They say the mark of a really good team is that they win even when they don’t play as well as they are capable of.
If so, then the Dallas Stars certainly fit the description, as they dug deep to grind out a 3-1 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets Saturday afternoon at the American Airlines Center.
In their first contest back home after a grueling five-game road trip, the Stars didn’t necessarily put forth their best effort but still found a way to come out on top. They received offensive contributions from three different forward lines and overcame the absence of defenseman Sergei Zubov, who sat out with a foot injury.
The game looked a lot more one-sided based on the shots on goal totals, as the Blue Jackets outshot Dallas 31-14, but the Stars played solid defensively and kept many of the Columbus shots to the perimeter so they weren’t quite as dangerous.
Mike Smith got the start in goal and was excellent, turning aside 29 Columbus shots for his ninth victory of the season and first since Dec. 29, a span of three appearances. At the other end of the ice, the Stars received goals from captain Brenden Morrow, Stu Barnes and Steve Ott.
“It wasn’t the best game for us today, but the bottom line is that we got the two points,” Morrow said. “We have a lot of guys right now with some spark and that is really bringing us some energy. Mike Smith was really good for us today and made some good saves, standing tall and getting us the win.”
“You’ve got to find ways to win games and right now the goaltending has got to be at its best, so it was a big win for the team,” Smith added. “I think it’s been a long time since I had a win, so tonight I really focused hard. The last four practices I’ve been really intense, so I’ve really focused hard and battled hard in practice and it carried over into the game tonight.”
The victory gives Dallas 59 points, one back of Anaheim for the Pacific Division lead, with the Ducks arriving at American Airlines Center for a date Sunday afternoon. In the process, the Stars snapped a four-game Columbus winning streak. It was their third win this season over Columbus.
“I give our players a lot of credit coming off a road trip like we had and winning this afternoon game,” Stars coach Dave Tippett said. “We were efficient today. Smitty did a great job and helped us get the two points.”
Up 1-0 going into the second, the Stars allowed Columbus the first few scoring chances of the period.
First Rostislav Klesla boomed a slap shot from the blue line that Smith stopped but couldn’t control the rebound, leading to a mad scramble at the side of the goal where several Blue Jackets whacked at the loose puck before it was cleared behind the net.
About 25 seconds later, with Columbus still buzzing in the Dallas zone, Smith robbed Rick Nash on a point-blank one-timer from the slot after receiving Jared Boll’s pass from behind the net.
After weathering that storm, the Stars then jumped ahead by two on Barnes’ seventh of the season at 10:12. After taking a sweet cross-ice backhand pass from Krys Barch in the right corner, Barnes found himself alone in front of Columbus goaltender Fredrik Norrena. Making a quick backhand-to-forehand move, Barnes tucked the puck around the Finnish netminder and in.
The Blue Jackets applied considerable pressure during a power play, but the Stars - and Smith in particular - kept them at bay. Smith’s best stop on the advantage came on rookie Derick Brassard’s tricky wrist shot from the top of the right face-off circle, when Smith kicked out the right pad for the save.
Just a minute and a half later, Niklas Hagman sped into the Columbus zone, but Norrena denied his quick backhander from the lower right circle.
Smith then stopped Nikolai Zherdev’s fierce snap shot from the right circle with 2:56 left in the period.
Zherdev got his revenge by notching his 20th goal of the season with just 11.4 seconds to go in the second. With Loui Eriksson in the penalty box for a phantom hooking call, Zherdev took a nice backhand pass from Jason Chimera in the middle and ripped a wicked wrist shot from the left circle past Smith on the short side.
The Stars were actually outshot 14-2 in the second period and 20-6 overall heading into the third ahead 2-1 but with the momentum clearly on the Blue Jackets’ side.
The Blue Jackets continued to attack early in the third, as Curtis Glencross very nearly tied the game 2:15 in. Carrying into the Dallas zone on a 2-on-1 break, Glencross’s wrist shot from the slot squeezed through Smith’s pads and sat tantalizingly in the crease for a moment before Trevor Daley reached it in time and cleared it out.
“It kind of squeaked through and fortunately, we got to it first,” Smith said. “The bounces go your way sometimes and fortunately it went our way tonight, so another big play there.”
Mike Modano had a prime chance about 4:30 into the third when he ripped a one-timer from the slot after taking a nice pass from Hagman at the left sideboards, but Norrena made the save.
About three minutes later, Nash unleashed a quick wrist shot off the rush from the right circle, but Smith turned it aside.
The Stars then re-established their two-goal lead on Ott’s fifth of the year at 8:54. After Nicklas Grossman blocked a shot in front of the Dallas net, he initiated the counter-attack the other way, sending Jeff Halpern into the Columbus zone with a pass down the right side. Halpern then feathered a nifty cross-ice pass to Ott, who launched a wrist shot from the left circle that beat a lunging Norrena over the shoulder.
“That goal by Otter was a big one at a timely time and gave us a little bit of breathing room,” Morrow said.
Just 40 seconds after that, the Stars had another big chance, but Norrena made a big shoulder stop on Antti Miettinen’s wrist shot from the left circle.
The Stars dodged a major bullet with 8:58 to play when Smith pulled a puck back from the brink just before it went over the goal line - or did he? After Smith denied Nash’s wraparound attempt, the rebound ended up in front, where Michael Peca swatted at it. The puck bounced up and over Smith, landing in the crease, before he managed to lunge back and cover it with his glove. While part of his glove went over the goal line, it was never clear where the puck was exactly, so the resulting video review did not overturn the ‘no goal’ ruling.
“Actually, the whistle went before it even had a chance to get over,” Smith said. “But it hit a guy’s skate in the crease there, so it wasn’t close.”
Ott had another big opportunity with 3:32 left, but this time, Norrena made a blocker save on Ott’s quick wrist shot from the top of the left circle.
Norrena also stopped Mike Ribeiro’s sharp wrister from the left circle with 1:06 to go before he was pulled for an extra attacker with 56 seconds remaining. The Stars were able to keep the Blue Jackets at bay and did not allow another good scoring chance before the final buzzer.
“Smitty was great tonight and really held us together today after a long road trip,” Ott said. “We’re all tired and beat up from the trip, but that’s no excuse. We just battled through and got the win, which is just what we needed to do here at home. We kept the game going with simple and smart plays.”
Dallas had the game’s first scoring chance as the Modano-Hagman-Eriksson line that has been so effective lately generated one 1:15 in as Modano fed Eriksson along the goal line, but as Eriksson cut across the top of the crease, he was shoved from behind and couldn’t complete the move around Norrena. Ironically, that line was the only one not to get on the scoresheet.
Columbus came right back down the ice, and 15 seconds later, former Star Manny Malhotra ripped a quick wrist shot from the left circle that clanked high off the goalpost and over the net.
Smith made his first big save of the game about nine minutes in, absorbing Peca’s wrister from the left circle. At that point, the Stars had yet to register a shot on goal.
With about seven and a half minutes gone in the opening period, Smith made an impressive stop on Jiri Novotny’s backhander from the slot through a screen.
About two minutes later, the Blue Jackets broke into the Dallas zone on a 2-on-1, but Fredrik Modin’s stick snapped as he tried to fire a slap shot from the left circle, and the puck trickled harmlessly into the corner.
The Stars grabbed the early lead on Morrow’s 17th of the season at the 12:43 mark, as he was set up for a one-timer by Antti Miettinen’s absolutely gorgeous behind-the-back backhand pass from behind the net. Morrow roofed his blast over Norrena for the 1-0 advantage.
“It was a heck of a play,” Morrow said of Miettinen. “I think he had everyone fooled out there, they were all going to the other side of the net, it was a pretty easy one to get on net.”
Dallas then went on the power play shortly afterwards, and although they controlled the puck in the Columbus zone almost the entire two minutes, were unable to extend their lead. Modano had the best opportunity of the advantage, drilling a one-timer from the right circle that Norrena made a big shoulder save on.
The Stars continue their four-game homestand with another matinee Sunday at 2:30 pm (note this is a new time) against the defending Cup champion Anaheim Ducks. Most of the Ducks’ management team, including head coach Randy Carlyle, watched this game from the press box, so Anaheim will undoubtedly be rested and ready to go.
“We have four games left before the All-Star break, every home game we need to win,” Ribeiro said. “It’s a good thing we play Anaheim tomorrow and not today, mentally we’ll be sharper. We need to give Smitty credit, we need a better team effort. After a long road trip it’s hard to come back.”
- This was the Stars’ fifth day game of the season and they have a 3-1-1 mark in those contests. Over the last four years, Dallas has excelled in daylight, posting an outstanding 22-6-2 record under those circumstances.
- Winger B.J. Crombeen, recalled from AHL Iowa on Wednesday, made his NHL debut. He had an eventful shift about three minutes into the third period, firing a quick wrist shot from right circle that Norrena made the save on, and then seconds later, squaring off with Jared Boll in his first NHL fight. After the long bout in front of the Dallas bench, Crombeen received a rousing ovation from the 17,811 appreciative fans at the American Airlines Center.
“It was a dream come true,” Crombeen said. “It’s something I’ve been working for since I was a little kid, so to get the opportunity, it was pretty exciting, and to get a win tops it off. I just tried to bring my game and be physical and keep it pretty simple and ended up getting in the first scrap, so it’s not a bad thing.”
- Barnes’ goal was his sixth in the last 14 games after he collected just one in the first 36 contests this year.
- Ott’s goal snapped a five-game pointless streak. Besides his big goal, he also blocked a team-high three shots and delivered three hits.
- Zubov missed his second out of the last four games and will sit out at least one more. “Zubov will be out for tomorrow’s game and will have an MRI on Monday,” Tippett announced. “We’ll re-evaluate him on Monday.”
- With Zubov out of the lineup, rookie Matt Niskanen led the Stars in ice time, logging 23:33 solid minutes.
- Modano failed to earn a point, snapping his five-game streak, but he did lead the Stars with three shots on goal.
- The Stars are now 21-3-3 all-time against the Blue Jackets, including 3-0-0 this year and 14-1-3 in their last 18 games against them. Columbus is 2-10-1 in Dallas.
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