In their second game together, the trio of Mike Ribeiro, captain Brenden Morrow and Antti Miettinen scored every goal and combined for nine total points as the Dallas Stars defeated the Los Angeles Kings 4-1 Thursday night at the American Airlines Center.
With winger Jere Lehtinen sidelined with a sports hernia three weeks ago, both Ribeiro and Morrow’s production had slipped a notch, but since Miettinen returned from a groin injury last game and joined them, the combination has been on fire.
Ribeiro contributed two goals and two assists, Miettinen had one goal and two assists and Morrow added one goal and one assist. Defenseman Sergei Zubov also picked up two helpers as the Stars defeated the Kings for the seventh straight time in Dallas.
Two of their goals came on the power play, as the Stars went 2-for-2 with the man-advantage, needing a grand total of just 25 seconds to cash in.
“That line gave us the offensive spark we needed,” Stars coach Dave Tippett said. “The power play gave us two that seemed to break it open and it was good to see that. The whole line was feeding off each other tonight and was excellent in creating. We challenged our veteran leadership before the game because these were points we needed and Brenden, Ribeiro and Miettinen took that challenge to heart.”
“The guys on my line are working so hard and the passes are nice, but it’s the work that is so good,” said Miettinen, who now has five points in two games since missing seven out of eight with a groin ailment. “I think I’m getting in the flow and getting more opportunities to play and am feeling more comfortable out there. Every time you win, it’s a confidence builder for the team and I think our confidence is building each day.”
The victory also propelled the Stars two points ahead of San Jose in the ongoing battle for the Pacific Division lead, while the Kings sit last in the Western Conference.
In goal, Marty Turco made 26 saves, including 10 in the third period, to register his 11th win of the season.
Entering the third period with a commanding 4-0 lead, the Stars were determined to avoid another major collapse as occurred back on Nov. 10. It was that game, which they lost 6-5 in overtime, that has spurred them on to a 10-4-1 record since.
Turco turned aside back-to-back point-blank shots from the slot by Brian Willsie and Mike Cammalleri about two minutes in.
Then the Kings, on a power play, made the 17,913 fans in attendance at the American Airlines Center a little nervous when they connected at 3:29 on Tom Preissing’s fourth goal of the season. With Kyle Calder parked in front and providing a screen, Preissing’s high shot from the right face-off circle sailed past several bodies and over Turco’s glove to make it 4-1. Undoubtedly, thoughts returned to that night in LA on Nov. 10.
“I think since then we’ve been playing better, we’ve been playing better with the lead, too,” Ribeiro said. “We have better focus after we take the lead, making better decisions with the puck, but when they scored that first one, you still remember that game, squeeze a bit your stick. They came on a bit in the third, but you learn from your mistakes and I think since that game, we’ve been playing a lot better.”
“I think it was important that the next line that went out after that got the puck deep, kind of kept that feeling from creeping in,” Morrow added. “It was a big shift for us right after that goal. We wanted to steal that momentum and not let them build off of it. We wanted to make sure we didn’t have that feeling.”
Dallas very nearly extended the lead again three minutes later, as Chris Conner carried into the Kings’ zone on a 2-on-1 and from the left circle, fed Steve Ott in the slot, but Kings netminder Jean-Sebastien Aubin made a sparkling pad save on Ott’s one-timer.
Aubin made another nice stop on Jussi Jokinen’s one-timer from the right circle with 11:50 remaining.
But when Morrow was banished to the penalty box for tripping with 5:39 to go, Turco came up with some nice stops to preserve the lead and not let the Kings re-gain that momentum.
“He shut the door,” Morrow said of Turco. “The power play late, they felt like they were getting some momentum, they were getting some good opportunities, cycling the puck on us, and I think for the most part, we did a pretty good job of keeping them on the outside, but any time they got a good shot, Marty made the save and put the rebounds where we could get them and they didn’t get second opportunities.”
“I wasn’t thinking about our last game with LA, I was focusing on tonight and I feel like it was a solid all-around effort,” Turco said. “We have been playing much better of late.”
Leading 1-0 after one, the Stars had to fend off the Kings early in the second, as Dustin Brown, who has had plenty of success against the Stars in the last two years, carried into the Dallas zone on a 2-on-1 just 1:20 into the period. But defenseman Mattias Norstrom laid down flat to prevent any pass across, and Turco easily stopped Brown’s in-close shot.
The Stars then went on their first power play of the contest when Michal Handzus was called for tripping and wasted no time taking advantage of it. Just 15 seconds later, Ribeiro, behind the net, fed Morrow in the left circle and he blasted a one-timer that beat Kings starting goaltender Jonathan Quick just inside the far post at 2:40.
About a minute later, the top line almost struck again, as Morrow set up Miettinen at the left post, but Miettinen’s re-direction went just wide of an empty net.
The trio connected again at 7:03 to extend the lead to 3-0, as it was Miettinen’s turn to light the lamp for the fourth time this year. On the rush into the Kings’ zone, Ribeiro slid a nice pass from the middle over to Miettinen, and he kind of shanked the one-timer, but the resulting knuckle-ball effect fooled Quick, who missed as he tried to snag it with his glove.
“He’s a guy that can play both sides and he’s a good fore-checker, great shot, can pass the puck,” Ribeiro said of Miettinen. “He makes me think a bit of a young Lehtinen, a bit of the same style. The thing is that we have to keep providing offense for the team and not get scored on.”
The Stars continued to press as Morrow missed two prime chances in the next several minutes. First, Morrow’s one-timer from the left side of the net was heading for an empty net but LA’s Derek Armstrong managed to get his stick in the way and blocked it. Then, with 8:15 to go, Quick made the save on Morrow’s one-timer from the top of the left circle.
Turco then made a nice stop of Raitis Ivanans’ sharp-angle shot from the left side, just getting his pad on it with 7:12 left in the period.
The Stars went on another man-advantage opportunity after Preissing was whistled for tripping at 14:46, and this time, the PP unit needed just 10 seconds to capitalize on it. After Ribeiro won the resulting face-off deep in the Kings’ zone, Zubov launched a wrist shot from the right circle that Morrow appeared to deflect into Quick. But the puck dropped behind the rookie goalie and rolled along the goal line before Ribeiro, at the left post, swatted it into the open net for the commanding 4-0 lead.
“Winning the draw, the key was winning the draw,” said Morrow, who was not given an assist on the play. “When Zubov has the puck on his stick, good things are going to happen. I got a piece of it, but it didn’t get in, Ribs got it in after I got a little tip on it. Sometimes (the official scorer missing an assist) happens. I didn’t think I deserved one on the first goal so it evens out.”
The goal prompted Kings coach Marc Crawford to pull the rookie Quick, who was making just his third NHL start since getting recalled from AHL Manchester on Dec. 2. Aubin entered the contest in his place and made 10 saves in relief.
The Stars’ power play, meanwhile, which entered the game ranked fifth in the NHL, had only been in action for a total of 25 seconds, but was 2-for-2.
Turco came up with the game’s first big save when he made a beautiful pad-stacking, sliding stop of Brian Willsie’s re-direct of Patrick O’Sullivan’s set up from the right circle with about a minute elapsed.
“That was big for us, just that save early in the game and we were able to get the lead from there,” Ribeiro said. “I think the first save there keeps you in the game, and then you can look forward and not chase back again.”
Two minutes later, LA’s Kevin Dallman ripped a slap shot off the rush from the top of the right circle, but Turco kicked it out, with the puck rebounding out past oncoming Kings and out of harm’s way.
In a slow-moving first half of the first period, the Stars didn’t get their first shot on goal until 20 seconds past the halfway point, but they took the lead on their second shot.
Miettinen wound up for an uncontested slap shot in the slot, but then slid a nice pass just to the left of the post, where Ribeiro had an easy tap-in for his team-leading 14th goal of the season.
“We didn’t make eye contact, but I’m sure he saw me,” Ribeiro said of Miettinen. “You don’t want to yell, they’re good enough, they’ll see you.”
Dallas seemed energized by the goal and carried the play the rest of the period. They almost extended the lead just two minutes later, when a wide open Jussi Jokinen danced across the slot looking for a hole, but Quick stayed with him and made the save.
Quick made back-to-back outstanding saves with 3:55 left in the first, denying Morrow’s one-timer from the left circle and then making an even better glove snag on Miettinen’s rebound attempt right in front.
Miettinen had another golden opportunity with 55 seconds to go when Ribeiro fed him from behind the net, but he didn’t get much on his shot and Quick pushed it aside.
Quick also thwarted Morrow’s in-close backhander with 23.4 seconds to go, as the Stars ended up with an 8-5 edge in shots for the period.
After completing a four-game homestand with a 2-1-1 record, the Stars now take off on a four-game road trip that begins Saturday afternoon (3 pm, my27) in San Jose, before moving on to Western Canada.
“It’s nine days, so we actually have some rest in there,” Morrow pointed out. “We didn’t have that last trip. Tough teams, tough to play in those arenas, especially in Western Canada, Calgary, Edmonton, it’s a tough swing for us, but we’re playing pretty good hockey so it comes at a good time.”
- Ribeiro’s four points marked the third time in his career he’s compiled four points in a game. After Zubov’s four point contest Monday against Edmonton, this was the first time two different Stars have picked up four points in back-to-back outings since October, 1997 when Modano and Pat Verbeek did it in consecutive games.
- Zubov’s two assists give him six points (one goal, five assists) in the past two games and keeps in the lead among NHL defenseman in both assists, 26, and points, 30. He was honored in a special ceremony before the game for earning his 600th career assist recently and in addition to an NHL Milestone Award, also received a Breitling watch and Tiffany crystal engraved with the achievement.
- Morrow now has five points (two goals, three assists) in the last three games. He also led the club with four shots on goal.
- Miettinen’s career-high three points gives him points in the last four games in which he’s played (three goals, seven points).
- Defenseman Stephane Robidas delivered five hits, leading the team, and also had a club-high three blocked shots.
- The Stars have now scored power play goals in three straight games after not connecting with the man-advantage in five of their previous six.
- Over the span of winning seven straight games against the Kings in Dallas over the last two years, the Stars have outscored them 27-11, including 9-1 in those games’ first periods. Overall, the Stars have a 11-1-1 mark against LA in the last two seasons.
- What was the deal with the guy in the front row along the glass wearing the Flash costume? Halloween was six weeks ago!
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Holding the stick