Mike Ribeiro and Antti Miettinen scored goals to help fuel an outstanding all-around, complete team effort as the Stars defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-1 Friday night at the American Airlines Center. Jeff Halpern added an empty net goal late in the third period.
The Stars won their fourth straight game, all on home ice, and have outscored the opposition 14-3 over that span.
Dallas also jumped ahead of the idle San Jose Sharks into first place in the Pacific Division. With an 11-7-4 record, Dallas now sits one point ahead of San Jose and two ahead of Anaheim.
Goaltender Marty Turco, back in the crease after watching his backup Mike Smith win three straight games earlier this week, gave up one early and then shut the door to register his sixth victory of the season. He made 18 saves, although he wasn’t called upon to be too spectacular, thanks to a strong defensive performance in front of him.
“One of our greatest strengths is that we play really well as a group and we knew we didn’t have a good first period but we played much better the rest of the way,” Stars coach Dave Tippett said.
“We’ve been working together well and playing good hockey,” Ribeiro added. “We’re just playing better as a team, we’re more together and we need to continue with this focus. Tonight was a good comeback for us. We hung in there and kept pushing and finished off an excellent homestand.”
With the Stars ahead 2-1 going into the third, captain Brenden Morrow almost gave Dallas a two-goal lead just 1:35 into the period when he fired a wrist shot from the top of the left face-off circle hat Toronto netminder Vesa Toskala got just enough of to change its direction and the puck ricocheted off the post and wide.
Turco then made a nice save on Kyle Wellwood’s wrist shot from the right circle about a minute later to keep it a 2-1 game.
The Stars applied considerable pressure in Toronto’s zone and played a solid defensive game in the third period, not allowing too many good scoring chances through the period.
“We’ve been playing sound hockey,” Turco said. “We’re doing little things that add up to the big picture.”
The Leafs pulled Toskala with 55 seconds left, and soon afterwards, the Stars cleared their zone and Halpern settled a bouncing puck down inside the Toronto blue line and fired into the empty net with 39.3 seconds remaining to seal the victory.
To cap off the evening, Steve Ott and Toronto’s Bryan McCabe squared off for a fight with 23 seconds to go.
Down 1-0 entering the second period, the Stars killed off the remaining 30 seconds of a 5-on-3 Toronto power play, and then the rest of the Leafs’ single advantage, with Turco turning aside Jason Blake’s slap shot as the second penalty expired.
After surviving that scare, Ribeiro tied the game at 3:11 with his ninth of the season. After Toskala denied Morrow, Ribeiro picked up the loose puck behind the net, cut out front, spun around from his backhand to forehand and fired a wrist shot from a sharp angle low in the left face-off circle that just squeezed through a falling Toskala, with the puck barely crossing the goal line.
Mike Modano came right back into the Toronto zone just 15 seconds later, but Toskala turned aside his wrist shot from the top of the right circle.
Turco then came up big about 25 seconds after that, facing down Alexei Ponikarovsky’s wrist shot while all alone in the slot.
Modano had another prime chance about seven minutes into the second, but Toskala again saved his long snap shot from above the right circle.
Then it was Turco’s turn to make a big save, gloving McCabe’s booming slap shot from the blue line on a power play with 6:20 left in the period.
Miettinen gave the Stars their first lead of the night at 15:31, collecting his second goal of the season on a breakaway. After stealing the puck from Tomas Kaberle at the Toronto blue line, Miettinen raced in alone and made a quick backhand-to-forehand move and then roofed a wrist shot over Toskala’s glove.
Dallas almost increased the lead to two about a minute and a half later, as Loui Eriksson’s backhander from the right circle was turned aside by Toskala.
Toronto made a push in the period’s final minute-plus, but Turco came up with a big pad save on Boyd Devereaux’s wrist shot just before the buzzer to maintain the 2-1 lead into the second intermission.
“Looked like we had a little turkey in the legs but then we got better after the first,” Stars coach Dave Tippett said. “We got two good individual efforts in Ribeiro and Miettinen and we got things done.”
The Stars got behind early, as Ponikarovsky scored his eighth goal of the season at 3:08. The Maple Leafs hemmed the Stars in their own zone for a long stretch, and after Wozniewski kept the puck in at the Dallas blue line, Mats Sundin corralled the puck in the right corner. Sundin then fed Ponikarovsky in the slot, and his wrist shot beat Turco for the early 1-0 lead. With the assist, Sundin extended his scoring streak to seven games.
The Stars had a golden opportunity to even the score when Blake high-sticked Philippe Boucher and was whistled for a four-minute penalty at 6:56, but Dallas was unable to convert on the opportunity.
They did have a good chance several seconds after the power play expired, when Ribeiro cut out from behind the net and tried to jam an in-close shot through Toskala, but the Toronto netminder smothered it just in front of the goal line. In fact, the play was reviewed by the video replay officials, but there was no evidence that the puck crossed the line under Toskala.
Toskala then made two nice stops on point-blank backhanders from Trevor Daley and Ribeiro back-to-back with 5:41 to go in the first period.
The Stars got into some penalty trouble late in the period, as Stephane Robidas was called for tripping with 1:30 remaining and then, with 15 seconds left in the frame, Stu Barnes went to the box for hooking. That left the Leafs on a 5-on-3 advantage for 45 seconds, including the first 30 of the second period with a clean sheet of ice.
After completing their season-long five-game homestand with a 3-0-1 record, the Stars now embark on a season-high six-game road trip. First up on their journey through the Eastern Conference’s Atlantic Division is the New York Rangers in a matinee contest Sunday at 12 noon (my27).
“It was a big homestand for us,” Morrow said. “We made up ground and got ourselves set up for a big road trip. We’ve found our identity again, what we do best. It’s a lot of teams we don’t play often. But we’re looking forward to taking it on the road and following up on what we did on the homestand.”
- Jere Lehtinen missed the game with an abdominal strain and will be re-evaluated on Saturday.
- With his assist on Ribeiro’s goal, Morrow extended his point streak to seven games (three goals, nine points), matching his career-high long span set earlier this season from Oct. 13 - 31. Morrow also had three shots on goal and led all players with nine hits in 20:25 of ice time.
- Miettinen’s goal was his first since Oct. 10, a stretch of 12 games. It was also his third point in his last five games (one goal, two assists), after collecting just one point (a goal) in his first 12 outings this season. Miettinen left the contest early in the third period with a lower body injury and did not return. “Miettinen has a bit of a sore groin,” Tippett said.
- Modano gave a strong performance, firing a game-high five shots on goal and picking up an assist on Halpern’s empty net goal. That gives him nine points (four goals, five assists) in his last eight games. Modano also led all Stars forwards in ice time with 20:36.
- Rookie defenseman Matt Niskanen’s assist on Ribeiro’s goal marked his second straight game with an assist, the first time he’s accomplished that.
- Steve Ott also collected an assist on Halpern’s empty netter, giving him two points (one goal, one assist) in the last three games after he had earned one point (a goal) in his last 10 outings.
- The Stars’ scorching-hot power play did not score for the first time in seven games, going 0-for-2. Even so, Dallas, which entered the night ranked second in the entire NHL with a 24.7 percent efficiency (20-for-81), has connected for eight goals on their last 18 man-advantage opportunities (44.4 percent).
- The Stars enjoyed their Thanksgiving week homestand for the third straight season (and fourth in the past five), finishing the stretch with a perfect 3-0-0 mark this season and 11-1-1 in games during the week dating back to the ‘02-03 season.
- The Stars last faced the Maple Leafs in Toronto on Dec. 10, 2005, when they won 2-1. The last game at the American Airlines Center between the clubs was Oct. 22, 2003, a 3-1 Leafs victory in former goaltender Eddie Belfour’s return to Dallas.