Stephan, a 23-year-old rookie goaltender recalled from AHL Iowa on Wednesday, got the surprise start in goal for the Dallas Stars and was sensational in his NHL debut, making 38 saves, but the Chicago Blackhawks came from behind to win 2-1 in overtime.
It was a heart-breaking end to a fantastic performance. The Stars clung to a 1-0 lead late into the third period but took two penalties in the final 45 seconds of regulation and, with Chicago’s goalie on the bench for an extra attacker, surrendered the tying goal to Robert Lang with just 1.5 seconds remaining.
Then, with the ‘Hawks still on the power play, Jason Williams scored 43 seconds into overtime to win it.
It was the second consecutive game the Stars lost a third-period lead and then lost in overtime, and it leaves them at 2-2-2 six games into the 2007-08 season.
Stephan, who figured he’d just be sitting at the end of the Dallas bench when summoned from the minors four days earlier, was pressed into action after usual starter Marty Turco developed leg stiffness following Friday night’s 3-2 overtime loss to Calgary at the American Airlines Center and was held out for precautionary reasons. Backup Mike Smith remained back in Dallas with a bruised arm suffered in practice last week.
Both regular Stars netminders should be back healthy by Monday, which is almost more of a shame for Stephan, who will likely be returned to Iowa, despite playing so well. He received very little offensive support, as the Stars were outshot 40-18 for the contest and 20-4 in the third period.
Sporting an old-school black pull-on helmet with attached wire mask, along with plain white pads and gloves, Stephan came up big early with seven saves in the game’s first five minutes. He also sparkled in the third period, when he made 19 saves and was just 1.5 seconds away from a shutout that would have been a storybook ending.
“It was special to play in my first NHL game and this was a dream come true, a great experience, but I wish we could’ve gotten the win tonight,” said Stephan, a native of Switzerland. “It was a tough start but I got over being nervous pretty quick with the penalties. I got into a better rhythm, but it’s frustrating to lose it with 1.5 seconds left.”
On the offensive side, captain Brenden Morrow scored the Stars’ goal in the first period, his way of rebounding after his giveaway in overtime Friday night led to Calgary’s game-winning goal in a 3-2 Dallas loss.
In a game in which both clubs played in a different city the previous night, it seemed like fatigue might become an issue in the third period, but the final 61 minutes were the most spirited of the contest.
Entering the final period with a one-goal lead for the second night in a row, the Stars had the first opportunity of the third just 1:15 in. Loui Eriksson picked up a loose puck after a Chicago giveaway at the top of the circle, and blasted a slap shot that Chicago goaltender Patrick Lalime, making his season debut, absorbed and smothered.
About two minutes later, Stephan made a big stop on Chicago rookie Patrick Kane’s fierce wrist shot from the left face-off circle through a screen.
Six minutes into the third, Kane sent a nice cross-ice pass to Lang cutting down the slot, and Stephan turned aside Lang’s wrist shot.
One of his best stops of the night came with 11:20 to go when Patrick Sharp raced into the Dallas zone and ripped a wrist shot from the left circle that was ticketed for the upper right corner of the net until Stephan deflected it over the net with a flash of his glove hand.
Stephan then bailed out Steve Ott a minute later, after Kevyn Adams stole the puck from Ott about 30 feet in front of the Stars net. Adams’ in-close backhander was kicked out by Stephan’s right pad.
With the Stars being outside 14-1 in the first 11 minutes of the third period, Stephan’s ability to stand tall was the main reason the Stars were still in the game, never mind still ahead.
Then, with about 8:20 left in the third, Kane had another good chance, as his deflection from the slot of Lang’s backhander, but Stephan again made the stop.
After being back on their heels for most of the third period and being outshot 17-3 up to then, the Stars received a break when Chicago’s Tuomo Ruuttu was called for holding with just 3:31 left in the game. While the Stars were unable to mount much offensive pressure during the man-advantage, it at least gave them a respite from the Blackhawks’ relentless attack.
Chicago pulled Lalime for an extra attacker with 1:09 remaining and while pressing for the tying goal, Jeff Halpern lost his stick in the Dallas zone and took a holding penalty with 44.4 seconds left. That gave the Blackhawks a 6-on-4 power play, and when Mike Modano was whistled for hooking with 26.5 to go, Chicago essentially had a three-man advantage for the rest of regulation.
With just 10 seconds left, Stephan robbed Lang’s point-blank wrist shot from the left circle while down on the ice, but the Stars could never clear the zone. Rookie Jonathan Toews then ripped a slap shot from the blue line that was sailing wide, but it ricocheted off Lang’s arm and deflected in.
Going into overtime, Chicago was still on the power play (now a 4-on-3), and immediately set up in the Dallas zone on the attack again. After working the puck around a bit, Williams blasted a one-timer from the top of the face-off circles through a maze of bodies in front that found its way through Stephan’s pads and in for the gut-wrenching winner.
“Toby played a helluva game and its unfortunate we couldn’t get the win for him,” Stars coach Dave Tippett said. “He got a lot of work early on and that got him into his rhythm. We faced a lot of pressure in the third and took many penalties. We knew they were going to come after us hard and we didn’t withstand the pressure well.”
With the Stars ahead 1-0 in the second period, Niklas Hagman continued his excellent play early this season, with a textbook example of his abilities early in the period. With the Blackhawks enjoying their fourth power play of the night, Hagman chased down a Stars’ clear in the Chicago zone, stole it from ‘Hawk defender Andrei Zyuzin and then controlled the puck along the boards for about 10 seconds before Zyuzin committed a holding penalty on him.
Then with the Stars on their own power play, Jere Lehtinen drilled a one-timer from the slot off a nice pass from Modano out of the right corner, but Lalime made the save.
About four minutes later, with the Blackhawks on the man-advantage again, Stephan impressively turned aside Zyuzin’s wrist shot through a screen from the top of the left circle.
The game’s second fight occurred at the 13:07 mark, when Chicago’s David Koci, a 6-foot-6, 238-pound rookie, nailed Lehtinen with a clean check that stunned the three-time Selke Trophy winner. Moments later, Stars’ enforcer Krys Barch, back in the lineup after being a healthy scratch the last two games, challenged Koci and the two engaged in a brief bout that ended quickly, after Barch’s jersey ended up over his head.
The Stars’ best opportunity of the second period came with about two minutes remaining, when Mike Ribeiro threaded a slick pass out of the right corner to a cutting Morrow in the slot, but Lalime made a big sliding pad stop on Morrow’s one-timer.
Stephan was thrown into the fire immediately, as the Stars were whistled for three hooking penalties in the first three and a half minutes, including the first one to Sergei Zubov just 33 seconds into the contest.
Stephan made his first NHL save 1:15 into the game, turning aside Williams’ one-timer from the left circle, off a nice cross-ice pass from Kane, the18-year-old first overall draft choice in last June’s draft.
Stephan had more to worry about when Mattias Norstrom was banished to the box at 1:50, giving the Blackhawks a 5-on-3 for 43 seconds, but again, he held them off the board, making impressive saves on Kane’s wrist shot from the right circle, and then on Lang’s wrister from the left circle.
When Halpern was sent off at 3:34, Chicago had another 16-second two-man advantage, but again, were unable to capitalize. All told, Stephan stopped seven Blackhawk shots in the first four minutes until the penalties were all killed off.
“With his first game, you’d like him to be able to ease his way in with a couple of shots here and there, but we gave up a lot of shots, a couple of 5-on-3s, not the way we wanted to start it off,” noted Halpern of Stephan. “I played with him in Switzerland during the lockout, and he was exceptional there, so he definitely has it in him.”
Ribeiro, Morrow & Boucher
Dallas didn’t get its first shot on goal until 7:15 into the game, as Lalime turned aside Zubov’s shot from the blue line.
Stephan made another big play with about 7:30 remaining in the period when defenseman Philippe Boucher lost the puck behind the Dallas net to Adams. Adams cut in front and Stephan dove out to poke the puck off his stick.
The Stars then broke through on their own power play, their first one of the contest, as Morrow made his statement that he was back on track after his ugly gaffe the night before. Hagman carried out from behind the Chicago net and backhanded a shot that Lalime kicked out with his pad, but the rebound went right to Morrow at the top of the crease, and the captain buried it into the open side of the cage at 13:48 for the 1-0 lead.
“We got off to a rough start with the 5 on 3s in the first five minutes,” Morrow said. “Toby made some big saves for us but we were playing with fire with all the penalties and they finally bit us in the end. We didn’t stay as aggressive as we needed.”
Stephan made another good save late, his 13th of the period, as he thwarted Kane’s backhander from in close off the rush.
There was even a fight with 34 seconds left in the first, as Adams crunched Zubov with a heavy body check in the Dallas zone, and Trevor Daley came to his defense and took on Adams. Not many punches landed before Daley took him down.
The Stars now have another three days off, during which they’ll return to the Metroplex, before traveling to Columbus for a game against the Blue Jackets and former Stars coach Ken Hitchcock on Wednesday night (6 pm, FSN).
- Stephan, a second-round draft pick (number 34 overall) in 2002, was 10-15-0 last season in Iowa, with a 2.88 goals-against average and a .900 save percentage. He was essentially the backup there last season, but with Dan Ellis moving on to the Nashville organization, he became number three on the Stars’ depth chart.
- While Hagman failed to score a goal for just the second time this season, he did earn an assist on Morrow’s goal, so he still leads the Stars in scoring with five goals and seven points in six games.
- Ribeiro also had an assist, leaving him with three points (one goal, two assists) in three games since returning from the Injured Reserve list on last Wednesday.
- Morrow led the Stars with four shots on goal, and tied for the lead in bodychecks with three. Eriksson also had three, as well as three shots on net.
- With Barch, Eriksson, and Ott each back in the lineup after being healthy scratches for two straight outings, the Stars sat out Joel Lundqvist, Antti Miettinen and Todd Fedoruk.
- Halpern went 10-4 in the face-off circle.
- After playing just 6:45 in Friday night’s OT loss to Calgary, rookie defenseman Matt Niskanen logged 15:59 of ice time against Chicago. He also blocked one shot.
- The power play unit went 1-for-4 on the night, giving the Stars a 3-for-24 conversion rate (12.5 per cent) over their last four contests.
- If Turco had started, he would have come in with one of his best records against any NHL club, having gone 12-2-1 with three shutouts and a stingy 1.55 goals-against average.