Four points separated the Minnesota Wild and two teams chasing them in the Central Division coming into Thursday’s action.
The Wild, who had lost two straight in overtime, weren’t in must-win mode by any means on Thursday. They’re holding down the third spot in the division and have for a while now. But the two points on the line would help them create some space between themselves and the idle St. Louis Blues (three points back, in the first wildcard) and the (also idle) Colorado Avalanche (four points behind, currently outside the playoff line).
So a 5-2 win against a division rival was just the thing the Wild needed against the Dallas Stars.
The Stars have lost nine of their past 10 games and have a snowball’s chance in hell of making the playoffs at this point.
Basically, for the Stars to make it, everyone else fighting for a playoff spot in the Western Conference has to lose and the Stars need to win their last four games.
They’re five points back with four games to play. For Dallas, it appears to be all over except for the mathematical formality.
[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]
The Stars began the game on the right foot, with Jamie Benn scoring a quick goal 2:51 into the first period for a 1-0 lead.
Instead of building off that momentum, however, they let Minnesota score late in the period to tie it shorthanded, a goal that began a series of three unanswered from the Wild.
Dumba’s power-play goal to make it 2-1 was pretty, a clean one-timer that beat Kari Lehtonen with precision. Lehtonen struggled, allowing four goals on 21 shots.
Devin Shore brought the Stars back to 3-2 on a deft little top from the slot, the type of goal that could ignite a possible comeback.
But a late power play for Minnesota turned into a late marker for Jason Zucker, who made it 4-2 on a one-timer with 11 seconds left in the second period.
Devan Dubnyk made 29 of 31 saves for the win.
Parise scored his second of the game into an empty net to seal it for the Wild.