Down by a goal heading into the final period of the final game of a grueling six-game road trip, the Dallas Stars figured they'd bid good riddance to hotel life in a dramatic way.
Frustrated through the first 40 minutes by the superb goaltending of Columbus' Pascal Leclaire, Dallas tied the game on Chris Conner's third-period goal, then won it when Niklas Hagman notched the deciding tally in the fifth-round of the shootout, giving the Stars a 2-1 come-from-behind victory over the Blue Jackets on Monday night at Nationwide Arena.
The surging Stars finished their season-long road voyage that saw them play six games in nine days with a 4-2 mark, and return to Dallas still atop the Pacific Division. They've now garnered points in 12 of their last 15 outings, and have done so in every imaginable way.
Over this recent stretch in which they've gone a sparkling 8-2, Dallas has won in a blowout, several low-scoring games, an overtime game, and now a shootout.
"This was a really good road trip for us," Hagman said. "We have some great guys in the shootout and we know how much those points mean."
After goalie Marty Turco had stopped Gilbert Brule's attempt with the shootout knotted at two goals apiece, Hagman skated in on Leclaire, swung his hips to the right, and delivered a quick backhand from the lower slot that went between the netminder's legs for the winner.
"I scored on that same move shorthanded earlier in the year," Hagman said. "Goalies just don't expect you to go backhand to the five-hole from that close in."
Mike Modano and Mike Ribeiro also scored in the shootout, while Turco made 25 saves to improve to 11-1-1 lifetime against the Blue Jackets in a game the Stars seemed destined to suffer a worse fate.
Leclaire, who leads the league with six shutouts, returned from a two-game absence because of a hamstring injury and didn't miss a beat. He spit out 33 Dallas shots, and gave his team a chance to win by making 24 stops over the final 45 minutes of regulation and overtime.
Nikolai Zherdev scored the lone goal for Columbus, which has dropped three of its last four.
"Marty made some big saves and had a strong outing in a game we needed our veterans to step up," coach Dave Tippett said. "Points on four of six games on this trip, you have to like that. We take a lot of pride in the shootout and realize how valuable those points are."
Conner finally solved Leclaire when he tied the game at 1 with his third of the season just over three minutes into the third period. Connor accepted Nicklas Grossman's perfect pass at the Columbus blueline, fought off Kris Russell and Kris Beech, and deposited a backhand into the net after a nifty deke.
"I got a great pass from Grossy, right on my tape, and I just caught it and went hard to the net," Conner said. "I was able to beat him five-hole and it gave us a lot of momentum."
It was Grossman's first point in 21 career games, and the diminutive Conner's reward for another energetic outing.
"Conner has been excellent the last two or three games and gave us a lot of spark," Tippett said.
Jeff Halpern nearly snapped the tie midway through the third with Dallas on the power play, but his blistering wrist shot from the faceoff dot in the left circle rang off the post.
The Blue Jackets got on the board first when Zherdev notched his ninth of the season with just over six minutes left in the first period. Rick Nash picked off an errant Dallas clearing attempt in the left circle and quickly fed Zherdev, who was cruising in the slot. Zherdev re-directed the perfect pass past Turco.
The goal came just after a frantic two-minute span in which Columbus nearly scored twice. Turco was first able to foil Jason Chimera's breakaway chance, then got help when Sergei Fedorov's deflection of Rostislav Klesla's shot from the right point went off the post.
Leclaire, meanwhile, robbed Stu Barnes with a spectacular diving save on a 2-on-1 opportunity with a minute to go in the opening stanza, using the paddle of his stick to knock away the puck that was headed into the net.
Leclaire followed that up with a scintillating glove save on Brenden Morrow's wicked one-timer from the slot while Dallas was on the power play.
The brilliant goaltending from both Turco and Leclaire continued in a scoreless second period. Turco was able to turn aside all 10 of the shots he faced, including a solid pad save on Fedorov's power-play one-timer from the right circle with five minutes to go.
Leclaire was equally as annoying, especially for Dallas forward Jussi Jokinen. Jokinen was denied three times in a 20-second span late in the period while the Stars had the man advantage. From nearly the exact same spot in the right circle, Jokinen wasn't able to beat Leclaire with a trifecta of hard snap and wrist shots.
"There weren't a lot of chances in this one, but it was who would capitalize on their chances," Tippett said.
The Stars will now open a four-game homestand against Pacific Division-rival San Jose on Wednesday night at American Airlines Center (7:30, FSN).
The Sharks were winless in three of their last four games heading into their contest against Colorado on Monday. Part of San Jose's recent problems has been its inability to put the puck in the net. In those four games, the Sharks had only scored seven times.
It will be the fourth meeting this season between the two clubs, with each team winning once and San Jose taking a 4-3 shootout win last month in Dallas.
-- Prior to the game the league suspended Philadelphia forward Riley Cote for three games as a result of being assessed a match penalty for his vicious elbow to the head of defenseman Matt Niskanen in the third period of Saturday's win over the Flyers.
-- Defenseman Mattias Norstrom was activated on Monday from the injured list but did not play. He's recovering from a fractured orbital bone around his eye sustained at San Jose on Nov. 7.
-- Right wing Antti Miettinen was scratched after he aggravated a groin injury in the Flyers game. He's now missed five of the past six games because of the ailment.
-- Center Mike Modano played only 91 seconds in the first period after he needed stitches to repair a gash on his chin when he was clipped by a stick inadvertently.
-- Columbus was 7-3-2 at home coming in.
-- Turco has never allowed more than three goals in a game against Columbus.
-- The Stars have earned points in 16 of their past 17 contests against the Blue Jackets (13-1-3).
-- Over the past seven games when they've given up the first goal, the Stars are an amazing 6-1.
-- Dallas defeated Columbus in a shootout last month. The two teams will finish the four-game season series with a pair of contests at American Airlines Center over a four-day period in January.
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