DALLAS - It was a thrilling start for the fans, perhaps, but the Dallas Stars left their season opener quite frustrated.
That’s because after rallying late from two goals down to send the game into overtime, the Stars saw Rick Nash score with 20.6 seconds remaining in OT to give the Columbus Blue Jackets a 5-4 triumph Friday night at the American Airlines Center.
It almost seemed like the inconsistency that plagued the club throughout a sub-par 1-5-1 pre-season remained with the team for the opener. After carrying a 2-1 lead into the third period, the Stars saw it evaporate with three goals against in the first seven minutes before goals by Brad Richards and Trevor Daley 33 seconds apart tied the game late.
“The pre-season, we heard lots of excuses, ‘We’ll be all right, this is all right,’ but now we’re looking for performances,” Stars coach Dave Tippett said. “One of the things that we’re going to stress around here is consistency and when you have a game like that where you’re up and down and all over the place, you’re all over the place because of mistakes.”
There were some positives for the Stars, not the least of which was the late comeback to secure a point when it looked like they wouldn’t get any.
“We kind of stole a point, I guess, down 4-2 with three or four minutes left,” said captain Brenden Morrow, who fittingly, scored the team’s first goal of the season. “But we’re a team that likes to lock it down and we knew coming in, we were going to be frustrated, but we just needed to stick with it. A little bit of frustration, but I guess we’re happy to get a point out of it.”
“We found a way to get back in the game and get a point,” added Tippett, “which, we’ll take the point, that’s for sure, but in actual fact, I look at the whole scope of the game. I didn’t see enough consistency in our group in how we played, to feel good about the game coming out, whether we got a point or not.”
Another plus for Dallas was the impressive performance of rookie winger James Neal, who, in his NHL debut, scored his first goal and had several other prime scoring chances, including one in overtime that could have made it a storybook ending for him if he could have lifted his backhander over Columbus netminder Pascal Leclaire.
“I felt really comfortable,” Neal said. “I played in all the pre-season games, so I was in pretty much every situation and that gave me confidence to be ready for today.”
“I thought he was excellent, he could have been our best player tonight,” Tippett said. “I think he played through (any nerves), I thought he was very good.”
Defenseman Stephane Robidas tied a career high with three assists on the night and center Mike Ribeiro collected two. Goaltender Marty Turco made 22 saves.
“That’s not the kind of hockey we want to play,” Robidas said. “We want to play tighter defensively, don’t give odd-man rushes and good scoring chances like we had, that’s not how we want to play. We get a point, but obviously, it’s not good enough. It’s the home opener here and our fans deserve a better effort for 60 minutes. We need effort for 60 minutes and we didn’t get it and we end up losing the game.”
Leading 2-1 heading into the final period, Dallas saw their lead slip away quickly on a couple of fluky bounces.
Columbus tie it at 2:30 of the third on a goal by Kristian Huselius. After defenseman Nicklas Grossman dropped to the ice to block R.J. Umberger’s wrist shot, Huselius collected the loose puck in the slot and fired it past Turco.
Less than four minutes later, Andrew Murray put Columbus on top 3-2 from in close after taking a pass from Jiri Novotny behind the net. Murray was alone in front and slammed it past Turco uncontested.
Then just 56 seconds after that, Derek Brassard really quieted the sellout crowd of 18,532 when his weak re-direction in front banked off the inside of Daley’s skate in the crease and slipped between Turco’s pads and in. That play was set up by a Matt Niskanen turnover, as Columbus rookie Jakub Voracek, also making his NHL debut, stripped the Dallas defender of the puck in the right corner.
“I don’t know, but we can’t afford any letdown like that against any team,” Robidas said of the Columbus barrage. “They capitalized on the chances we gave them, we let them come back in the game, and that’s not who we are, that’s not the identity we want to have. We want to play good defense first, the offense will take care of itself.”
The Stars didn’t give up and with 3:18 remaining got a break of their own to pull to within 4-3. Robidas’ wrist shot from the blue line pinballed off a Blue Jacket defenseman in front and ricocheted off Richards’ leg at the right side of the crease and past Leclaire.
Then, with the momentum clearly on their side, the Stars got the equalizer just 33 seconds later when Daley’s bomb of a slap shot from the point sailed through a maze of bodies and past a screened Leclaire.
Each team had multiple chances in overtime, with Grossman and Neal each just missing for Dallas, while Turco made impressive stops on Kris Russell and Nash at the other end.
Then, after a Dallas rush was thwarted in the Columbus zone, the Blue Jackets counter-attacked and, on the rush, Nash rifled a scorching wrist shot from the slot past Turco’s blocker for the game-winner.
After the game opened with seven and a half minutes of continuous hockey, the Stars won the face-off after the first whistle in the Columbus zone, leading to the game’s first prime scoring chance, as a nifty move by Ribeiro set up Morrow with a partially open net. Unfortunately, Morrow clanked a point-blank shot from in front off the goalpost.
“I hit a post early and I remember three or four posts after that,” Morrow noted. “You can’t look back and say what would’ve been or what could’ve been, we just didn’t do enough things right to win the hockey game.”
The Blue Jackets jumped on top first on rookie Voracek’s first NHL goal (in his first game) with 4:07 left in the opening period. After taking a pass from behind the net by Jason Chimera, Voracek ripped a shot over Turco’s shoulder so hard, it bounced out immediately and play continued for another 20 seconds or so. At the next whistle, replays showed the puck didn’t hit the crossbar but actually went in and it was ruled a goal (and the clock was rewound to the time the puck went in).
Just 26 seconds after that, there was a long, drawn-out fight between Krys Barch and Columbus’ Jared Boll, a bout in which Barch had the clear advantage, quickly re-awakening the quieted American Airlines Center crowd.
Columbus ended up with a 10-4 edge in shots in the first period, but the tide turned in a big way early in the second.
Dallas capitalized on a flurry of Columbus penalties to tie the game, as Morrow connected at 5:21 of the second period. With a 5-on-3 power play for 1:40, the Stars cashed in when Robidas’ shot from the top of the left circle deflected to Ribeiro at the left post. Ribeiro poked the puck back past Leclaire to Morrow at the lip of the crease, where the captain jammed it home.
While the Stars didn’t score on another 32-second two-man advantage shortly afterwards, Neal collected his first NHL goal soon after the teams returned to even strength and with the Stars still enjoying the momentum. Robidas carried down the left boards and slid a sweet backhand pass in front to a charging Neal, who lunged to deflect it up and over Leclaire’s pad at 8:04.
“It was a great pass from Robi,” Neal said, “and it felt great getting that first one out of the way.”
The Stars continued to dominate the period, holding a 15-0 advantage in shots with four minutes left when Turco turned aside a long wrist shot from Russell.
Dallas immediately gets on the private plane and heads to Nashville to face the Predators Saturday night (7:00 pm, FSN), so the grind starts right away.
- Neal became just the fourth player in franchise history to score a goal in his NHL debut. He also had three shots on goal in 16:13 of ice time.
- Mike Modano, with an assist on Daley’s goal, collected his 23rd career point in a season opener. He ranks second among active players in that department, compiling nine goals and 14 assists in those games over the course of his career. He trails just Colorado’s Joe Sakic, who has registered 11 goals and 26 points in openers.
- Turco entered the contest with a career 11-1-1 record against Columbus with a 1.82 goals-against average.
- The Stars are now 8-2-5 in season openers since moving to Texas and winning their first game in Dallas 6-4 at Reunion Arena against the Detroit Red Wings. Overall, dating back to their beginnings in 1967-68 as the Minnesota North Stars, the franchise owns a 15-15-11 mark on opening nights, going 11-7-3 at home.
- In a nice five-minute long ceremony before the game, the Stars brought out members of the first team to play in Texas from 1993-94, honoring the 15th anniversary of their arrival here. Former defenseman Craig Ludwig introduced Andy Moog, Shane Churla and Neal Broten to the overwhelming approval of the 18,532 fans in attendance.