After several days of intense practicing, the Dallas Stars, with rookie goaltender Tobias Stephan manning the crease, gave a solid, consistent defensive effort to defeat the Minnesota Wild 4-2 Wednesday night at the American Airlines Center.
The Stars (4-4-2), who entered the day ranking last in the NHL with a 4.17 goals-against average, sat struggling starting goalie Marty Turco and the club seemed to rally around Stephan, who made 19 saves to register his first NHL victory.
Brad Richards contributed a goal and an assist at the other end as Dallas handed the Wild their first regulation loss of the season.
But Stephan was the story, as the 24-year-old Swiss netminder, making just his second NHL start and fifth appearance overall, made the saves when he had to and couldn’t really be faulted on either one he allowed.
“I must say that a big part of the win is our team,” said Stephan, whose only other NHL appearance was as a surprise starter a year ago when he lost a heart-breaking 2-1 overtime decision to Chicago. “Our D played great, they barely gave up scoring chances, so thanks to them and it was a great game.”
“We wanted to help out Toby, who may be nervous his first game, do as good a job as we could in front of him,” said Richards, whose goal at 15:39 of the first period put the Stars up 3-1. “Obviously, a lot of emphasis the way we played lately has not been up to par defensively, so that was a better job against a good team.”
Perhaps more importantly, the Stars’ defensive effectiveness in front of Stephan set the tone for the evening, outdueling a Minnesota club that came into the game with the NHL’s third-stingiest defense.
“That was a step in the right direction,” Stars coach Dave Tippett said. “We came out and set a good tone and had some players really engaged in the game. Tobias gave us solid goaltending and this might have been Richards’ best game of the season. There are some things to grab onto and it was won of our better games from our defensemen. Now we have to keep building on this.”
Dallas got an immediate jump on the Wild with Morrow scoring just 13 seconds into the contest. After Mike Ribeiro won the opening face-off, the Stars worked the puck deep, where Minnesota goaltender Niklas Backstrom shot the puck up the boards. It ricocheted off a couple of bodies to the right face-off circle, where Ribeiro slid it to Morrow, who ripped a one-timer from a sharp angle over Backstrom’s shoulder for the quick 1-0 lead.
The Wild tied it up with just five seconds remaining on their first power play of the night, on Marc-Andre Bergeron’s second goal of the year at 6:13. On the rush into the Dallas zone, Bergeron wired a laser beam of a one-timer from low in the right face-off circle over Stephan’s shoulder.
The Stars regained the lead with 7:15 left in the period on Ott’s first goal of the season. Richards threw a backhand pass from behind the goal line out front, which pinballed off Backstrom’s skate and lay loose in the crease for a moment as Ott jammed his way in there to nudge it over the goal line.
“It was great to be back out there,” said Ott, who returned to the lineup after missing three games with an undisclosed injury. “I knew Richie was going to try to get it to me, he’s a magician with that puck and I just kind of stayed there. I’m not going to score many goals from outside the crease, so just hacking and whacking and somehow it got over the line.”
“Ott’s energy plays a big part for our team,” Tippett said. “He’s a hard, physical player. The other team knows when he’s on the ice and it’s not just because he talks to them. He gave us some life.”
Richards connected less than three minutes later to make it 3-1, ripping a fierce wrist shot from the left circle past Backstrom for his third goal of the season.
“It was important to get a good start, especially against that team,” Richards said. “Getting a lead is a lot easier to play against them. 3-1 in the first period was big. That’s a hard team to play against as it is, but if they get a lead, it gets really tough. That’s the way to play them, get a two-goal lead, because it brings them out of character a little bit.”
Dallas nearly made it 4-1 with 40 seconds left in the opening frame when Ribeiro raced in on a breakaway. He deked to his backhand, but Backstrom made a nice glove save.
Minnesota coach Jacques Lemaire pulled Backstrom at the start of the second period, inserting backup Josh Harding for the first time this season.
The Stars went up by three at 12:06 of the second, as Niskanen connected for his first goal of the year on a power play. Avery carried deep into the left circle and dropped a pass back to a following Niskanen, who then unleashed a scorching wrist shot over Harding’s shoulder. It was the first power play goal surrendered by the Wild this season, snapping a 24-for-24 kill streak.
Stephan made perhaps his best save of the night on a power play with 1:05 remaining in the second, sliding post-to-post to deny Andrew Brunette’s booming one-timer from the right circle.
While both Morrow and Richards clanged shots off posts in the final period, Minnesota got a fluke goal back at 3:55 of the third. With the Wild on a power play, Brunette was attempting a pass out of the right corner, but the puck deflected off defenseman Mark Fistric’s skate in the crease and squeezed through Stephan’s pads. While the puck clearly crossed the line, for some reason there was a somewhat lengthy video review before the goal was officially counted.
Dallas received a bit of a scare with 2:34 left in the third period, when Morrow took an errant puck in the mouth, and with blood spilling out onto the ice, he immediately left for the locker room.
After some stitches in the lip and maybe a little dental work, however, Morrow will be fine. He’s a hockey player.
Things got a little tense when Mike Modano was whistled for his second hooking penalty of the third period, with just 1:31 remaining. The Wild made it a 6-on-4 advantage when they pulled Harding for an extra attacker, but they never really threatened and the Stars’ stifling defensive zone coverage saved the day.
“That’s the focus we had in practice over the last couple of days,” Niskanen said of the club’s defensive performance. “We have worked on the little things defensively and playing well as a team. That’s how we have to play every night.”
And while Stephan doesn’t know when his next start will be, he has certainly earned some more confidence with his performance.
“He’s got the first win under his belt,” Tippett said. “He had zero wins in the NHL. So he has to build that confidence in himself and from his teammates.”
“That’s my job, I just try to make the best of it and stay focused and be ready when called upon,” Stephan said of life as a backup goalie. “I feel good and it was good to get the win tonight.”
The Stars now embark on a five-game road trip after this, starting Halloween night in Chicago (Friday, 7:30 pm start, FSN).
- Morrow led the club with six shot on goal, while Ott delivered a team-high five hits on the night.
- With the win, the Stars improved their record at home against Minnesota to 11-2-2. Overall, Dallas sports a 13-3-1 mark against the Wild going back to the 2003-04 season.
- Wild winger Antti Miettinen returned to Dallas to face his former team after leaving as a free agent this summer. He earned an assist on Brunette’s goal in the third period.
- He didn’t play, but Turco owns a stellar 11-4-1 career record against the Wild with a 1.96 goals-against average.