Three days after the big front office shake-up that saw the NHL’s third all-time leading goal-scorer Brett Hull take over as co-General Manager, the Stars erupted for the kind of offensive fireworks that Hull himself was accustomed to.
Jussi Jokinen scored a career-high four goals, three in the second period, with Sergei Zubov assisting on all four, as the Stars rolled over the Colorado Avalanche 6-1 Friday night at the American Airlines Center.
Jokinen was the first Star to score four in a game since, fittingly enough, Hull himself back on March 21, 2001.
And to what did Jokinen, who hadn’t scored on home ice this season before this game, attribute his breakout evening to?
“I found a pretty good stick yesterday, that I used back home in Finland in the summer,” a beaming Jokinen said. “I don’t know if that helped, I got a couple of good shots yesterday in practice and this morning, so I decided to use that. I don’t know if that’s the reason, but sometimes those little things, you feel more confident out on the ice.
“I got that first goal pretty early, the first goal on home ice the whole year, so it was a big relief, a couple of good bounces, a couple of good goals, great passes from Zubie and from the other guys.”
The victory snapped a three-game losing streak for the Stars (although they earned two points in an overtime and shootout loss), as well as an 0-3-1 stretch over their last four contests in front of the home fans at the American Airlines Center.
Meanwhile, Colorado lost for just the second time in their last 10 games (7-2-1).
The Stars, with 20 points in the standings (8-7-4), remain in ninth place in the ultra-competitive Western Conference, one point back of Anaheim in eighth and four points behind Pacific Division-leading San Jose.
In addition to the outstanding offensive performances from Jokinen and Zubov, Jeff Halpern and Mike Ribeiro also scored goals, while Mike Modano contributed two assists.
Mike Smith was solid in goal, making 17 saves in his first appearance since Nov. 2, when he was pulled after giving up two goals in 14 minutes in a 5-0 loss to Phoenix.
“His game was pretty solid,” Stars coach Dave Tippett said. “He’s a big guy in there and he covers a lot of ground, and that’s what we were kind of looking for tonight. Colorado’s a team, they do a lot of things right around the goal crease, shovel a lot of pucks through there, and I thought Smitty’s size, with his big legs down there, would help out, and he did.”
But despite Jokinen’s incredible heroics, the victory was really the product of perhaps the Stars’ finest full-game effort of the season.
“That’s the team that we’ve preached on being all year and years in the past,” Smith said. “This is the kind of team we’ve been, a tough-minded defensive team and it leads to offense when you play good defense. I can’t say enough about how good we played tonight. It was just a 60-minute effort from everyone and that’s how we’re going to have to play to win. It’s a good lesson for our team, how we have to play to get big wins.”
“That was a solid game for us,” Tippett added. “That was a game we were looking to build some momentum on, I thought we were solid all the way through. Special teams were very, that’s a power play you don’t want to see them on the ice very often, our discipline was good, our penalty kill was good, our power play was good, had a couple of goals for us, right through our lineup, I thought we were pretty solid all the way through.”
Entering the second period leading 1-0, Dallas dodged a couple of bullets before exploding for four goals in the first 11 minutes.
About 50 seconds into the frame, Colorado’s Andrew Brunette carried the puck into the Stars’ zone on a 3-on-1 rush with just Stephane Robidas defending. Robidas prevented any cross-ice pass and Smith swallowed up Brunette’s in-close wrist shot.
Two minutes later, Smith made a dazzling glove save on Marek Svatos’ fierce backhander from the slot, deflecting it up and over the crossbar, atoning for a mistake seconds earlier when he lost the puck behind the net while trying to pass it off.
Then, less than a minute after that, Jokinen began the offensive barrage when he fired a quick wrist shot from a severe angle below the right face-off circle that beat Colorado’s starting netminder Jose Theodore on the far side at 3:47.
Just 1:24 later, Halpern scored his third goal of the season to give the Stars a three-goal lead when he made a deft deflection in front of Modano’s quick snap shot from the top of the left circle. The goal came just seconds after Halpern had won a face-off deep in the Avalanche zone to maintain possession.
Jokinen struck again less than two minutes after that, claiming the hat trick on a power play just six seconds after Colorado’s Paul Stastny entered the penalty box. Zubov controlled the puck at the left point, then fed a back-door pass to Jokinen charging the net, and the third-year Finn re-directed the puck into the open side of the net. The goal left the Stars 2-for-2 with the man-advantage at that point.
After a brief delay while the Ice Girls retrieved all the hats thrown on the ice to commemorate the achievement, Jokinen got back on the ice and almost connected for point number four just 20 seconds later, as he raced into the Colorado zone on a 2-on-1. He made a sweet backhand saucer pass over a sliding Av defenseman to Niklas Hagman, but the re-direction went just wide.
Hagman just missed another golden opportunity three minutes later his lunging deflection of Loui Eriksson’s lead pass was denied by Theodore, but seconds later, Jokinen put home goal number four at 10:52. After Zubov’s slap shot from the right point was blocked, the puck ricocheted right to Jokinen in the high slot, and his wrist shot somehow found its way through Theodore to make it 5-0.
Zubov’s fourth assist came on the play, earning the ageless 37-year-old Russian endless praise from his coach and teammates.
“He was excellent tonight, just did the right things with the puck,” Tippett said. “It was not a spectacular four assists, but he makes plays look so easy and that’s why he’s the player he is.”
“When I played back in Finland and I watched highlights of him passing to Mo, Nieuwendyk and Hullie,” Jokinen said, “so it was special to play with him.”
Jokinen’s fourth goal prompted the Avalanche to make a goalie change, with Peter Budaj replacing Theodore, and Budaj made his first big save three minutes later on Lehtinen’s scorching wrist shot from the right circle.
Stu Barnes broke in on a partial breakaway with four minutes left in the second, but Budaj made the stop on that chance, as well.
Overall for the second period, the Stars outshot Colorado 14-6.
Heading into the third period with the commanding 5-0 lead, some observers were reminded of the debacle last Saturday night in Los Angeles when the Stars dropped a 6-5 overtime contest to the Kings despite holding a 4-0 advantage midway through the third period.
Those fears never materialized though, as the Stars continued to apply offensive pressure and kept their discipline in the defensive zone throughout the third period.
“We didn’t want to talk about it, that’s past and history, we just wanted to keep doing the things that got us the lead,” Modano said. “That’s what we forgot in LA, we stopped moving the puck, we stopped skating, just hoping the time would click down. Tonight we were pretty firm with our details, still back-checking, still good position without the game, and finished good.”
Smith came up with a couple of nice stops midway through the period, making consecutive pad saves on Jeff Finger’s booming slap shot from the blue line twice within 10 seconds.
Ribeiro pushed the lead to six with 5:04 remaining with his eighth goal of the season. Lehtinen set up the play after stealing the puck from Colorado rookie defenseman Kyle Cumiskey in the left corner, then swung out and delivered a perfect cross-crease pass that Ribeiro slammed home into the empty side of the net.
Colorado snapped Smith’s bid for his fourth career shutout when rookie Jaroslav Hlinka scored with just 3:45 to go. Tyler Arnason swept out from behind the net with a backhanded wrap-around attempt that Smith saved, but the rebound slid right to Hlinka, who made a backhand swipe at the rolling puck just inside the post.
The Stars, and Smith, had a scary moment just 38 seconds later when an errant stick found its way through a hole in his mask and poked him in the eye. Smith went down and stayed down for a while, but shook it off and finished out the contest for his third win of the season.
“It just scared me a little bit, actually got a stick right through the cage, but anything with the eye just kind of scares you,” Smith said. “It actually got me right on the eye, but I got it closed in time, I guess, so I’m good.”
The Stars got on the board first just 4:22 into the contest as Jokinen connected on a power play, their fourth extra-man goal in their last six opportunities. Jokinen received a brisk lead pass from Zubov as he sped across the Colorado blue line, and unleashed a lethal wrist shot from the left circle that beat Theodore to the short side.
Smith made his first big save just 22 seconds later when he denied Joe Sakic’s point-blank one-timer in front.
Theodore made a couple of big stops just past the midway point of the first period when he turned aside Lehtinen’s quick wrist shot from the slot, and then about 10 seconds later, he stopped rookie Matt Niskanen’s wrister from the left circle.
Theodore got some help with about five and a half minutes to go in the period when Lehtinen found himself alone low in the left circle and staring at an empty net, but Avalanche defenseman Brett Clark dropped down to block Lehtinen’s wrist shot.
This was the second contest of a season-long five-game homestand, which continues Monday night against Los Angeles (7:30 pm start, FSN). It will be their first time facing LA after their meltdown last Saturday.
“I think our coaches will keep our feet on land,” Jokinen said, hoping the Stars can build on their victory. “We get a good day off tomorrow and get a good practice Sunday and be ready to go Monday against the Kings. We owe them a lot, they gave us a good lesson last game.”
- Jokinen scored his four goals on five shots while skating just 11:04 of ice time. “He was efficient. He had four goals in six and a half minutes, I’m mad at myself for not getting him on the ice more,” Tippett joked.
- Zubov’s big game with four assists matched his career high set two previous times, with the most recent coming almost 10 years ago, on Dec. 15, 1997 against Buffalo. Modano was the last Star to register four assists, turning the trick on Feb. 10, 2002 against Anaheim. Zubov now has 599 career assists.
- Modano’s two assists extended his assist streak to three games, during which he’s scored one goal and five points.
- Halpern’s goal was his second in the last three games, during which he has three points (two goals, one assist), after going pointless in the previous 12 contests.
- Eriksson rejoined the team after being recalled from AHL Iowa earlier in the day. He fired three shots on goal in 12:55 of ice time.
- Rookie defenseman Mark Fistric was also recalled earlier in the day after veteran defenseman Mattias Norstrom was placed on Injured Reserve with an orbital bone fracture, likely for two weeks. Fistric, a healthy scratch, has yet to make his NHL debut.
- The victory was career win number 198 for Tippett.
1 - 0 DAL
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6 - 1 DAL