Sunday's regular season finale between the Dallas Stars and San Jose Sharks figured to be a tame and boring bout between a couple of teams playing things out before postseason play begins later in the week. Nope.
In a feisty and physical game that saw an amazing 105 penalty minutes handed out in the first period alone, and 160 overall, the Stars outlasted and outmuscled the Sharks en route to a 4-2 come-from-behind win at American Airlines Center.
Antti Miettinen, Stu Barnes, Mattias Norstrom and Steve Ott all scored for the Stars, who garnered a much-needed win to head into their playoff matchup with the Anaheim Ducks with three victories in their final five games. Marty Turco finished with 32 saves to win for the second time in his last four appearances to help Dallas snap its four-game home losing streak and gather some momentum heading into its first-round series.
"That effort we had today couldn't hurt, it could only help," Turco said. "It was just one of those games."
"Today didn't mean anything in the standings, but it's nice to get some momentum heading into next week," defenseman Philippe Boucher said. "We are taking the positives out of this one and we had a lot of things we liked to see today. We have to do everything we can to be prepared."
The Stars will open the postseason in Anaheim -- most likely on Thursday -- but they got tuned up for playoff hockey against the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference Sunday afternoon. In a penalty-filled first 20 minutes that saw plenty of scrums develop after the whistle, four 10-minute misconducts were dished out. The heated stanza was highlighted by San Jose center Joe Thornton picking up 19 penalty minutes after he got into a scrap with gritty forward Ott.
"I didn't say much, so I don't know what happened," Ott said about his encounter with Thornton. "Joe is a competitive guy, throws his body around and scores big goals, and he didn't like me hitting one of his wingers. I only know one way to play and that's what I am going to do."
Added Barnes: "It was a wild one, that's for sure.It was a good game and you had to get a little bit rough. We are trying to work hard and elevate our game. We feel better about our game, and we are ready to go play our best hockey. (Anaheim is) a great team and we have to be ready for a tight series. Anytime you get to the playoffs, you have to handle all the little things and play a solid all around game."
In the wild opening period, the Stars were given four straight power-play opportunities -- including a two-man advantage for almost two full minutes -- but were unable to convert on any of the chances. The Sharks went on their first power play when Stephane Robidas received a five-minute major for checking Joe Pavelski from behind at 14:47, then went on a 5-on-3 minutes later when Stu Barnes was whistled for a high sticking infraction. That resulted in San Jose grabbing the first lead of the game on a goal by Patrick Marleau.
Marleau had a goal and assist, and Jonathan Cheechoo also scored for the Sharks, who finished the year losing two straight. Evgeni Nabokov made seven saves in the first period before being lifted in favor of Brian Boucher to start the second. Boucher allowed all four goals on 15 shots in 40 minutes of work.
With a 3-2 lead after 40 minutes, the Stars were able to preserve the win with tight defensive play before Ott's power-play goal -- his 11th of the season -- iced it with 1:12 left in regulation.
"It's always fun to score and it feels good to go into the playoffs on a confident note," Ott said. "Today was a lot like what we are going to see from here on. Anaheim is a heck of a team and we just need to play our game."
Turco, meanwhile, was solid and steady in the net after a couple of rough outings. He stood firm and kept Dallas in it, especially during the first two periods when the Sharks peppered him with 25 shots.
"Marty is like everyone else, he is trying to gain some momentum," coach Dave Tippett said.
Up by a goal after the first, San Jose grabbed a 2-0 advantage when Cheechoo juked and jived his way to potting his 23rd of the year 5:46 into the second on the power play. Cheechoo made a quick move before chipping the puck past Norstrom, then wristed a shot from the right circle that squirted past Turco.
Miettinen got the Stars on the board to cut the lead in half, scoring his 15th of the year midway through the second. Brenden Morrow was able to neatly get past three Sharks defenders in the neutral zone before sliding a pass to Mike Modano at the top of the right circle. Modano quickly tapped the puck to a trailing Miettinen, who unloaded a one-timer that eluded Boucher.
Barnes then tied it with his 12th on the power play with 3:47 left in the second. On a mini 2-on-1 rush inside the Sharks' blueline, Barnes skated in with the puck before squeezing a short wrist shot between Boucher's left arm and the right post.
Norstrom gave the Stars their first lead of the game, netting his second with just 13 seconds remaining in the middle frame. Pinching in from the point, Norstrom shoveled Toby Petersen's pass past Boucher from the low slot.
Marleau gave the Sharks a 1-0 lead with 2:27 left in the first while the Stars were down two men, wristing a shot from the bottom of the right circle past Turco.
"We asked our guys to play honest in their preparation and effort today, and I was surprised it got as revved up as it did," Tippett said. "We're going to need all hands on deck and we'll start getting our preparations started on Tuesday."
The Stars again played without Mike Ribeiro (flu) and Brad Richards (soreness/flu) for the third straight game, while veteran winger Jere Lehtinen was also held out after coming down with the flu as well. Krys Barch, meanwhile, returned after missing one game because of a slight concussion.
Dallas now plays a waiting game, as the NHL is expected to release the playoff schedule later Sunday night. But there's no doubting the team is ready to start season No. 2 against the defending Stanley Cup-champion Ducks in Anaheim.
"You don't have a choice but to show up for Game One of the playoffs," Turco said. "The most important thing for me right now is to get ready for Thursday. I'm really excited about it and looking forward to it."
"We will go in as big underdogs and we will have to play hard and play together," Tippett added. "It's a big challenge but we earned the right to be in the playoffs, and we will give our best effort. You have to prove yourself every year and that's where we are. We know each other very well and there are no secrets between us."
--The Stars recalled forward Konstantin Pushkarev from Iowa of the AHL prior to the game. Pushkarev, though, did not play.
--San Jose incurred 20 infractions for 95 minutes, while the Stars accumulated 65 penalty minutes. Sharks enforcer Jody Shelley led the parade to the sin bin with a game-high 41 penalty minutes -- a Sharks team record -- including two 10-minue misconducts as well as a game misconduct.
--Robidas received a game misconduct on his major penalty, and led the Stars with 15 penalty minutes.
--The Stars were 0-for-9 with the man advantage, while the Sharks were 2-for-6.
--Norstrom matched his goal total from last year when he played in Los Angeles and Dallas.
--Morrow had a pair of assists, and finished the campaign with a career-high 74 points. He registered a point in seven of the last eight games.
--Dallas finished the eight-game season series with the Sharks with a 4-2-2 mark.
--The Stars snapped a four-game home losing streak. The last time they lost five straight at home was in 1978.
--Dallas finished the season with a 7-3-1 record in afternoon games.
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