DALLAS – Refreshed and reenergized after three days off, the Dallas Stars shrugged off a blown lead to slip past their closest competitor in the race for the Pacific Division lead.
In a revved up game with plenty of playoff implications, the Stars squandered a two-goal third-period advantage before outlasting the Phoenix Coyotes to ultimately secure a thrilling 4-3 shootout win on Tuesday night at American Airlines Center. The victory gave the Stars a one-point edge over Phoenix for the division lead, with Dallas also owning a game in hand.
“I think we did good things, but we have to find ways to keep that two-goal lead and not give those guys a chance to get back into the game,” Michael Ryder said. “We made a couple of mistakes and a couple of turnovers that ended up in our net. I think we have to get better at that part, but we came here for two points and we got that.”
The inspired Stars were spearheaded by the line of Ryder, Loui Eriksson, and Mike Ribeiro, which accounted for all three goals in regulation, as well as the lone shootout tally. Ryder scored twice, Eriksson opened the scoring just over 2 minutes into the game, and Ribeiro finished with three assists and the shootout winner in the second round for the Stars (40-28-5), who rebounded from consecutive losses to move to 11-2-1 over their last 14 contests.
“We’ve been working well lately the past while and reading off each other,” Ryder said. “We want to make sure we try to do what we can to help the team win.”
Kari Lehtonen finished with 27 saves to win his 30th game of the season, and single-handedly helped the Stars earn the bonus point with a spectacular save in overtime. With Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson staring at a gaping net from the left circle, Lehtonen slid to his right and dove feet first to stack his pads and deny Ekman-Larsson’s shot.
“(Kari’s) really good for us, and has played good all season for us,” Eriksson said. “It’s nice to see that.”
Lehtonen then stopped all three Phoenix shooters in the breakaway contest, while Ribeiro netted the winner with a nifty move by pulling the puck away from Coyotes goalie Mike Smith’s poke check attempt.
“I didn’t expect him to come out,” Ribeiro said. “I was maybe expecting a poke check. I guess he was nervous seeing what I was doing, but we shouldn’t have even been there. It should have been over way before that.”
Down 3-1, Ekman-Larsson and Ray Whitney set up the dramatics by scoring for Phoenix in the third period to force overtime. Ekman-Larsson potted a short-handed goal at 8:51 of the final frame, and Whitney tied it up with 5:02 left in regulation with a power-play goal after the Stars were called for too many men on the ice.
After a sluggish first period in which the Coyotes outshot Dallas by a 9-5 margin, the Stars took off in the second period in the most anticipated game of the season. In a charged-up atmosphere, Dallas and Phoenix combined for 66 hits, and engaged in a major fracas prompted by a flying elbow to Jamie Benn’s head by Phoenix captain Shane Doan almost 6 minutes into the second period, and just after Ryder scored to give the Stars a 2-1 lead.
Doan’s intentional elbow prompted skirmishes all over the ice. Doan and Brenden Morrow squared off, while Steve Ott and Trevor Daley were involved in wrestling matches with Raffi Torres and Rostislav Klesla that drew penalties.
Ott, Daley, Torres, and Klesla all were handed 10-minute misconducts, and when Mark Fistric had to go to the locker room for medical attention after being involved in the non-penalized part of the melee, the Stars were down to just four defensemen for nearly all of the final 14 minutes of the second.
Doan, meanwhile, should be facing a suspension for clearly targeting Benn’s head. Fistric never returned because of an upper-body injury.
“It was an emotional game, and everyone was pretty involved and into it,” Ryder said.
Following a 4-1 loss to Chicago on Friday, the Stars looked forward to getting away from game action for 72 hours. The rest did them good, as they were strong on the puck against a Coyotes team that came in having won two of their last three, including a shootout win at Edmonton on Sunday after being down by two goals that pulled them into a first-place tie with the Stars.
Lauri Korpikoski also scored, and Smith finished with 30 saves for Phoenix (36-26-12), which will play five of its final eight games at home.
“Chances that they had were chances that we created for them,” Ribeiro said. “We know what we have to do, it’s just a matter of doing it. You need to think about what you did right and wrong, clear it up, and get refocused. It’s a win.”
With the score deadlocked at a goal apiece, the Stars grabbed a 2-1 lead on Ryder’s power-play goal at 5:26 of the second period. Ryder capped a pretty passing sequence with Eriksson and Ribeiro by whipping a shot past Smith from the bottom of the left circle.
“That gave us a little momentum,” Ryder said.
Ryder then pushed Dallas’ lead to 3-1 with 5:18 to go in the second with his team-leading 32nd of the year. Off the rush, he chipped in a rebound from in tight after Smith stopped Eriksson’s attempt from just outside the crease after a slick pass from Ribeiro.
Eriksson staked the Stars to a 1-0 lead when he scored just 2:12 into the game on Dallas’ second shot of the game. Skating into the right circle, Eriksson snapped a quick shot from the faceoff dot that eluded Smith for his 26th goal of the season.
“I got some time there, and I got a pretty good shot off,” Eriksson said. “It was nice to see it go in. It’s always nice to get the lead and get the first goal. It helps the team to win.”
The Coyotes quickly answered, though, as Korpikoski scored his 16th of the year just 3:02 later. From the high slot, he ripped a one-timer in off a feed from Whitney in the right corner.
“Pretty much every game is a seventh game, that’s the way we have to look at it,” Ryder said. “For us to make sure we keep moving forward we have to cut down on those little mistakes at the end of games and not give up two-goal leads.”
The Stars continue their four-game homestand on Thursday when they host the Vancouver Canucks at American Airlines Center (7:30 p.m., FS-SW). The Canucks have dropped three of their last four following a 2-0 shutout defeat on Monday at Minnesota.
-- When Phoenix’s Martin Hanzal was whistled for a holding penalty in the second period that led to Ryder’s first goal, it was the first time the Stars had gone on the power play in almost 167 minutes. Dallas hadn’t enjoyed a man advantage since late in the second period of its win over Minnesota on March 13.
-- Ryder eclipsed his previous career-high goal total of 30 originally set in consecutive years starting in 2005-06 while with the Montreal Canadiens. It was Ryder’s fourth two-goal game of the season.
-- Dallas finished with a 3-2-1 record in the seasons series against Phoenix.
-- Coach Glen Gulutzan earned his 40th win of the season, joining Ken Hitchcock and Dave Tippett as the only coaches in franchise history to earn 40-or-more wins in their first season as head coach. He became the 38th rookie coach in NHL history to win at least 40 times in his first full season behind the bench.
-- The two teams combined for 78 penalty minutes, with each club garnering 39 minutes.
-- Lehtonen improved to 5-2-4 in 12 career games against the Coyotes.
-- Benn was shaken up in the overtime when he crashed heavily into the boards near the right corner in the Phoenix zone after absorbing a hit by Coyotes center Antoine Vermette. Benn was able to take the third shot in the shootout for Dallas.
-- The Stars moved to 21-13-3 at home.
-- Dallas will complete its homestand on Saturday against Calgary.
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