In a battle of the two best teams in the Western Conference, the Dallas Stars came up a little short.
Facing the NHL’s overall leader, the Pacific Division-leading Stars, second in the West, dropped a 4-1 decision to the Detroit Red Wings Wednesday night at the Joe Louis Arena.
After a scorching hot streak in which they went 8-1-0 and outscored the opposition 37-21 (that’s an average of over four goals a game) over nine games, the Stars have now lost twice in a row while managing all of one goal.
Dallas remains one point ahead of San Jose atop the division, but the Sharks have two games in hand. The red-hot Wings are now 15-2-1 in their last 18 and an NHL-best 17-3-1 on home ice this season.
The Stars’ only goal was scored by Loui Eriksson late in the third period, while Marty Turco made 22 saves in goal. Turco, who won two national championships just down the road at the University of Michigan, has still not won an NHL game in Detroit, falling to 0-6-2 lifetime here and 1-9-5 overall against the Wings.
“I’m not concerned about it, but I don’t need to be reminded about it, either,” Turco said of his uncharacteristic record versus Detroit. “Every game against these guys is a test, and you have to be at your best in a game like this. Our whole game is about hard work and we need to get back to that.”
Meanwhile, Chris Osgood was excellent in the Red Wings’ crease, stopping 23 shots and was the game’s number one star.
Unfortunately for the Stars, the chance to watch two of the NHL’s best - and highest-scoring - defensemen was nixed by the fact that Sergei Zubov was held out of the contest due to a bruised hand. His absence meant that the Stars dressed three rookies on the blue line, as Mark Fistric suited up for his fourth big-league contest and played well. Zubov is listed as day-to-day.
Detroit’s Nicklas Lidstrom, winner of five of the last six Norris Trophies, on the other hand, earned two more assists to push him four ahead of Zubov for the NHL lead among defenders and was named the game’s third star.
“We had a lot of young guys working hard and people who are usually impact players who didn’t have impacts,” Stars coach Dave Tippett said. “When you have injuries like we have, you need guys to step up and we didn’t get that tonight. Both teams had some good, quality chances, but theirs went in and ours didn’t.”
Down 2-0 entering the third, the Stars fell behind by three on Dallas Drake’s first goal of the season (and first in 45 games overall) 4:32 into the period. Just seconds after Johan Franzen slid a one-timer from the left face-off circle through the crease and wide of an empty net, Drake ripped a one-timer from the right circle that ricocheted off the far post and in, after receiving a sweet cross-ice pass from Henrik Zetterberg.
Zetterberg, the Red Wing’s leading scorer with 52 points, returned to the Detroit lineup after missing the previous five games with back spasms and showed little rust, picking up two assists.
Less than two and a half minutes after his goal, Drake challenged Steve Ott to a fight after Ott drilled Lidstrom with a check. Ott took Drake down quickly.
Lidstrom got his revenge in his own quiet, subtle way by setting up Detroit’s fourth goal with 6:47 remaining. His booming slap shot from the blue line was expertly re-directed by Pavel Datsyuk in the slot, whose deflection with the shaft of his stick beat Turco over the glove. It was Datsyuk’s 16th of the season.
The Stars ruined Osgood’s shut out on Eriksson’s third of the year just 46 seconds later. Fistric snapped his stick in half on a slap shot attempt from the blue line that dribbled to the left of the crease, where Eriksson picked it up and curled around the net, depositing the puck in from the right side on a swift wrap-around. It was Fistric’s first career NHL point, in his fourth game.
While the Stars controlled the play territorially for the rest of regulation, they didn’t really have any prime opportunities to climb back into the contest.
“The coaches expected more from us and we didn’t perform the way we know we can,” noted captain Brenden Morrow, held scoreless for the second straight contest after a five-game point streak. “The bottom line is they out-worked us.”
Trailing 1-0 after one, the Stars thought they tied the contest 5:34 into the second, but replays showed rookie Chris Conner, a local boy playing his first game against the team he grew up rooting for, actually shoved the puck into the net with his hand, so the goal was waved off. After Niklas Hagman stole the puck just inside the Detroit blue line, he fed Conner in the right circle and the Westland, Michigan native crashed the net, literally. Osgood made the initial save and as Conner fell into the crease area, he pushed the puck in with his glove, which is not allowed.
About a minute and a half later, Dallas came close again, as Brad Winchester, still looking for his first goal as a Star, fired a one-timer from the slot after receiving a nice pass out of the left corner from Eriksson, but Osgood made the big stop.
Just 30 seconds after that, the Red Wings counter-attacked and extended their lead to two, as Franzen collected his seventh on the season at 7:28. After receiving a nice lead pass from former Stars enforcer Aaron Downey, Franzen raced in alone, faked out Turco with a move to his backhand and slipped the puck in for the 2-0 edge.
Turco then kept the Stars within two with two big saves on a power play with 11 minutes left in the second. First he stopped Datsyuk’s booming slap shot from the top of the right circle, then denied Zetterberg’s rebound attempt in front.
The Red Wings kept pressing and Turco was once again equal to the challenge, making several saves during a lengthy 4-on-4 stretch. He made a big save after Valtteri Filppula’s end-to-end rush resulted in a scorching wrist shot from the slot, with 4:45 to go.
About 20 seconds later, Datsyuk stole the puck from Modano and raced in on a breakaway, but his slap shot from the high slot went wide.
About 1:15 after that, Detroit sped into the Dallas zone on a 2-on-1 rush, and Turco made a brilliant glove save on Mikael Samuelsson’s wrist shot from the right circle.
Soon after that, with about 2:50 left, the Stars almost had a nice bounce go their way, but it was not to be. Following a Stars dump-in from the neutral zone, the puck came off the back boards oddly and ended up right on Mike Ribeiro’s stick in the left circle. He quickly wristed a shot towards the empty net, but a scrambling Osgood made it back to smother the puck at the near post.
Winchester nearly cut the lead in half with about 1:50 to go, but Osgood thwarted his one-timer from the slot after he took a nice feed from Joel Lundqvist in the right corner.
The Red Wings had the game’s first scoring chance about midway through the first period, as defenseman Niklas Kronwall ripped a slap shot from the left circle off the rush that forced Turco to make a sparkling glove save.
Less than two minutes later, Winchester leveled Mikael Samuelsson with an open ice bodycheck, and 20 seconds after that, Kronwall nailed Eriksson.
Detroit then got on the board first as Daniel Cleary connected for his 13th goal of the season with 7:59 remaining in the opening period. Picking up the puck just over the Dallas blue line, Cleary wound up for a slap shot that Stephane Robidas blocked, but the puck rebounded right back to Cleary, who then whipped a snap shot from the left circle past Turco on the short side for the early 1-0 lead.
About two minutes later, the Red Wings almost made it 2-0 when Zetterberg blasted a one-timer from the top of the right circle that clanged off the near-side post, but stayed out.
The Stars had their best chance of the period with about 1:30 to play when Trevor Daley received a nice cross-ice pass from Ribeiro in the right circle, but Osgood made an outstanding sprawling, pad-stacked save on his wrist shot.
About 20 seconds later, Dallas dodged a bullet when Turco, playing the puck in the left circle, inadvertently gave it away to Datsyuk, who fed Cleary in the slot. With Turco out of the net, Cleary fired a wrist shot at the open goal, but Fistric dropped to one knee and blocked it to keep it a one-goal deficit going into the intermission.
“They controlled the puck pretty well and we didn’t play hard enough to really compete with them,” said Ribeiro, who is pointless in two games after piling up 10 goals and 19 points in his previous 10 outings. “It’s a matter of working harder and tomorrow night’s game will be a good chance for us to rebound from this. We know what we have to do to give ourselves a chance each night.”
The Stars continue their mini-road trip Thursday night in Minnesota (7 pm, FSN) before returning home to battle the Red Wings again Saturday afternoon (1 pm, my27) at the American Airlines Center.
- Eriksson’s goal was his second in the last four games after connecting just once in his first 24 this year.
- Lundqvist earned his second assist in his last four outings after suffering through a 16-game point drought. He also had three bodychecks.
- Winger Chris Conner, who grew up in nearby Westland, played his first NHL game in Detroit. Conner, who also recently changed his uniform number from 65 to 25, had an energetic night, firing one shot on goal in 12:41 of ice time.
- Winchester, who had been a healthy scratch for the previous nine games, returned to the lineup with a spirited effort. He had three shots on goal and two hits in a season-high 11:20 of ice time.
- The Stars’ penalty killing unit, ranked first overall in the entire NHL, extended its streak of consecutive kills to 24 over their last seven games by nullifying all three Wings’ power plays. Meanwhile, the Dallas power play was scoreless in three attempts, leaving them just 2-for-25 over the last six contests.
- Daley led the Stars with four shots on goal. With Zubov out of the lineup, Daley led both teams in ice time, skating 23:53.
- Norstrom, who was celebrating his 36th birthday, was skating in just his second game after missing three with a lower body injury. “No issues physically, but when you’re away from the game a while, no matter how you work out and how you practice, games are games and it takes a while to get back in the swing of things,” said Norstrom, who logged 23:04 of ice time. “This is the second game back and I do feel a little bit better and hopefully, it won’t take many more games.”
- Left winger Jussi Jokinen sat out his second straight game with a knee sprain. He is expected to miss the next 2-3 weeks.
- Mike Modano, who is from nearby Livonia and played for Red Wings’ owner Mike Illitch’s Little Caeser’s youth teams, was honored before the game by the Red Wings for becoming the NHL’s all-time leading American-born scorer earlier this season. He received a framed number nine Little Caeser’s jersey as a gift.
- Red Wings coach Mike Babcock was named head coach of the Western Conference team in the NHL All-Star Game, to be played this season in Atlanta on Jan. 27. Tippett still has a chance to become Babcock’s assistant for that contest if the Stars beat Minnesota and San Jose loses to Calgary Thursday.
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