Wild-Dallas series reaches first-round climax

John Gilbert


The Minnesota Wild face one of those iconic franchise dates this Thursday at Xcel Energy Center, when they engage the Dallas Stars — the team Minnesota fans still love to hate the most — in Game 6 of their first-round Stanley Cup Playoff series.  

The series has been a showcase for all that is right with the NHL because of the league’s great parity, and, unfortunately, it also has been the showcase for what is the worst thing about the NHL, and that is the subpar level of officiating.  

Up North here, we can enjoy watching players from UMD and from Minnesota and Minnesota-grown payers who played elsewhere, proving themselves in the NHL’s pressure cooker right now. While spending most of our free time watching the great televising on TBS as a break from shoveling, although there also was a break if you went up to UMD and watched the spring football intrasquad game last Friday night.  

The Wild won their series opener in Dallas when it was outplayed much of the game but stuck with their game-plan and pulled out a dramatic double-overtime victory. In Game 2, the Wild absorbed another physical beating and came home with the series tied 1-1. In both games, Dallas skaters like Ryan Suter, Jamie Benn, and a couple of others committed an assortment of cheap shots — most notably Suter’s series of flagrant crosschecks to Wild star Krill Kaprizov, knocking him down every time the two got within stick’s reach. Not one of them was called, but Kaprizov and the Wild persevered and won.  

Game 2 got away with several late-game goals by the Stars, and I reaffirmed my projection that the Wild could beat Dallas because the Stars wouldn’t be nearly as aggressive once going on the road. Especially to St. Paul, where the most vehement fans still feel as though Dallas stole the North Stars franchise from Minnesota, generating the true hatred that may not be as realistic historically as it is to cultivate an intense rivalry. The fact that Suter, a solid star on defense for the Wild until GM Bill Guerin bought out his and Zack Parise’s contracts, has now become the primary Dallas villain led to considerable verbal abuse in Games 3 and 4 and enlivened the series.  

Sure enough the Wild put that added incentive to good use and whipped Dallas 5-1 to take a 2-1 series lead. And that’s with the team’s top two scorers, Kaprizov and Matt Boldy, failing to score through the first four games. Kaprizov has faced physical abuse every shift, being double-teamed and knocked around while still battling to get to the heart of the action. Boldy, on the other hand, worries me a lot because he simply has chosen to avoid the action and stay on the periphery. If coach Dean Evason has a fault in this series is that he continues to use Boldy in key roles on the power play, which is a key reason why the power ply has suffered.  

The Wild could have gone up 3-1 in games last Sunday, except for officiating. It wasn’t all that bad, overall, but there were two calls that changed the outcome of the game in favor of Dallas, and both came on Marcus Foligno, who has had an outstanding series making up for the absence of Joel Eriksson Ek to injury, Ryan Hartman to partial injury, and Boldy to timidity. To clarify, had Boldy scored 30 goals and played meekly, I could tolerate it, but the fact that he was the opposite, charging into congestion and making slick moves in traffic, makes this 180-degree turn of his play unacceptable.  

Foligno has been hurling himself into every confrontation, joining Ryan Reaves as defender of the team’s honor every shift. On Sunday, flew into the Stars zone on a forechecking mission just as Dallas made a defenseman-to-defenseman pass, and as the defenseman moved the puck while pivoting away from the hit didn’t prevent Foligno from finishing his check, a shoulder-first textbook blast, knocking his prey airborne before crashing to the ice. The whistle blew and Foligno was given a penalty for interference — a penalty that requires that the player hit doesn’t have the puck or hadn’t recently had it.  Sure enough, the Stars scored on that power play.  

Later, play was getting rougher, and Foligno swept across center ice intending to knock  Mason Marchment off the puck, to say nothing of off his feet. At the last instant, Marchment pulled up abruptly and Foligno flew past him, tripping over Marchment’s skates and hurtling into the boards at the Dallas bench. He got up slowly, shaken up, but he became enraged when he saw the ref calling him for tripping. Replays showed that there really was no penalty on the play. Foligno’s attempt missed its target and he got the worst of it. Again, Tyler Sequin capitalized for the second straight time on horrible calls by the refs on Foligno, and the Stars won 3-2. Jake Oettinger, a young goaltender from Lakeville South High School in the Twin Cities, made 33 saves to win the game, while Filip Gustavsson lost for the first time after two brilliant victories in goal.  

To lessen the criticism of the officials, they are the victims of clever showmanship by Dallas, where the Stars have gotten away with their nasty hits, and they also have taken flagrant dives after modest contact, but they have fooled the refs into making calls where infractions are questionable. It happened flagrantly in Game 2 in Dallas, when Jamie Benn smacked Wild defenseman Jon Merrill with a “light” crosscheck, face to face, knowing it was light enough to not be called but stiff enough to extract retaliation.

Sure enough, Merrill crosschecked Benn and Benn immediately dived to the ice as if mortally wounded. The ref called Merrill, and Benn made a remarkable recovery in time to score on the power play.   In Games 3 and 4, the Stars were less nasty and the refs were more attentive — except for the two calls against Foligno, which led to two Dallas power plays and s 3-2 victory. The 2-2 tie in games was to be broken Tuesday night in Dallas, but regardless of that outcome, Game  6 will be at Xcel Center, and it should be rocking.  

The Wild-Stars series was only one of a highly entertaining first round, particularly with the Seattle Kraken stunning defending Cup champion Colorado and proving that former North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol should be coach of the year for the incredible discipline the Kraken have shown to earn a legitimate chance for the league’s biggest upset.

Also, the Los Angeles Kings have stymied the explosive Edmonton offense, although that series might hinge on the Kings taking a 3-0 lead after one period but ultimately falling 5-4 in overtime to the Oilers. Winnipeg still seems like my choice to take out the Vegas Golden Knights, but Vegas is tough..   In the East, the Toronto-Tampa Bay series is the closest and best, with the Maple Leafs proving they might be ready to overturn a couple decades of disappointment. The Rangers appear too good for the new Jersey Devils, and Carolina has frustrated the New York Islanders so far and Boston seems to have too much firepower for the Florida {anthers. But parity is proven by the fact that there are no clear favorites and any series could go to the underdog.   

UMD football coach Curt Wiese ran his spring practices through last week, culminated by the annual Maroon-White intrasquad game. Last season, an unknown young quarterback named Kyle Walljasper got a chance to fill in at quarterback as a primary running threat, and after he earned the regular role because of injuries and his play, he’s the heir apparent to the job this fall. So Wiese kept him out and let the new prospects have a chance to prove themselves.  

It was cold and nasty Friday, with that signature harsh wind blowing, and sophomore Jacob Eggert led the offense for the Maroons to a 14-0 victory in the traditionally low-scoring battle. After Chamber Thomas ran for a short touchdown and a 7-0 lead, Eggert, whose passing set up the first TD, hit DaShaun Ames for a 24-yard gain, then went back to Ames for a 30-yard pass up the right sideline that Ames caught in stride as he reached the end zone, Wiese noted that Eggert, recruited from Mankato East, and Walljasper “both have had good springs and will probably both see a lot of action.”   ·  ·  ·