DETROIT – A strong road performance wasn’t quite enough for the Dallas Stars to overcome the destiny of the NHL’s best team.
Following a disappointing effort in their last game, a 4-2 loss at home to Los Angeles, the Stars were back to their pesky selves in this one, but on a night when the entire hockey world was watching, it was the league-leading Detroit Red Wings who emerged with a 3-1 victory Tuesday night at the Joe Louis Arena.
The win was Detroit’s 21st in a row on home ice, surpassing the standard set by the 1929-30 Bruins and 1975-76 Flyers to establish a new NHL record. The high-flying Red Wings sit atop the entire NHL standings and are now a stellar 13-2-1 in their last 16 contests overall.
As for the Stars, the loss still stings because even though they played well and generated numerous scoring chances that came agonizingly close to going in, coach Glen Gulutzan has stated that there are no moral victories at this time of year. They desperately needed the two points to keep pace in the ultra-competitive Western Conference playoff race, but are now 0-2-1 in their last three and 1-3-1 in their last five.
Stuck at 59 points in the standings, Dallas remains 11th in the West, four points back of Phoenix for the eighth and final playoff spot.
“We stayed to our game, we didn’t allow them a lot of turnovers, I thought our gaps were better, we didn’t give them the line too much,” Gulutzan said, listing some of the positives from the game. “Those are little steps, but at the end of the day, we need results. You take what you can and you got to move forward.”
Detroit seized control early with two goals within a 1:18 span just before the midway point of the first period and the Stars were forced to battle from behind the rest of the way. The Red Wings made it 3-0 late in the third before Adam Burish broke the shutout with just 33 seconds remaining.
“They got the two goals in the first, and we have to be better in the beginning of the games,” noted winger Loui Eriksson, who earned an assist. “They’re a really good team and they’ve been playing really well at home, so if we had a better start...”
“Playing against this team, they’re so good, to have to chase the game against them being down 2-0 early, it just makes it difficult for yourself,” added Burish, who scored for the first time since Jan. 5, a span of 16 games. “I thought our compete level was good, I thought we made an effort not to turn pucks over, so you can see guys working at that - working at getting pucks deep, not trying to turn pucks over, not trying to do too much. But the tough thing is, when you get down 2-0 against a team that is that good, you kind of start pressing a little bit. That’s a darn good team over there. I think you have to give them credit.”
Making his sixth straight start in net, Kari Lehtonen delivered an outstanding performance, making 34 saves, including several big ones during five Detroit power plays, to keep Dallas within striking distance most of the night.
As for Detroit setting the new home winning streak record, the Stars players acknowledged just how impressive an accomplishment that is.
“It’s just incredible,” said Eriksson. “I think everyone knows they’re a really good team, they’ve been playing good all season, especially at home.”
“I think that’s harder than it was back in the ‘70s, just because of the parity in the league,” said Burish. “There are no nights where you just show up and you think, ‘Oh, this one we could just cruise through,’ it doesn’t happen any more. So to win 20 in a row, it’s just freakish. Sometimes you just got to tip your cap, that’s pretty darn good, but I’d have liked to be the team to snap it, I’ll tell you that.”
Dallas had killed off the first eight Detroit power plays through the first three meetings of the season series, but number nine resulted in a goal when Henrik Zetterberg notched his 12th 7:57 into the opening period. Just 33 seconds after Jamie Benn entered the penalty box for goaltender interference, Zetterberg came out of the left corner, attempting a pass into the crease that Mark Fistric blocked, but the puck bounced right back to Zetterberg, who managed to bank it between Lehtonen’s skate and the left post.
The Wings needed just 1:18 more to make it 2-0 when Brad Stuart found the back of the net at 9:15. After Benn lost a defensive zone face-off to Darren Helm, the puck went back to Stuart from the right point and his harmless-appearing wrist shot found its way through a screen in front past Lehtonen.
“The first 10 minutes certainly was our focus with the emphasis on their game tonight,” said Gulutzan. “And to take that penalty early - and it wasn’t a disciplined penalty, we fell on top of the goalie, which is a penalty, and we needed a kill there and we didn’t get it. A seeing-eye single off the draw got them amped up, I thought we reacted pretty good, but we just couldn’t get one to go in. I thought we had some chances, we just couldn’t put enough pressure to get something buy him, and that was the game.”
Surging with the momentum, Detroit nearly got another one less than a minute later when Ian White sauntered into the slot on the rush and fired a high wrist shot that Lehtonen blocked with his glove at 10:10. Lehtonen then had to make an even better pad stop on White’s rebound chance.
Lehtonen was forced to come up with another big save when Nicklas Lidstrom’s shot/pass from the left point was re-directed from the left circle by Todd Bertuzzi into Lehtonen’s shoulder/neck area at 17:57.
Overall through the first period, the Red Wings outshot the Stars 20-10 and entered the second leading 2-0.
The Stars had a glorious opportunity to get one back just 30 seconds into the second when Benn raced into the Detroit zone on a 2-on-1 rush. After opting not to pass over to Steve Ott, Benn unleashed a scorching wrist shot from the right circle that whizzed just over the crossbar.
Controlling play for the early part of the period, the Stars generated several more big chances, coming oh-so-close at 6:05 when Stephane Robidas’ slap shot from the right point was deflected in the slot by Eric Nystrom, pinging off the elbow where the post meets crossbar.
Another prime chance for Dallas at 7:46, initiated when Benn stripped Niklas Kronwall of the puck behind the Detroit net and fed Ott out front, was denied when Ott’s point-blank wrist shot went off the shoulder of Wings goaltender Joey MacDonald and just past the right post.
The Red Wings began to push back again not long after that, but Lehtonen came up with a huge pad save at 10:31 when Jiri Hudler swooped in on a breakaway and made a deke to his forehand.
Dallas then bent when back-to-back penalties by Ott resulted in almost four minutes of sustained Detroit pressure, but expert PK work and a strong net presence by Lehtonen, particularly with his save on Hudler’s one-timer from the slot at 12:35 prevented the Wings from adding to their lead.
That helped swing the momentum back in the Stars’ favor, and they came gut-wrenchingly close to getting one with the clubs skating 4-on-4 with 55 seconds left in the period. Racing into the Detroit zone on a 2-on-1 rush, Mike Ribeiro carried into the left circle, and using Eriksson as a decoy, cut into the middle past Lidstrom. MacDonald stopped his initial wrist shot, but the rebound came back to Ribeiro and he chipped it off the right post.
The Stars played a solid final period, controlling the puck in Detroit’s zone for much of the first 10 minutes, but had a tough time getting any shots off. Perhaps their best chance of the period came at 10:05, when Ott fed a nice cross-ice pass to Benn off to the right of the crease, but MacDonald got just enough of his point-blank wrist shot to send it just wide of the right post.
“I thought we had some really good chances out there,” Eriksson said. “Ribeiro hit the post and some other guys had some really good chances. We didn’t have as many shots as we wanted but we have to keep working at it.”
Hudler put the exclamation point on the game for Detroit when he notched his fourth goal of the season series and 18th of the year with 4:49 remaining in regulation. On a 3-on-2 rush into the Dallas zone, Valtteri Filppula drew both defensemen to him before feeding Hudler breaking down the slot, and his wrist shot beat Lehtonen over the blocker.
Ribiero was sent off with a 10-minute misconduct after that because the officials apparently believed he shot the puck at them after he dug it out of his own net.
“He shot the puck down there, not at them,” Gulutzan said. “No reaction. It shouldn’t have been a penalty.”
A late Dallas power play led to more pressure down the stretch, and Burish ended up snapping MacDonald’s shutout just four seconds after the teams got back to even strength, registering his fifth goal of the season with just 33 seconds remaining in regulation. Michael Ryder set up the play with a delayed shot/pass from the top of the left circle, finding a wide open Burish just to the right of the crease for an easy tap-in.
The Stars’ crazy roller coaster of a schedule continues with a quick jaunt back to Dallas to face Calgary Thursday night at the American Airlines Center (7:30 pm start, FSSW). It will be the club’s sixth of 11 straight contests that occur in a different city than the one before it, a stretch in which they’re currently 1-3-1. This is another crucial one for the standings because the Flames (remember, the ‘F’ is silent) beat Toronto 5-1 Tuesday night and currently sit ninth in the West with 62 points, three ahead of Dallas and one back of eighth-place Phoenix.
“You have to learn something every time,” Gulutzan said. “And even tonight’s game, we have to continue to put pucks on net in any way, tipped in there, any way we can, we got to put them there. We sometimes look for the pretty play, but there are some positives there for us moving forward to Calgary.”
- Burish’s goal snapped a 10-game point drought. He also fired two shots on goal and went 5-1 on face-offs for the evening.
- Eriksson’s assist extends his modest scoring streak to three games, during which he’s totaled four points (one goal, three assists), following a five-game pointless streak. He also now owns a 10-game scoring streak against the Red Wings, having registered 14 points (seven goals, seven assists) in his last 10 games against them.
- With his assist on Burish’s goal, Ryder now has four points (three goals, one assist) in the last five outings.
- Ribeiro led the squad with four shots on goal.
- The Stars completed the season series with Detroit sweeping them (0-3-1) for the first time since 2003-04.
- Dallas has now lost six straight games on Valentines Day dating back to 2001.
- After going 0-for-2 on the power play, Dallas is now just 1-for-16 over their last five games with the man-advantage.
- The Stars’ penalty killing unit was 4-for-5, surrendering a power play goal for the fourth straight game. The PK unit is just 7-for-12 in those contests.
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