Whether it was the team meeting or just the fact that they were in San Jose is irrelevant.
What matters most is that the Dallas Stars responded with one of their most complete efforts of the season, as two goals from Mike Modano helped lead them to a 4-2 victory over the San Jose Sharks at HP Pavilion Thursday night.
After going 0-2-1 in their last three games - and 2-6-1 in the previous nine - it seems that a closed-door meeting in the locker room following their 4-2 loss in Anaheim Tuesday night had the desired effect, spurring the Stars to their sixth straight win in San Jose in a physical, hard-hitting battle. It was the final match of a five-game road trip.
The Dallas victory left a logjam at the top of the Pacific Division standings, as the Stars (26-18-5) matched San Jose with 57 points, but after Anaheim defeated Nashville earlier in the night, the Ducks finish the evening with 58 to jump into first. The Sharks are now 0-2-1 in their last three after a 7-0-1 hot streak.
For Modano, who has seen his role evolve from the club’s top offensive threat into more of a second-line scorer this season, it was a vintage performance that extended his point streak to five games. Modano’s linemates were also instrumental, as Niklas Hagman contributed a goal and an assist, while Loui Eriksson also continued his recent hot streak with two assists. Jeff Halpern also scored.
“We competed hard and did a lot of things we had been looking for,” Stars coach Dave Tippett said. “Modano is very good in this building and he was opportunistic tonight. His line was good, especially against (Joe) Thornton’s line most of the night. It was a hard, tight game that we can build some confidence on.”
Marty Turco started his third consecutive game in net and delivered another outstanding performance, making 28 saves for his 18th triumph of the year.
Examples of gritty performances, like captain Brenden Morrow taking a brutal hit late in the first period and needing four stitches, but not even missing a shift - and adding an assist - were prevalent throughout the Dallas lineup.
“I can’t explain why we play so well here, it’s a fun crowd to play in front of and it’s a challenge trying to take them out of the game,” said Modano, who has four goals in the last two games in San Jose. “The hit on Brenden gave us all a spark and got us all involved and fired up. We wanted to finish this trip well and end on a good note and feel good about ourselves.”
Leading 2-1 heading into the third, the Stars missed a golden opportunity to make it a two-goal lead less than a minute in when Halpern raced into the right face-off circle before setting up Joel Lundqvist alone in front, but Lundqvist’s re-direct skittered just wide of an open net.
About two minutes later, Turco then denied Mike Grier’s one-timer from the top of the right circle, but San Jose would get the equalizer later in the same shift.
Following a Dallas turnover as they tried to clear their zone, Milan Michalek dished off from the right circle to Joe Thornton in the left circle, and Thornton’s wrist shot appeared to deflect off Stars defender Matt Niskanen’s stick in front and past Turco at 3:23. It was Thornton’s 15th goal of the season.
San Jose gained quite a momentum swing from the goal and pressured the Stars heavily over the next several minutes, gaining a 9-1 edge in shots by the eight minute mark, but Turco kept them at bay.
His save on Christian Ehrhoff’s booming slap shot from the blue line through a screen on a power play 5:30 in to the third was huge, as was his stop on Patrick Rissmiller’s quick wrister from the top of the circles two minutes after that.
But after withstanding the barrage, the Stars began to push back after the midway point of the period. Stu Barnes cut into the San Jose zone on a partial breakaway with 9:20 remaining, but was harassed so much by defenders from behind, he couldn’t get a solid shot off.
About 30 seconds later, Steve Ott ripped a slap shot from the left circle, but Sharks netminder Evgeni Nabokov, starting his 45th of 46 San Jose contests, made a nice pad stop.
But the Stars would take the lead for good soon after, as Modano collected his second goal of the game and 14th of the season with 7:06 to go. Stephane Robidas’ slap shot from the blue line was blocked in front, but the puck ricocheted to Modano in the right circle and he blasted it through a screen past Nabokov and in off the near-side post for a 3-2 lead.
Dallas continued to press and Mike Ribeiro nearly made it 4-2 with 4:24 remaining after intercepting a San Jose clearing attempt just inside the Shark blue line. Ribeiro then carried into the slot and fired a wrist shot through a screen set up by Morrow in front, but Nabokov made the save.
The Stars then did achieve some breathing room as Halpern made it 4-2 with 2:09 on the clock. After Morrow entered the zone and dropped the puck back to Ribeiro, he in turn left it for the trailing Halpern, who carried into the left circle and launched a fierce wrist shot that beat a sliding Nabokov between the pads for his10th goal of the season.
The Sharks finally managed to pull Nabokov, who made 27 saves, for an extra attacker in the final minute, but weren’t able to generate any dangerous opportunities before the final buzzer.
“It’s been a long trip and to play the way we did in a gut check game, we could’ve packed it in but we found a way and put forth a great effort,” Morrow said. “We can build off of tonight’s game for sure.”
With the score 1-1 going into the second, the Stars had the first good opportunity of the period about three minutes in as Barnes blasted a one-timer from the top of the right circle that Nabokov turned aside.
About three minutes later, Hagman almost snuck his second one in, but Nabokov slid across the crease quickly enough to make a pad save on Hagman’s wraparound attempt.
Turco made a nice stop with 7:30 gone in the second, lunging to get a skate on Jonathan Cheechoo’s quick, point-blank shot.
After making consecutive saves on Joe Pavelski, Turco robbed Thornton on a power play with 8:25 remaining in the period, after Thornton swiped a backhander on net from the right circle.
Dallas nearly took the lead just over a minute later when Nicklas Grossman’s wrist shot from the blue line was niftily deflected in front by Halpern, but Nabokov turned it aside.
The Stars did get the go-ahead marker with 5:09 left on Modano’s first goal in 10 games. After Hagman was leveled in the right corner advancing the puck to Eriksson behind the net, Eriksson slid a spinning backhand pass out front where Modano hammered it past Nabokov for the 2-1 lead.
“Loui is improving every game and every week and he is gaining a lot of confidence and responding well,” Modano said.
With back-to-back power plays to end the period, the Stars maintained sustained pressure in the San Jose zone most of the final four minutes, but were unable to get another past Nabokov. Perhaps his best stop came with 35 seconds to go, snaring Niskanen’s booming slap shot from the blue line with his glove.
After being outshot 10-5 in the first period, the Stars held a 19-9 advantage in the second.
San Jose had the game’s first scoring opportunity just off the opening face-off, as Craig Rivet sent a wrist shot towards the net that Thornton deflected down in the slot, then swiped it wide with Turco down.
Antti Miettinen drew a penalty with a nice individual effort racing down the right wing, forcing Alexei Semenov to hook at him to prevent a partial breakaway about four minutes into the opening period.
Unfortunately for Dallas, the power play not only didn’t generate much in the way of scoring chances, but led to San Jose’s fluky first goal when Semenov exited the penalty box and received a lead pass to set up a 2-on-1 rush.
Semenov carried into the Stars’ zone with Curtis Brown on the right side. As Semenov reached the lower left circle, Trevor Daley dropped to the ice in an attempt to block a pass across, but Semenov managed to lift it over him. The puck arrived about knee-high to Brown, who swatted it out of the air and leaving it bouncing in the slot, where a hard-charging Michalek spiked it past a prone Turco at 6:11 for a 1-0 Shark lead.
Nabokov made his first big save of the night about nine minutes in when Eriksson found a loose puck in the slot and fired a quick wrist shot through a screen, but Nabokov got his shoulder on it.
Dallas evened the score at 10:47 on Hagman’s 16th goal of the season and second in two nights on a nice set-up from Eriksson. Eriksson carried into the right side of the San Jose zone on the rush and fed Hagman in the middle as he squeezed between the Sharks’ two defensemen to get in alone on Nabokov. Hagman made a move to his forehand and then slipped a quick wrister through Nabokov’s pads to make it 1-1.
Turco made a nice stop just one minute later as he stopped Thornton after he came out from behind the net into the slot and put a backhander through a screen on net.
Another alert play by Turco prevented a possible San Jose goal with three minutes left in the first as Patrick Marleau backhanded a shot/pass from the left circle towards Cheechoo as he cut into the crease, but Turco speared it away with a quick poke-check.
Then with 1:41 to go, Morrow was crushed by Rivet behind the Sharks net, on a textbook boarding penalty that wasn’t called, causing Morrow’s face to bounce off the glass before he crumpled to the ice and stayed down for several seconds. Meanwhile, Daley challenged Rivet and the two fought, earning Daley an additional instigator penalty for sticking up for his teammate. Morrow, left with a cut over his right eye that needed four stitches and a nasty welt around it, was back on the ice before the period ended.
“I saw the hit the opposite of the way they did,” Morrow said of the officials.
“We saw a real positive reaction after the hit on Brenden,” Turco added. “Guys were inspired to play even harder and be there for each other. It was a treat from my end to see that. It was important to wrap up this trip on a good note and play the way we are capable of playing. We recognize what it takes to win games and we got a great all-around effort tonight.”
After a week and a half on the road, the Stars return to the Metroplex for a four-game homestand leading into the All-Star break, beginning with a Saturday afternoon matinee (1 pm, my27) against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the friendly confines of the American Airlines Center.
“It’s a logjam at the top of the standings, teams keep pushing and points are tight, so we have to keep battling and get as many points as we can,” Tippett said.
- Modano had gone nine games without a goal, dating back to Dec. 29, before erupting for two to give him a five-game point streak (one goal, six assists). He also leads the Stars in scoring this year against San Jose, having compiled eight points (five goals, three assists) in six games so far, including four goals in the last two games at HP Pavilion.
- Halpern’s goal, his 10th of the year, gives the Stars seven double-digit goal-scorers, the most in the entire NHL. Four other teams have six players with 10 goals or more.
- Hagman registered his second straight multiple-point game, as he posted a goal and an assist Tuesday in Anaheim. That gives him five points (two goals, three assists) in the last two outings. He is now just one goal shy of his career-high of 17 set last season.
- Eriksson, with his two assists, now have a three-game point streak, with five points (two goals, three assists) over that span, his most productive stretch of the season. “It’s been going really good here,” Eriksson said. “I’ve been playing a lot with Hagman and he’s a hard-working guy, too, so you get a lot of opportunities to play power plays, too, so you get a little bit more confidence to feel the puck. It’s fun right now.”
- Robidas’ assist on Modano’s second goal was his first point in 10 games. He also fired a game-high seven shots on goal, matching his career-high set Dec. 1, 2001, when he was with Montreal.
- Lundqvist’s assist on Hagman’s goal was his second assist in three games after going five games without a point.
- The Stars dressed seven defensemen, as rookie Mark Fistric, recalled from Iowa on Jan. 11, suited up for his seventh career game. He registered a +3 plus/minus rating in 10:25 of ice time. Various forwards double-shifted with Barnes and Krys Barch on the fourth line.
- It turned out to be a good thing there were seven D in the lineup, because Sergei Zubov left the game with about five minutes remaining in the second period after tweaking his foot. He still logged 15 minutes of ice time, more than any Star at the time he exited. He is listed as day-to-day.
- Niskanen, 21, ended up leading the club in ice time, with 21:30. He directed three shots on goal, while blocking two shots.
- Forward B.J. Crombeen, 22, was recalled from AHL Iowa Wednesday, but did not dress. He is still looking to make his NHL debut.
- The last time Dallas visited the Shark Tank on Nov. 7, Modano also scored two goals, recording career points 1,232 and 1,233 to pass Phil Housley and become the NHL’s all-time leading US-born point scorer en route to a 3-1 victory.
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