Minnesota would've entered the playoffs as a huge underdog against top-seeded Dallas even if Zach Parise and Thomas Vanek were healthy. The absence of two of its best forwards only enhanced that notion.
The fact that the Wild have a chance to push this series the distance with a home victory over the Stars in Game 6 on Sunday might be shocking to outsiders, but they've gotten enough contributions from elsewhere to make it possible.
The most notable has been from Mikko Koivu. The 33-year-old Wild captain had one point through the series' first four games before tying Game 5 with 3:09 remaining in regulation and winning it 5-4 in overtime with a redirection of Ryan Suter's shot.
"When you lose top players, other guys have to step up," Suter said. "And Mikko has stepped up."
Parise's upper-body injury and Vanek's lower-body ailment likely will keep them out no matter if Minnesota is able to force Game 7 on Tuesday in Dallas, but Koivu believes there's enough to keep rolling.
The Wild jumped out to a 2-0 lead in Game 5, withstood the pressure after Jamie Benn, Jason Spezza and Alex Goligoski scored in the third to put the Stars ahead and keep their composure to win it in the extra session. They were routed 4-0 in Game 1, but their other two defeats in the series have come by one goal and they've scored five in each win.
And they did so Friday without having a single power play, the first time that's happened in Wild playoff history.
"It's more important in the bigger picture how you play individually and as a team," Koivu said. "We're doing a lot of good things. We've been playing better as the series goes on here, and that's a good sign. We still have steps to go, and we want to improve our team."
Dallas isn't exactly panicking after missing an opportunity to advance to the Western Conference semifinals for the time since 2008. It outshot Minnesota 41-24 and battled back against the desperate Wild.
''It's just a tough one to lose," Benn said. "You score four, you should probably win the hockey game. But it's just one of those games where it was back and forth. And I think we can clean it up a bit in the defensive zone.''
It's not as if the Stars felt Minnesota would go away quietly. The Wild have advanced past the first round each of the last two years and have come back to at least tie three of their last four series despite losing either one or both of the first two games.
But after dropping Game 5, Dallas coach Lindy Ruff might be inclined to make another change in net. Kari Lehtonen stopped 47 of 48 shots in Games 1 and 2, then gave way to Antti Niemi after losing 5-3 in Game 3.
Niemi made 28 saves in Game 4 before having a tough time Friday.
"It's a seven-game series, and there are a lot of momentum swings," Spezza said. "We have to be happy where we are and disappointed that we lost the game. We have a chance to close it out again next game. We're in a good position. Get some rest and we'll be ready to go."
The Wild are hoping Devan Dubnyk has a better performance in goal. He has just a .892 save percentage in the series despite facing fewer than 30 shots three times.
''We felt confident, we thought we were going to come out and play a good game (Friday). Games 2, 3, 4 and 5, I've liked,'' interim coach John Torchetti said. ''Now we got to go home and try and find a way to get back to Dallas.''