DALLAS - Just where would the Dallas Stars be this season without Loui Eriksson?
It’s scary to imagine.
The third-year left winger came through again for the Stars, as he scored two goals, including the overtime game-winner, to lead Dallas to a hard-fought 2-1 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes Tuesday night at the American Airlines Center.
With key offensive players like captain Brenden Morrow, Jere Lehtinen, Sergei Zubov, among others, out with long-term injuries, Eriksson has stepped up his play this season to another level. With the two goals, Eriksson now has a team-leading 14 goals, matching his career-high achieved in 69 games last year.
“Both my goals were in front of the net and that’s where you have to be to score goals,” Eriksson said. “That’s how you score all the goals, you have to get out there and someone will make a play for you.”
“Loui takes that responsibility with the guys we have out,” Stars coach Dave Tippett said. “Both goals were hard around the net, will it in the net. Those turned out to be very valuable tonight. Loui does so many things for us. We’re asking guys to do a little more and he came up with a little more.”
The Stars led 1-0 until just past the midway point of the third period, but Coyote enforcer Todd Fedoruk evened it up with 9:09 remaining, sending the game to overtime.
About 40 seconds after Phoenix netminder Ilya Bryzgalov made a brilliant blocker save on Eriksson’s wrist shot from the right face-off circle, Mike Ribeiro controlled the puck behind the net. After several seconds there, he swung out into the right corner before sliding a perfect cross-ice pass to Eriksson on the left side of the crease. Initially, the puck bounced straight up in the air off Eriksson’s stick, but the 23-year-old Swede managed to swat it knee-high and it somehow squeezed between Bryzgalov and the post as it trickled over the goal line.
It was a much-needed victory for the Stars, who are now 5-3-0 in their last eight games. Coupled with a St. Louis loss tonight, Dallas has now moved out of the Western Conference basement, and sit just four points back of the Coyotes in the eighth and final playoff spot.
“Tonight we got two good points and we have to build on that,” Eriksson said. “It’s always good to have that confidence and we need all the points we can get. It was a good win and a good two points for us.”
It was uncharacteristically hockey weather outside, and inside the 15,387 who braved the frigid temperatures and icy roads were treated to a old-fashioned goaltending duo.
After getting a rare night off on Saturday, Marty Turco was back in net and was outstanding as he made 22 saves.
“I have an opportunity to make a big difference in the game every night and I want to provide the guys with a chance to win,” Turco said. “It’s about stopping pucks, communicating and taking pride in doing all the little things right.”
“Marty was excellent and we need him to be there,” Tippett said. “He’s a big part of our team that needs to be in place.”
Bryzgalov was outstanding in defeat as he made 28 stops.
The Stars got off to a quick start, as Eriksson notched his first of the night just 3:15 into the opening period. Chris Conner passed out from behind the net to Eriksson alone in front. Eriksson managed to make a deke wide to his forehand around Bryzgalov and ramped it off Peter Mueller’s stick and into the open side of the net.
“It’s certainly no surprise. Loui has a knack around the net and I see that all the time in practice,” Turco said. “I’ve been a huge fan of his since he got here. We’re the ones getting rewarded for his work. He likes to score goals, no doubt about that.”
The Stars ended up outshooting the Coyotes 10-5 in the first period, but Phoenix ratcheted up the pressure in the second and outshot Dallas 13-7, but Turco came through with a great effort.
Turco made his first big save of the night 45 seconds into the second period, when he denied Shane Doan’s wrist shot from the slot. The rebound came back out to Doan, and Turco got enough of his second attempt to deflect it just wide.
Doan had another prime chance 5:05 into the period when he stepped out of the penalty box, received a pass at the Dallas blue line and raced in on a breakaway. He made a move to his backhand and had Turco beat, but the puck slid off his stick and just wide of the left post. Doan then retrieved the puck and fed a pass out front to a charging Derek Morris, but Turco made a huge pad save on Morris’ booming one-timer from the slot.
Dallas appeared to go up by two on a power play with 59 seconds left, when Brad Richards swung out from behind the Phoenix net and made a backhanded wraparound attempt. The puck pinballed off Bryzgalov’s skate, which was on the goal line, but it never completely crossed the line. At the next stoppage, which was the end of the period, the officials reviewed the play, and correctly ruled it no goal.
The Stars had another golden opportunity to increase their lead 51 seconds into the final period when Conner rifled a tricky wrist shot from the top of the left face-off circle that seemed to go right through Bryzgalov’s glove and over his head, ricocheting off the crossbar and settling in the crease before it was cleared away.
The Coyotes broke through for the equalizer at 10:51 of the third period on former Star Todd Fedoruk’s fourth goal of the season. Mueller fired a wrist shot from the left circle that Turco stopped, but the rebound popped out in front, where Fedoruk swatted it into the open cage to tie it 1-1.
“It’s always tough at the end when they tie it like that,” Eriksson said. “It’s pretty tight, there are a lot of teams in there.”
The Stars remain in Dallas for another contest Thursday against the visiting Columbus Blue Jackets (7:30 pm, FSN), another team just ahead of them in the Western Conference standings that they need to take points from. It will be the Stars’ fourth home game out of five, a span in which they are currently 2-2-0.
“I think these teams coming up are teams that we can beat and teams that we should beat,” Ribeiro said. “These next games before Christmas are huge.”
- Eriksson snapped a five-game pointless drought, which followed a six-game stretch in which he collected four goals and eight points. Eriksson led all Dallas forwards in ice time with 22:05 and his four shots on goal was just one shy of rookie James Neal’s team-leading five.
- Defenseman Matt Niskanen earned an assist on Eriksson’s goal, giving him five assists in the last eight games after registering just two points (one goal, one assist) in his first 20 games this season.
- Richards’ assist on Eriksson’s first goal snapped a six-game pointless streak for him.
- Defenseman Nicklas Grossman skated in his 100th career NHL regular season game. In 23:22 of ice time, he tied for the team lead with three blocked shots, while also posting a shot on goal and a +1 plus/minus rating.
- The Dallas power play continues to fire blanks, going 0-for-3. The PP unit is now 1-for-27 in seven December games and 3-for-53 over the last 12 contests.
- Gotta love the first intermission entertainment, the group of kids from the Paul Green School of Rock Music that gave a scorching rendition of AC/DC’s ‘Hell’s Bells’ and the Foo Fighters’ ‘Pretender.’