ST. PAUL, Minn. - Heading into Thanksgiving, the Dallas Stars finally have something to be thankful for.
Just when it looked like the Stars were headed towards another devastating defeat, they got a few bounces to go their way and scraped and clawed their way back from a 3-1 deficit to gut out an impressive 4-3 victory over the Minnesota Wild Wednesday night at the Xcel Energy Center.
The come-from-behind win snapped a three-game losing streak (0-2-1) and was just their second in the last eight games (2-4-2). It lifts Dallas out of last place overall in the entire NHL, although they still reside in the Pacific Division basement with a 7-10-4 record.
Missing captain Brenden Morrow for the rest of the season, along with three other key regulars, the Stars were looking for others to fill the breach and step up and rookie James Neal did that, collecting two goals for his first multi-goal game in the NHL.
“It feels great, especially with the win,” said Neal, who also led the team with five shots on goal. “It couldn’t have come in a better night. I’m just a young guy coming in and I try to keep things simple, but we had all sorts of guys stepping up and Turks played great in net. It was a good team win and it was something we needed.”
“Believe me, this is difficult circumstances for our team right now and as a young kid, Neal really jumped in and played a heck of a game for us,” Stars coach Dave Tippett said. “Credit him with a couple of goals and Marty Turco made some great saves late and we were able to get some points. We’re looking for people to step up, with the number of people we have out, we need people to fill those holes and Neal did it admirably today. It was a heck of a game by a young kid.”
Loui Eriksson scored the game-winning goal late in the third period and added two assists while Brad Richards also picked up a goal and an assist.
In goal, Marty Turco had a solid game, especially in the final two periods, making 25 saves overall for the triumph.
“We found a way tonight and that’s all that matters,” Turco said.
“It feels good, it’s a big win for this team,” added winger Mark Parrish. “To come back in the third and win the game feels fantastic.”
Things didn’t look good for the Stars, trailing 3-1 early in the second period. But the contest turned when an apparent Minnesota goal that would have put the Stars in a very deep hole was overturned by video review 6:14 into the second.
“We’ve been looking for a break all year, and maybe that was the break,” Neal said. “That was something that we turned on, it gave us a little motivation to get back down their end.”
With a renewed sense of life, Dallas rebounded and got back in the game, making it 3-2 late in the second and scoring twice more in the third.
Along the way, they had another potential goal against disallowed and watched as Minnesota hit three posts. A game like this could very well become a turning point of their so-far disappointing season.
“We need points and wins and sometimes you need a little luck and we haven’t really been on the right side of too many,” Turco said.
Dallas dodged a bullet when it looked like the Wild had gone up 4-1 at 6:14 of the second. Just 13 seconds after Toby Petersen entered the penalty box for hooking, Mikko Koivu boomed a one-timer from the top of the right face-off circle that zinged over Turco’s shoulder, pinged high off the right goalpost, ricocheted across the goal line and bounced off the left post and out. It was originally signaled a goal by the referee, but after a lengthy video review, the goal was waved off.
The Stars gained a little momentum from that, killing off the rest of the penalty and then applying some offensive pressure of their own.
Just seconds after Turco made a scintillating save on Marc-Andre Bergeron’s one-timer from the right circle, Neal picked up a loose puck in his own end and launched a counter-attack up ice. Racing into the Minnesota zone, Neal fired a wrist shot from the right circle along the ice that Wild netminder Niklas Backstrom stopped, but the puck bounced off his stick and straight up in the air. As he bulled his way into the crease, Neal seemed to swat the puck out of mid-air past a surprised Backstrom for his third goal in four games since being recalled from the minors, pulling Dallas to within 3-2 with 2:20 left in the second.
The Stars got a few more breaks go their way early in the final period before they took the game over.
Moments after defenseman Stephane Robidas broke up a Minnesota 2-on-1, the Wild thought they’d scored again, but another apparent goal was waved off 3:53 into the third. Seconds after Turco stumbled into the post and knocked the net off its moorings, Koivu received a pass in the slot and shoveled it past a scrambling Turco. But since the net was off, the goal was waved off. That was the second time in three games Dallas had what should have been a goal against called back due to Turco knocking the net out of place.
“In this case, I had no clue,” Turco said of the net being off. “You saw me diving around like an idiot, I would have preferred to not do that, if I knew the net was off.”
“That second one was a big-time sigh of relief, they didn’t count it,” Neal said. “Then we went back and went on the attack and we were able to get one for ourselves.”
First though, about 30 seconds later, Eric Belanger sped in on a partial breakaway, deking around Turco to his forehand, but he fired the puck just wide of an open net from a sharp angle.
One last close call came 7:20 into the third when Koivu, controlling the puck behind the net, squeezed one through Turco and into the crease, but before a Minnesota player could get to it, Neal cleared it out.
Having survived the Wild’s best push, the Stars went back down the other end and Richards got the equalizer at 8:30. After Eriksson helped him win a puck battle in the right corner, Richards curled out into the right circle and ripped an absolutely lethal wrist shot over Backstrom’s shoulder into the upper corner for his sixth goal of the season.
Then, with seven minutes remaining, Eriksson notched the game-winner with a deft deflection from the slot of Robidas’ slap shot from the right point. It was his team-leading 10th goal of the season.
After Minnesota pulled Backstrom for an extra attacker with 38 seconds left, Minnesota had one more prime opportunity but couldn’t capitalize, as Turco made a nice save on Koivu’s snap shot from the slot with 18 seconds remaining. The rebound then went to Brent Burns in the right circle, but his backhander rang off the near-side post and harmlessly into the corner.
“We’ve had some good stretches and we got rewarded a little bit for our hard work tonight,” Tippett said.
“Our effort’s there but not our best game,” Turco added. “Going out in the third period, all the things that happened, Barch stepping up, an awesome goal by the kid Neal to get us back in distance, we mentioned going into the period that this would be an opportunity for good things to come, and regardless of how it went down, it did.”
The Wild had the game’s first scoring chance, as Koivu’s innocent-seeming slap shot off the rush from the left face-off circle that knuckle-balled past Turco and off the near-side post about 5:50 into the contest.
Dallas got on the scoreboard first as Neal notched his first goal at 8:41. Eriksson fed a pass from high in the right face-off circle to Neal charging down the middle and Neal’s quick wrist shot beat Backstrom just inside the left post for his fourth goal of the season.
Unfortunately, Minnesota responded just 1:08 later on Belanger’s fifth of the year. After Turco made a pad save on Bergeron’s wrist shot from the point, the rebound bounced around for a moment before Belanger found it to the right of the crease and roofed it over Turco’s outstretched pad.
The Wild then seized the lead just under three minutes after that as Owen Nolan converted on the game’s first power play. With Landon Wilson feeling shame in the penalty box, Minnesota completed several cross-ice passes in a row, with the last one coming from Koivu in the right face-off circle in front to Nolan, who chipped it past a lunging Turco, who had over-committed to Koivu.
Trailing 2-1 heading into the second, the Stars fell behind by another goal just 1:06 into the period. After Belanger beat Richards on a face-off deep in the Dallas zone, he worked it back to former Star Martin Skoula at the top of the left circle. Skoula then fired a wrist shot from along the boards that was subtly deflected by Andrew Brunette in front past a screened Turco and in. It was the seventh goal of the season for Brunette, who always seems to score against the Stars.
The game’s first fight occurred at 2:56 of the second, after Minnesota enforcer Derek Boogaard leveled Stephane Robidas with a high hit behind the Dallas net. Krys Barch then arrived on the scene and challenged Boogaard, resulting in a scrap that featured lots of grappling and few actual punches landing.
The Stars travel back home for Thanksgiving and then host the San Jose Sharks, who, at 17-3-1, lead the overall NHL standings Friday night (7:30 pm start, FSN) at the American Airlines Center.
- Eriksson now has seven points (four goals, three assists) in the last five games.
- Defenseman Trevor Daley didn’t show up on the scoresheet for the first time in three games, but he did end up with a stellar +4 plus/minus rating for the night in 23:07 of ice time, second on the club to Robidas’ 23:57.
- After being a healthy scratch for the last two games, Minnesota native Matt Niskanen returned to the lineup. Niskanen, who scored his only goal this season in the Stars’ previous game against the Wild, paired up with Nicklas Grossman and registered two shots on goal and delivered two hits. To make room for Niskanen, Doug Janik sat out.
- Winger Sean Avery played in his 400th career NHL game.
- The Stars outscored Minnesota 2-0 in the third period, after having been outgunned 22-11 in third periods this season before Wednesday night.
- The Stars went 0-for-4 on the power play, leaving them 0-for-16 over the last three games.
- Dallas’ penalty kill unit, which ranked second in the league last year, surrendered one goal on four chances. They came into the night tied for 28th in the 30-team NHL, and have now surrendered four extra-man goals in their last 13 short-handed situations over the last four contests.
- With the win, the Stars are now 14-3-1 in their last 18 meetings with the Wild, going back to the 2003-04 season, including 2-0-0 this year. Overall, Dallas is 19-8-3 all-time against Minnesota, with an 8-6-1 mark at the Xcel Energy Center.