In the first game after the NHL’s Christmas break, the Dallas Stars returned with a renewed vigor, giving the sellout crowd of 18,532 at the American Airlines Center a late gift, an 8-3 shellacking of the Minnesota Wild Wednesday night.
With their biggest offensive explosion in over two years, the red-hot Stars won their seventh game in their last eight and their fourth straight at home, maintaining a lead atop the Pacific Division of at least five points.
Continuing their recent mastery over Minnesota, the Stars are now a stellar 10-1-1 in their last 12 against the inhabitants of their former home over the past three seasons.
The Stars received contributions from just about everyone in the lineup, as members of all four lines put their names on the scoresheet. They also scored once short-handed and twice on the power play.
Dallas was led once again by the top line of captain Brenden Morrow (two goals, one assist), Mike Ribeiro (one goal, two assists) and Antti Miettinen (two assists). Mike Modano and Jeff Halpern each added a goal and an assist, while Steve Ott earned two assists. Niklas Hagman, Stu Barnes and Loui Eriksson also lit the red lamp.
“It’s nice when everyone contributes like that,” Morrow said. “All that hard work pays off and everything went our way tonight.”
For Ribeiro, it was his second consecutive three-point night and third straight multi-point game as he became the ninth NHL player this season to reach the 20-goal plateau, tying his career-high for an entire season.
“I’ve been working hard to put myself in this position and I’ve been lucky enough to play with some great linemates,” Ribeiro said of his recent success. “Brenden is setting the tone. We’ve been controlling the puck well in the offensive zone. Games like this don’t happen often and it’s nice to see everyone playing together and contributing.”
Meanwhile, Marty Turco got the start in goal and made 14 saves as Dallas outshot the Wild 33-17.
Pavol Demitra scored two goals for Minnesota, while Pierre-Marc Bouchard had two assists.
After two of the league’s stingiest defenses combined to surrender five goals in the first half of the first period, it seemed like both clubs were clicking offensively, but the Stars, with three rookies taking regular shifts on defense, tightened up in their own zone while continuing to pressure Minnesota all night.
“We thought we were going to need eight to win after the first period, but it was a solid all-around game with contributions from up and down the lineup,” Stars coach Dave Tippett said. “We had guys execute well and wanted to continue our momentum from the other night. If we play well as a team, we’ll have a chance to win games and some nights, the puck just finds its way in.”
Heading into the third holding a 4-3 lead, Dallas had the first good scoring opportunity about two minutes into the period, even though they were shorthanded at the time. Morrow stole the puck from Minnesota’s Brian Rolston and raced in on a breakaway as Rolston pursued him and ended up taking a penalty. Wild rookie goalie Josh Harding stopped Morrow’s wrist shot from the slot, as well as Modano’s backhander from the high slot seconds later.
The Stars then broke the game open with two goals within 14 seconds later in the period to turn a close, one-goal game into a blowout.
First, Morrow made it 5-3 at the 8:12 mark when he beat Harding with a fierce wrist shot from the slot after taking a pass from Halpern by way of Ribeiro.
Modano then won the ensuing face-off, Dallas dumped the puck in the Minnesota zone and Harding, trying to clear the puck behind the net, ended up giving it away to Ott. Ott then set up Modano for a booming slap shot from the top of the left face-off circle that found the back of the net for his 11th goal of 2007-08.
Midway through the period, the Stars enjoyed a 10-1 edge in shots on goal.
The Stars then iced the game with two power play goals within 49 seconds to make the final score look rather ugly.
First, the Stars’ big line connected for goal number seven just 10 seconds before a Minnesota too-many-men penalty was about to expire, as Morrow blasted a one-timer from the top of the face-off circles after receiving a pass from Miettinen, at 15:28.
“Hullie would have been proud of that one, down on one knee,” laughed Morrow, who scores the vast majority of his goals from within 10 feet of the net. “I’ve been working on it and it seems like I’m getting a lot of those opportunities to shoot from that distance, they just weren’t going in for me. The second and third opportunities down around the net, we were getting rewarded for it.”
Just 22 seconds later, former Stars winger Todd Fedoruk, who Minnesota claimed off waivers on Nov. 22, was whistled for high-sticking Krys Barch, and the Dallas PP unit, which entered the night ranked fourth in the NHL, needed just 27 more seconds to capitalize. This time, Eriksson knocked down with his glove a shot going wide by Stephane Robidas and then swept a quick shot past a shell-shocked Harding.
The offensive explosion of four goals in the third period gave the Stars a season-high eight goals, their highest output since Nov. 4, 2005 in a 9-1 victory over Chicago.
“We wanted to keep things simple and kind of play a road game, throw a lot of pucks at the net, get a lot of traffic around there,” Morrow said. “The puck was bouncing a little bit, and fortunately, it was bouncing for us tonight. It’s no secret, we were just throwing things at the net and crashing and whacking.”
With Dallas leading 3-2 after one, they came out strong in the second, almost pushing their advantage to two less than a minute into the period. Ribeiro fed Morrow alone in front, but Harding turned aside his wrist shot.
About a minute later, Harding made a sparkling sliding stop on Halpern’s fierce wrist shot from the right circle off the rush.
The Stars then broke through for a two-goal lead on Barnes’ third of the season at 3:50, as his wrist shot from low in the left circle seemed to re-direct in off a Wild defender’s stick, with Barch hovering around in front.
Minnesota got that one back on Demitra’s second goal of the game at 8:13, when he ripped a blazing slap shot from above the left circle that beat Turco over the glove and banked in off the goalpost.
The Stars continued to press over the rest of the period, outshooting Minnesota 8-3 in the second, but were unable to extend the lead.
Harding made a nice stop on Ribeiro’s wrist shot from low in the right circle after he received a nice pass from Morrow with about eight minutes remaining.
“After the third goal, we kept creating chances and we are playing together and with a lot of
confidence,” Ribeiro said. “We came out with a strong effort after a slow start and its two big
Then about a minute later, Dallas had several chances as Harding made the save on Modano’s deflection from the high slot, and then Ott’s rebound attempt ricocheted off the post and wide. Seconds later, with the Stars still controlling in the Wild zone, rookie defenseman Mark Fistric, playing in just his second NHL game, drilled a slap shot from the blue lin that Harding stopped, but the puck slipped behind him. With Ott trying to get at the loose puck, Harding dove back for it, but Minnesota’s James Sheppard cleared it off the goal line.
The Wild hit a goalpost of their own with just 32 seconds left in the second, as Dominic Moore, who was 9-2 on face-offs for the night, spun around with a backhander that clanked off the post and went out the other side behind Turco.
In a crazy first period that was reminiscent of the Stars’ 5-4 overtime victory over Edmonton on Dec. 10, Dallas and Minnesota combined for five goals before the opening period was half over.
The Stars jumped out to the early lead, as Hagman connected for the game’s first goal just 1:33 into the contest. After Dallas’ rush caught the Wild on a bad line change, Modano fed Hagman with a sweet pass, and Hagman’s wrist shot from the right circle changed directions off Minnesota defender Keith Carney’s stick and beat Harding. It was Hagman’s 13th goal of the season.
Dallas didn’t have the lead for long, however, as Minnesota rookie Aaron Voros whipped a wrist shot from the slot past a prone Turco, who appeared to lose sight of the puck earlier in the play at 4:50 for his seventh goal of the year.
The Stars rebounded to take the lead back just a minute and a half later on Ribeiro’s 20th of the season. After absorbing a hit by Minnesota’s Nick Schultz and maintaining possession of the puck on his way into the Wild zone, Ribeiro then swept into the slot, made a move to his backhand and slipped it between Harding’s pads.
Minnesota struck right back just 37 seconds after that on Demitra’s first of the night, evening the score 2-2. Demitra’s wrist shot from a sharp angle below the left circle squeezed through Turco and the near-side post for one the Stars netminder would undoubtedly like to have back.
But the Stars regained the momentum by coming through on Halpern’s eighth goal, a short-handed tally at 9:33. Ott stole the puck from Marian Gaborik in the neutral zone and raced into the Minnesota zone on a partial breakaway, only to be taken out of the play by Wild defenseman Kurtis Foster. But Halpern followed up the play, and slid a point-blank wrist shot under a sliding Harding to put the Stars back on top, 3-2.
“It was a really good play by Otter and I got a lucky bounce and the puck was just sitting there for me,” Halpern said. “We had a little bit more time than usual tonight against a team like Minnesota. We are pretty confident in how we’re playing right now and we are as solid as we’ve been since I’ve played here. It was a solid game all-around and a big two points.”
Harding made a nice stop on Morrow’s slap shot from just inside the blue line with 4:08 remaining, although he had to check behind him to make sure it didn’t slip through.
Harding also turned aside Miettinen’s one-timer from the top of the right circle with 39 seconds to go in a period that the Stars held a 10-8 advantage in shots.
The Stars continue their four-game holiday homestand Saturday night when the St. Louis Blues visit the American Airlines Center (8 pm, FSN).
- Ribeiro scored 20 goals in 81 games for Montreal in 2003-04. Number 20 this year came in game number 35. He now has 10 goals in December alone, ranking him second in the NHL behind Calgary’s Jarome Iginla (11) in that time frame. He now has four goals and nine points over the course of a four-game point streak and nine goals and 18 points in his last nine games. The Stars now sport a 13-4-1 record whenever Ribeiro finds the back of the net.
- With an assist on Ribeiro’s goal, Morrow extended his current points streak to four games (three goals, three assists). Over the past nine contests, Morrow has six goals and 13 points. It’s Morrow’s fourth four-game point streak of the season. Morrow also fired a season-high six shots on goal.
- Halpern’s goal was the Stars’ sixth shorthander of the season; Dallas had three shorthanded markers all of last season. It was Halpern’s first SHG this year and the eighth of his career, although it was his first since the 2002-03 season. His eight goals in 38 games this year matches his total from all of last season (in 76 contests). Halpern now has a goal and two assists in his last two outings.
- With two assists, Miettinen also has himself a four-game point streak (two goals, six points). Over the eight contests he’s played since returning from a groin injury on Dec. 10, Miettinen has 12 points (four goals, eight assists), and not coincidentally, Dallas is 7-1-0 in those games.
- Rookie Niskanen, who grew up in Minnesota and faced the Wild for the first time, had his parents in attendance for the holidays. His assist on Hagman’s goal was his second in the last two games and leaves him second among NHL rookie defensemen with 14 points.
- Modano’s assist on Hagman’s goal snapped a three-game point drought and a total of 1,250 career points, the most ever by an American in NHL history.
- Eriksson’s goal was his first in 13 games, but did give him four points (one goal, three assists) in his last six contests after registering just one assist in the previous eight.
- Jussi Jokinen skated in his 200th career NHL contest and assisted on Eriksson’s goal.
- Defenseman Mattias Norstrom sat out his second straight contest with a lower body injury and is currently listed as day-to-day. In his place, rookie Mark Fistric skated in his second career NHL game after making his NHL debut Saturday at home against Montreal. Fistric skated 14:16, picked up his first NHL penalty and also had a shot on goal.
- The Stars scored a total of nine goals in four games (a total of 255 minutes of play) against Minnesota last season, going 3-0-1 in those games before exploding for eight in this one game.
- The Wild last won a game in regulation at the American Airlines Center on March 8, 2002, when they defeated the Stars 5-3. Dallas did fall 3-2 in OT to the Wild on March 21, 2003, Minnesota’s last win in Dallas.
Wrist shot -