DALLAS - Perhaps all the Dallas Stars needed was a reminder of how good they could be.
In their first meeting with the Detroit Red Wings since they were eliminated in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals last spring, goaltender Marty Turco made 37 saves to lead the Stars to a 3-1 victory over the defending Stanley Cup champions Friday night at the American Airlines Center.
Facing their playoff rivals seemed to bring out the best in Turco, as well as the team in front of him. Turco, who has struggled at times this season and has uncharacteristically ranked at or near the bottom of the NHL’s goaltending rankings all season, looked very much like his old self as he made outstanding save after outstanding save, particularly in the third period as the Red Wings outshot Dallas 14-3 but couldn’t put one home.
“We certainly think about it, recalling what happened last year in the playoffs, the team that beats you out, that’s right there in the front of your mind,” admitted Turco, who made his 17th consecutive start. “But as long as we’ve had this game circled on the calendar, almost every game is circled because of the position in the standings, the way things are going for us.”
Even with the win, the Stars are still stuck in last place in the West with a 11-13-4 record, although they are also just five points out of the final playoff spot. Dallas is now 4-2-0 in their six while snapping Detroit’s four-game winning streak.
Offensively, Tom Wandell scored his first NHL goal in his second game while rookie Fabian Brunnstrom notched his ninth of the season. Mike Ribeiro clinched the contest with a late empty-netter while also adding an assist.
“For those two guys to get goals, it’s great for them, to add to their confidence and establish their right to be here and the right for them to be on the ice and we’re going to need that,” Turco said of Wandell and Brunnstrom. “We don’t know who our heroes are going to be, whether it’s goals, plays, hits or doing the simple things, but it’s got to be somebody and it has to be every night for us to have any chance at success.”
Also impressive was the defensive effort, especially since Dallas played without defenseman Stephane Robidas, who joined the growing injury list after undergoing surgery Thursday on his broken jaw. Robidas is expected to be sidelined for about a week.
“We competed hard, had excellent goaltending and we played well as a group,” Stars coach Dave Tippett said. “We defended really well and Marty was so solid. Our D blocked a lot of shots, made smart plays in our end and really did well tonight. It was a good, solid team effort and it builds a belief system that it doesn’t matter who we are playing, we can find a way to win.”
The Red Wings jumped on the scoreboard early, connecting just 20 seconds after the Stars killed off a penalty. Jiri Hudler held the puck along the left sideboards before feeding a pretty cross-ice pass to Brett Lebda cutting through the right face-off circle, and his one-timer just beat Turco, going off his glove and in at 6:05 of the first period.
The Stars responded with some solid pressure, generating several scoring chances on a subsequent power play, but were unable to get one past Detroit goalie Ty Conklin.
On another power play with 1:31 left in the period, rookie James Neal fished out a loose puck in front and fired a wrister on net, but Conklin made the save, just as Detroit’s Dan Cleary cross-checked Neal from behind, earning another penalty. That gave the Stars a 5-on-3 advantage for a full 1:47, but were unable to capitalize.
Their best chance came with 44.3 seconds left in the first, as Brad Richards fed a slick cross-crease pass from the left corner to Mike Ribeiro at the right side of the crease, but Ribeiro didn’t get much on his one-timer attempt and Conklin smothered it.
The Stars later seized control of the game with two goals within 1:40 early in the second period. First, Wandell notched his big goal at 5:47 when he and Landon Wilson stripped the Detroit defense of the puck in the left face-off circle and Wandell cut into the slot with it, whipping a quick backhander that seemed to surprise Conklin just inside the far post.
“It was a loose puck and I did a couple of moves there and took a shot and it went in,” said Wandell, who was recalled from Sweden last week. “It was a lot of fun tonight. I can’t really describe the feeling right now. I have to wake up first.”
With the momentum clearly on their side now, the Stars buzzed the Detroit zone and Brunnstrom connected at 7:27. Ribeiro carried deep into the left circle and then dished a pass back to Brunnstrom, who was the trailer into the zone. Brunnstrom carried into the high slot and then rifled a quick wrist shot that beat Conklin between the pads to give the Stars a 2-1 lead.
“I got a great pass from Ribeiro and I faked the shot first and shot it right away,” Brunnstrom said. “It was a great pass and it was fun to score. It was good luck.”
Detroit missed a prime chance to tie it just a minute and a half later when Valtteri Filppula beat Turco with a sharp angle backhander from the right side of the crease, but the puck clanged off the far goal post and dribbled into the crease behind him before it was cleared out.
As the Red Wings peppered the Stars’ net with shots, outshooting Dallas 13-1 over the first 15 minutes of the third period, Turco stood tall with some big saves and maintained the one-goal lead.
“I felt great,” Turco said. “A team that shoots the puck as often as they do, you’ve got to be on your toes at all times. It can make it a little bit easier out there, but all things considered, to say we got this one certainly does feel good.”
He made back-to-back point-blank stops on Hudler with 11:22 remaining and then came up with a huge pad save on Henrik Zetterberg’s one-timer from the high slot with 9:58 to go and another impressive save on Cleary’s in-close backhander with 9:44 left.
Detroit continued to press, and came extremely close to getting the equalizer with 7:07 on the clock as Johan Franzen stick-handled his way into the zone, working his way in front before making a lethal backhander that beat Turco over the glove but rang off the near-side post.
The Red Wings then pulled Conklin for an extra attacker with 1:09 remaining, but Dallas re-gained possession shortly afterwards and Ribeiro slid the puck into the empty net with 1:00 on the clock to ice it.
“It’s probably a good tape to hold on to and recognize what we did,” said Mike Modano. “Our situation is what it is with the injuries and guys missing and calling guys up. It’s a basic game plan, it’s real simple, but it’s a great game to build on. It’s a good confidence for us to start.”
The Stars immediately travel on to Nashville to face the Predators on Saturday (7 pm, FSN) to complete a three-games-in-four-nights set before coming right back for two more home games next week. Nashville currently occupies the eighth and final playoff spot in the West, x points ahead of the Stars, so there’s no question it’s an important contest.
“It was a great game and as big as it was, tomorrow’s just as big and we got to get re-focused again and another tough one,” Turco said.
- Winger Landon Wilson ended up with two assists after picking one up on Ribeiro’s empty-netter. He had gone six games without a point.
- Ribeiro snapped a four-game pointless streak. He led the Stars with four shots on goal.
- With his assist on Brunnstrom’s goal, Darryl Sydor now has three assists in the last four games after registering just one in his first seven games with the Stars since rejoining the club last month. Sydor also led the club with seven blocked shots.
- Center Toby Petersen had his career-high five-game scoring streak snapped.
- Rookie winger James Neal led all skaters in the game with a whopping nine hits.
- With Robidas out of the lineup, defender Doug Janik got back in after sitting out the previous contest. He blocked one shot in 12:27 of ice time.
- The Stars’ penalty killing unit, which entered the day ranked 28th (75.9 percent) blanked the owners of the league’s best power play (33-for-114, 28.9 percent coming in) on three man-advantage opportunities.
- Meanwhile, the Stars’ power play was 0-for-3, leaving the PP unit a struggling 3-for-47 over the last 10 games.