL SCORE:  Minnesota 4, Dallas 1

In the 7th place game, the host Detroit Red Wings finished the tournament strong with a 4-1 over the Carolina Hurricanes.  The Hurricanes avoided a blanking at the hands of Red Wing goalie Petr Mrazek when Ryan Murphy went top shelf on an end-to-end rush with 4:19 to play.

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