Wild finish disappointing season with win
By Dave Campbell, AP Sports Writer
ST. PAUL -- Antti Miettinen's goal early in the third period against his former team gave Minnesota the lead and kept Dallas out of the playoffs, with a 5-3 season-ending win by the Wild over the Stars on Sunday.
When Chicago lost at home to Detroit earlier in the day, Dallas had a chance to grab the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference field that looked like a long shot just a week and a half ago. The Stars had won their last four games and were in position to catch the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks and win the head-to-head tiebreaker.
But Minnesota played with plenty of pride, scoring first on a rare goal by enforcer Brad Staubitz and last on an empty-netter by Pierre-Marc Bouchard after the Stars pulled goalie Kari Lehtonen with 1:21 left.
With the Wild fans on their feet, finally finding a reason to cheer in another frustrating season for the local team, the buzzer sounded while Loui Eriksson, Steve Ott, Jamie Benn and Mike Ribeiro stayed seated on the bench with their heads down for a moment before slowly leaving the area.
Eriksson had three assists, and Brad Richards, Brendan Morrow and Alex Goligoski scored for the Stars, who led 2-1 after the first period. They weren't sharp with the puck for much of the game, though, and Lehtonen -- starting his 23rd straight game -- gave up four goals on 22 shots.
With almost every player on the Stars bench standing, the pace of the game was intense down the stretch until the Wild went into a defensive shell for the last few minutes, surely pleasing the Blackhawks while they watched on television a few hundred miles east.
Jared Spurgeon and Colton Gillies also scored for the Wild, who missed the postseason for a third straight time, the longest streak in their 10-year existence.
The Blackhawks couldn't have been happy at seeing the scratch list for the Wild, with leading scorer Martin Havlat (upper body), reliable veteran John Madden (lower body) and steady defenseman Nick Schultz (concussion) among the injured, and regular goalie Niklas Backstrom getting a rest.
Instead, there were minor league callups sprinkled through the lineup, but young guys like Spurgeon and Gillies came through with experienced performances.
The Stars were all but finished after going 1-5-3 in a nine-game stretch that ended with losses at San Jose and Los Angeles last week by a combined score of 9-1. They beat Anaheim, though, to stop the slide and then found a fortunate section of the schedule with games against non-contenders Columbus, Colorado and Minnesota to close out the season.
NOTES: This was the Wild's first win over the Stars since Nov. 7, 2009. ... Spurgeon's power-play goal was the first allowed by the Stars in six games. ... The Minnesota Duluth team was honored during a break in the first period after winning the NCAA championship here the night before. The Bulldogs watched from a suite.