Stars 1, Wild 0
No Marty Turco, no problem for the red-hot Dallas Stars. With Turco back in Texas nursing a sore neck, backup Mike Smith didn't miss a beat -- or a shot.
Making his first start in over two weeks, Smith made 25 saves to record his second shutout this season, and fifth of his career, and Niklas Hagman scored the lone goal of the game in the Stars' methodical 1-0 win over the Minnesota Wild at the Xcel Energy Center on Thursday night.
The victory, Dallas' fifth straight, pushed the Stars lead in the Pacific Division to six points over both San Jose and Anaheim. The Sharks have five games in hand over the Stars, while the Ducks defeated the New York Rangers on Thursday to pull into a second-place tie.
It's no secret the Stars have been riding the sensational play of Turco during their recent winning stretch that has seen them now capture eight of their last 10 games. That didn't change when Dallas plugged in Smith, whose last appearance came in a loss on Jan. 22 to Columbus.
Smith understandably looked a bit rusty during the game's first few minutes, but soon overcame the sluggishness to give one of his better performances this season.
"The main thing is that I just wanted to come in here and give the team a chance," he said. "Marty has played so well over the past four games, and I wanted to do the same thing to stabilize the team."
That he did, as Smith and Minnesota goalie Niklas Backstrom went save-for-save for the better part of two periods before Hagman broke through with his seventh winner of the year three minutes into the third period.
Though he didn't get an assist on Hagman's goal, Smith should have. Seconds before Hagman cut in from the left circle and around Backstrom to deposit the puck into the net, Smith made a scintillating save on Minnesota's leading scorer Marian Gaborik.
Driving to the net up the slot, Gaborik's re-direct was marvelously rejected by a sliding and splitting Smith, who kicked the puck away with a lightning-quick right pad save.
"That was a big back breaker for them," center Mike Modano said. "It was a big stop by Smitty, and Hagman made a nice play."
"I don't do the splits too much, but that one called for it," Smith said.
Hagman, for one, was happy Smith went out of his element on the play.
"It started with a great save," he said. "The puck was placed right on my tape. I just decided to go to the backhand, and I was fortunate that he bit on the first move."
It was Hagman's 20th goal of the season, extending his career-high.
"Scoring 20 is nice, and I'm proud of that, but I'm more proud of how we are playing as a team," he said. "I've had some success this year and it feels good."
Backstrom finished with 25 saves as well for the Wild, who have lost two straight after putting together a three-game winning streak.
"Smitty gave us a chance to win," Modano said. "They are real good and you have to be patient and play well as a team."
The same can be said about the surging Stars.
"It's been huge," Modano said about Dallas' recent streak. "They've been tight games but we've been playing well."
Backstrom, as well as the Wild penalty killers, frustrated the Stars in the second period. Dallas was given a four-minute power play with six minutes remaining after Matt Foy high-sticked defenseman Mattias Norstrom. But the Stars were unable to take advantage of the elongated advantage, and were also kept at bay on another power-play opportunity earlier in the period.
Following that double-minor kill, Smith foiled Gaborik's breakaway with just under two minutes to go in the second when he aggressively poke-checked the puck away from Minnesota's dynamic winger.
"I thought both teams had good goaltending," coach Dave Tippett said. "It was one of those games that you knew was going to be decided by one goal. Smitty has some street smarts and knew how much we needed him in this one, despite him not playing that much because of Marty's run. He jumped in there and did a great job."
Both teams had several good chances in a scoreless first period, with Smith's best save coming on Minnesota forward Todd Fedoruk's opportunity from in close. He then denied Brent Burns' slap shot from the slot just seconds later.
But Backstrom was Smith's equal, especially when he made saves on Nicklas Grossman
's breakaway with 12 minutes left in the first, and Hagman's partial breakaway attempt a couple of minutes later.
Dallas also was unable to connect on a two-man advantage for 67 seconds late in the opening period, with Backstrom making a big pad save at the top of the crease on Brenden Morrow
's re-direct of Mike Ribeiro
"The confidence in the room is high right now, and we need to keep that rolling," Smith said. "This was a huge win."
The Stars return home and will host the St. Louis Blues at American Airlines Center on Saturday night (7 FSN). Dallas has split the two meetings between the two teams this season.
The Blues have lost two straight, including Tuesday's 5-4 defeat against visiting Tampa Bay.
--The Wild honored Modano in a pregame ceremony for his contributions to hockey in the United States. Modano was Minnesota's No. 1 pick -- and No. 1 overall -- in 1988, and played for the North Stars from 1989-1993 before the franchise moved to Dallas. Phil Housley, who Modano passed as the top U.S. scorer earlier this season, was included in the ceremony. Housley is a St. Paul native.
Modano was presented with a painting that displayed the North Stars playing the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 1991 Stanley Cup Finals An in-arena auction, which included a Modano-signed North Stars jersey, was also held, with proceeds going to the Mike Modano Foundation. "It was great," Modano said. "It was nice to hear the fans. I appreciate them. My first few years here were great and I will never forget them."
--Dallas placed defenseman Sergei Zubov on injured reserve earlier in the day because of the nagging groin injury that has forced him to miss nine games.
--Smith's backup was Tobias Stephan, who was recalled from AHL Iowa earlier in the day.
--Krys Barch got into a scrap in the first period with Minnesota forward Aaron Voros. Voros picked up an additional 10-minute misconduct for instigating.
--The Stars are 9-2-1 over the past 12 games against the Wild, and snapped a two-game losing streak at Minnesota.
--Dallas won three of the four games against Minnesota this season.
--The Stars have won five straight on the road. The last time they produced such a stretch was late in 2005. The franchise record is seven straight. "Road wins are big, especially this time of the season," Hagman said. "Points are special at home or on the road. We've played well lately and we just want to keep it going."
--Dallas killed off both Minnesota power plays, and it's now killed off 24 of the past 25 opponent man-advantage opportunities.
--Ribeiro and Morrow both had their four-game point streak snapped.
|Three star selections