If it seems like it’s someone new every night that steps up to be a difference-maker for the Dallas Stars, that’s because it is.
This time it was defensive defenseman Mattias Norstrom coming through in the clutch, scoring 4:37 into overtime to give the Stars a 2-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks and a commanding 3-0 lead in their best-of-seven Western Conference Semi-final series Tuesday night at the American Airlines Center.
It was the second overtime game of the series, as the Stars have now won three OT games in a row going back to last spring, after dropping six straight in extra time before that. Dallas is now one win away from its first appearance in the Western Conference Finals since 2000.
It was the first win by a home team in the series, and the Stars’ third in a row at the American Airlines Center after going 1-7 in their previous eight here.
Norstrom assisted on captain Brenden Morrow’s winner in Game 1; this time, Morrow provided the screen in front, as Norstrom’s wrist shot from the top of the left face-off circle deflected off Sharks defender Marc-Edouard Vlasic and over goaltender Evgeni Nabokov’s shoulder.
“We were putting the pressure on, the puck popped out to me and I tried to get it on net as quickly as I could,” Norstrom said of his second goal in five games after going the first 41 of his post-season career without one. “It hit his stick and it ended up in the net. I’ll take it off sticks, off feet, as long as it goes in. I’ve never had a bigger goal. It feels great.”
“We could care less how it went in,” said goaltender Marty Turco, who made 19 saves for the win. “That’s playoff hockey and when games are that tight, you feel very fortunate to score in overtime.”
The Stars now have the opportunity to eliminate the Pacific Division champion Sharks, the second seed in the West, on home ice Wednesday night.
“Tomorrow we’re going to try to end their season and they know that,” Norstrom said. “The desperation level will be higher so we have to match that and exceed it.”
“We want to get right back at them and we’ll see what happens tomorrow,” center Mike Modano added. “There’s a lot of adrenaline right now and elimination games in Dallas are always revved up. Their backs are against the wall and we’ll need to match their intensity.”
Even though the Sharks scored the game’s first goal, as they have in every game in the series, the Stars bounced back again, tying the score early in the third period on a power play goal by defenseman Sergei Zubov.
“You can take a lot from that,” Turco said of the Stars’ penchant for rebounding from early deficits. “I don’t think it surprises anybody in this locker room, our ability to stay with it. We’ll keep pushing ahead and keep believing we can win the series.”
Mike Ribeiro assisted on both goals for Dallas, maintaining his tie with Pittsburgh star Sidney Crosby for the NHL lead in assists with 10. And while Morrow didn’t figure on the scoresheet, his presence in front on the net on both goals was definitely a factor in each.
“It’s amazing how hard he plays and how well he plays,” Stars coach Dave Tippett said of Morrow. “He has such purpose on every shift. Sometimes he’s not getting rewarded with assists, but he’s always around the action. The greatest thing you could say about him is we know he’s around the action, and I’m sure if you ask them, they know he’s around the action. We’ll leave it at that.”
“We’ll take it,” Morrow said of the win. “We played some real good hockey and we’re in a real good position right now. We are finding ways to win hockey games and have gained some steam here. It’s a battle, they are good defensively and they do a good job clogging up lanes.”
For awhile, it looked like Nabokov, who was outstanding in making 27 saves, might steal one the way Turco did in Game 1.
Down 1-0 going into the final period, Dallas was handed a prime chance to even the score just 35 seconds in when Shark defenseman Christian Ehrhoff was called for hooking as he prevented Morrow from breaking through on a breakaway. Since the Stars were already on a power play, that gave them a 5-on-3 advantage for 33 seconds.
The Stars only needed 12 seconds to net the equalizer, as Zubov ripped a slap shot from the top of the right face-off circle that ricocheted off Sharks blueliner Craig Rivet and past Nabokov.
With the Stars still on the man-advantage, they almost got another 1:25 later, as Stephane Robidas, controlling the puck in the left face-off circle, fed a pretty cross-ice pass to Ribeiro at the right post, but his re-direction skipped just wide of an open net.
Niklas Hagman nearly gave the Stars the lead with 9:10 left in regulation, as he was awarded a penalty shot after Ehrhoff took him down on a breakaway. Hagman made a move to his backhand, but Nabokov got enough of it with his arm to send it just wide.
“I wanted to come with a little speed, maybe a little fake and try to move it quickly to backhand, try to get it up,” Hagman said. “But when I moved it to my backhand, it bounced a little bit and I couldn’t shoot it right away, so I had to keep it on my backhand for a little bit and kind of lost momentum there. I managed to get a shot at least, but at that point, all the holes at least were blocked.”
With time winding down in the third period, Jere Lehtinen intercepted an errant pass inside the San Jose blue line, leading to a good opportunity seconds later, when Matt Niskanen drilled a slap shot from the right point, but Nabokov made a nice save to keep the game tied with 1:08 remaining, setting the stage for OT.
Loui Eriksson had two prime chances in the second minute of overtime, but was robbed on each by Nabokov.
Then Turco made two key stops on Milan Michalek in front after Joe Thornton fed him from behind the net about 3:15 into OT.
Moments after San Jose coach Ron Wilson called a time-out, Norstrom ended it.
“We’ve got a lot of guys in here that are playing great, but there’s one guy that’s been there for us all year long,” Turco said of Norstrom, “with a lot of injuries to veteran guys, a man that’s been vocal, that’s played a lot of minutes, that’s been asked to do a lot, without much fanfare. That’s his game. He doesn’t care, he wants this team to win and he’s the kind of guy you need this time of year, to be on top of his game. It’s great for him to see that one go in.”
Trailing 1-0 entering the second, Dallas dodged a major bullet just 3:35 in, when Devin Setoguchi’s wrist shot from the top of the left face-off circle hand-cuffed Turco and trickled through him towards the goal line, but slid just wide of the goalpost.
The Stars had a golden opportunity of their own 1:20 later when Ribeiro set up Lehtinen alone in the slot, but he shanked the one-timer just wide of an open net. Then about 30 seconds later on the same shift, Morrow stole the puck from Sharks defender Douglas Murray beside the San Jose net and got an in-close shot on Nabokov, but was denied.
Dallas continued to press in the San Jose zone, generating a flurry of opportunities over the next couple of minutes, with Brad Richards’ one-timer from the top of the right circle the best chance, but could not get one past Nabokov.
As the play continued with no stoppages for several minutes, the in-arena clock froze with 14:15 remaining and was not re-set until the next whistle, which wasn’t until 7:59 to go.
Marleau almost had another one with 5:08 left in the second when he sped around Zubov in the left circle and fired a wrist shot that Turco stopped, but the rebound got loose in front. Jonathan Cheechoo poked at it, bouncing it off the goalpost before Turco managed to smother it.
For the second straight game, the Stars spent a significant portion of the first period on the penalty kill.
“We have emphasized the starts and we’d like to bring some momentum from the opening face-off tomorrow night,” Morrow said.
San Jose earned the game’s first power play and subsequently, the first good scoring chance, as Thornton cut in from the right circle alone on Turco four minutes into the first period. Turco made a sprawling save, and as Modano tapped the puck against Turco’s stomach to freeze the play, the whistle blew the play dead - just as Patrick Marleau jammed it under him and into the net.
While it appeared to be a goal, as the puck was still relatively loose, the goal was waved off as the whistle had already blown.
Marleau nearly had another one two and a half minutes later as he zipped through several defenders in the right circle in on Turco, drawing a tripping penalty on Robidas in the process, and Turco still came up with a big save.
On the ensuing power play about a minute later, Turco got the tip of his glove on Michalek’s wrist shot from in front after he sped in alone on a mini-breakaway.
Seconds after Robidas exited the penalty box, the Stars counter attacked, with Stu Barnes firing a wrist shot from the left circle that Nabokov stopped, but the rebound spit right out in front, where Morrow directed it just wide of the far post.
Dallas began to generate more opportunities as the period continued, and Modano tested Nabokov with six minutes remaining in the opening period with a scorching wrist shot. Nabokov made a nice shoulder save, but the puck bounced up in the air and landed in the crease. Just as Nabokov pounced on it to smother it, Steve Ott barreled through trying to poke it free, knocking Nabokov into the goalpost and taking the net off its moorings - and setting off a near-riot as players from both teams converged in a vicious shoving match.
With 4:20 remaining in the first, Joel Lundqvist had the Stars’ best chance of the period, as he received a nice pass from Brad Richards in front and whipped a wrist shot over a sliding Nabokov that clanged off the crossbar.
After killing off a third San Jose power play later in the period, Dallas seemed poised to capitalize after Thornton was called for cross-checking with 1:19 left, but it was the Sharks who went into the intermission with the 1-0 lead. After a turnover at the San Jose blueline by Zubov, who was skating in just his second game after missing 40 with a fractured foot and sports hernia, Marleau stole the puck and raced in on a breakaway. He beat Turco with a quick snap shot over the glove hand with 35 seconds remaining.
Neither team has much time to relax, as they get right back at it Wednesday night in Game 4 at the American Airlines Center (8 pm start, FSN) with the Stars having the chance to advance with a win.
- Norstrom has now equaled his goal output (two) for the entire regular season, and has points in each game of this series (one goal, two assists), two in OT.
- Zubov’s goal was his first this post-season in his second game, and was the 24th of his NHL career in the playoffs.
- Richards’ assist was his fourth of the series and eighth of the post-season, ranking him tied for third in the NHL.
- Ribeiro, who entered the night tied for the NHL lead in assists and second in points, also earned an assist on Zubov’s goal, his ninth assist and 12th point of the playoffs.
- The Stars received a scare when Stu Barnes was leveled by a hit from Cheechoo 2:36 into overtime, and after he stumbled while trying to get up, stayed down for a while. Seeming dazed, he was eventually helped back to the bench.
“I didn’t see it, it was probably a good hit,” Barnes said. “We’ll see, we’ll get checked out, we got a couple of things that you got to do in the process and we’ll go from there.”
- Hagman’s penalty shot was the first for the Stars in the post-season since moving to Dallas and fourth in franchise history. It was first one since Minnesota’s Basil McRae scored on Chicago’s Ed Belfour on Apr. 6, 1991.
- The Stars have dominated third periods in this post-season, outscoring the opposition 17-5.
1 - 0 SJS
1 - 1 Tie
1st OT Period
2 - 1 DAL