Eriksson Ek returns for Game 3 but exits on first shift
The Wild filled the holes in their lineup ahead of Game 3 in their first-round series against Dallas, but they didn't stay at full capacity for long.
Joel Eriksson Ek returned for a 19-second shift Friday night at Xcel Energy Center before leaving for the rest of the game.
This was Eriksson Ek's first action since the center was hit by an Evgeni Malkin shot on April 6 at Pittsburgh and shelved because of a lower-body injury.
Eriksson Ek, who finished third in goals on the team (23) and had the second-most assists (38) for a career-high 61 points in the regular season while being a force defensively, took part in the pregame warmups and was announced as part of the Wild's starting lineup alongside his usual linemates Matt Boldy and Marcus Johansson.
He was one of three regulars the Wild added after going 1-1 in Dallas to start the series.
Ryan Hartman suited up after missing Game 2 because of a lower-body injury.
Hartman, who scored in double overtime in the Wild's 3-2 victory in Game 1, rejoined Kirill Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello on the top line. The Wild scratched forwards Sam Steel and Oskar Sundqvist and sent Sammy Walker back to Iowa in the American Hockey League.
On defense, John Klingberg made his series debut.
Klingberg, who played eight seasons with the Stars before signing with Anaheim last summer and then getting traded to the Wild in March, was hurt in practice last Saturday and sidelined the first two games against his former team.
He slotted in next to Brock Faber on the blue line, taking the spot Jon Merrill had in Klingberg's absence.
As for their crease, the Wild tabbed Filip Gustavsson for the start after Marc-Andre Fleury was in net for the Wild's 7-3 loss in Game 2.
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Gustavsson set a franchise playoff record in Game 1 with 51 saves. A whopping 38 of those stops came in the third period and beyond, his performance and that of Dallas' Jake Oettinger (45 saves) hinting at a goaltender duel in the best-of-seven showdown.
"He's just always been so solid, so technically sound and calm," said Oettinger, who has also played against Gustavsson in international competition. "Just seems like he has a great demeanor, and he makes a lot of hard saves look easy, which is a good thing. So, he's going to be a great goalie."
Oettinger would usually go home before the Stars play in St. Paul. Thursday evening, he had a team dinner.
"It's a business trip," Oettinger said.
The former Lakeville North athlete became the first Minnesota-born goaltender to defeat a Minnesota-based team in the playoffs with his 23-save effort during Game 2 in Dallas, but Friday night wasn't his first playoff game at Xcel Energy Center.
He was there when Mikael Granlund scored in overtime during Game 3 in the first round vs. Colorado in 2014.
"Granlund got tripped and kind of dove to score that OT winner," Oettinger recalled. "That was the most vivid one I can remember. One of my best buddy's parents would always get a suite, so I would try and mooch a ticket off them and that's one that stuck out."
Mason Shaw delivered the "Let's Play Hockey" call before Game 3.
Shaw is on the mend from surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, the forward suffering the season-ending injury on April 1 at Vegas.
"He's in there every day," coach Dean Evason said. "He wants to be part of the group, which he is, and it's important. Guys like that, they give the group a lot of energy, a lot of life, and regardless of if he can get on the ice or not, his energy level is good for our hockey team."