DALLAS - It looks like the Dallas Stars are gradually working their way back into the Western Conference playoff mix.
Marty Turco stopped 25 shots and Steve Ott scored a goal and an assist as the Stars claimed a dominating 2-0 shutout victory over the Atlanta Thrashers Tuesday night at the American Airlines Center.
With the weather outside resembling a hockey rink as well, inside the building the Stars looked good in their first contest back from the five-day All-Star break. They appeared to pick up where they left off in their 4-1 triumph over Florida last Wednesday, beating their second straight Eastern Conference foe.
In fact, the final score flattered Atlanta, as the Stars outshot the Thrashers 33-25 and were thwarted several times by spectacular saves from Atlanta goaltender Kari Lehtonen.
Dallas, which struggled to the worst record in the West standings for much of the first two months of the season, are now 8-1-1 in their last 10 home games and 4-1-2 in their last seven overall. They have inched to within two points of the eighth and final West playoff spot with the recent surge.
In addition to Ott’s two points, linemate Jere Lehtinen also scored for Dallas and their center, Mike Ribeiro, chipped in with two assists.
“Points become so very valuable and this was a home game that we had to win,” Stars coach Dave Tippett said. “You put those two points in the bank and move on from there. Ribeiro is skating very well. Ott and Lehts are workaholics. But Ribs is playing a very solid game right now and getting some points.”
“Any time you play with someone like (Ribeiro) and a three-time Selke winner (Lehtinen), good things are going to happen,” Ott said of his skilled linemates. “Hard work has gotten us a lot of scoring chances and we’re capitalizing on them tonight. We’ve got a lot of home games coming up and we’ve got to be hard to play against and push that record and push for a playoff spot.”
Turco had to make outstanding stops on Eric Perrin and Bryan Little in the final 10 seconds to preserve his second shutout of the season and 35th of his career. He is now 6-0-0 lifetime against Atlanta, the only NHL club he’s never lost to.
“You’re always striving for shutouts,” said Turco, whose first whitewash this season came in a 1-0 shootout loss in Phoenix Jan. 10. “The guys played awesome tonight. It was the first time I got a shutout this year and got the win. If we can play like this, good things will happen.
“I don’t know if we have the Eastern’s number, but it’s difficult when you don’t see teams, you don’t see certain players. They seemed a little flat tonight and we took advantage of it. We’re tough to play against when we play like that, no matter what conference you’re in. We haven’t played in a few days and the bodies are fresh. Right from yesterday and this morning, things felt solid. I felt like I didn’t miss a beat, even felt fresher.”
“Marty played very well,” Tippett added. “I thought their goaltender made some unbelievable saves to keep them in the game, but Marty was big when we needed him. The teams that haven’t seen him, there are a lot of dumps he gets to that may disrupt their forecheck a little bit. You can see they’re getting frustrated.”
Dallas jumped out to an early 1-0 lead on Lehtinen’s third goal of the season just 3:48 in. Kari Lehtonen made an easy save on Ribeiro’s weak shot from low in the left face-off circle, but the puck ricocheted up off Lehtonen’s stick and appeared to bounce off Lehtinen’s chest as he cruised by the crease.
“I threw the puck toward the net and Jere made a great play on it,” Ribeiro said. “We had a lot of chances.”
There was a video review to confirm that the puck didn’t go off one of Lehtinen’s hands, but with the Stars wearing black, replays were inconclusive as to exactly where on Lehtinen’s body it hit. Of course, if it was determined to go off his glove, it would have been waved off, but since there wasn’t sufficient evidence to overturn the referee’s original call on the ice, the goal stood.
The Stars had a golden opportunity to extend the lead about midway through the first period when they were presented with a 5-on-3 power play for 1:39, but, despite registering two shots on goal, were unable to capitalize.
“Tonight was frustrating because early on in the power plays, we had some great opportunities, but we didn’t score,” Tippett said of the man-advantage unit that went 0-for-5. “We’ve got to continue to pound away at it. You might not score on it, but you can’t let it take energy away from you.”
Turco made a scintillating glove save with 6:46 remaining in the period, robbing Atlanta sniper Ilya Kovalchuk on a point-blank wrist shot.
Dallas went up by two just 28 seconds into the second period on Ott’s sixth goal of the season. With the referee’s arm up for a delayed penalty, the Stars executed a pretty tic-tac-toe passing play that concluded with Ribeiro in the lower left circle feeding a nice cross-ice pass to Ott on the right side of the crease, who slammed it home into an open net.
As the Stars continued to control the play, Lehtonen made several big saves to keep the Thrashers within two, absolutely stoning both Joel Lundqvist on a slap shot from the left circle with 7:30 remaining in the second and then denying Ribeiro’s one-timer from the slot with 4:45 to go.
Turco preserved the lead in the first half of the final period, making impressive stops on Kovalchuk’s stuff attempt at the right goalpost 38 seconds into the third and another one on Colby Armstrong’s in-close backhander with 11:05 to go in regulation.
Ott nearly collected his second of the night with 4:07 left in regulation as he raced in on a breakaway, but Lehtonen swallowed up his slap shot from the high slot.
Ott had another prime chance with 2:13 left, but Lehtonen made a nice blocker save on his quick wrist shot from the slot.
The Thrashers pulled Lehtonen for an extra attacker with 54 seconds left, and Turco came up big twice in the final seconds to put up the goose-egg.
“Marty’s a proven guy. There’s nobody that wants it more on a nightly basis than Marty,” Ott said. “He’s a goalie but he’s a captain on our team and the leadership is showing through.”
The Stars will head right back out on the road for their third away game in their last four contests, heading back up to the so-called Hockeytown to take on the defending Stanley Cup champion Red Wings Thursday (6:30 pm start, FSN). Following another road contest at Columbus (Sat., Jan. 31), the Stars will play 10 of their 13 games during the month of February at American Airlines Center, which will be a golden opportunity for them to make up some more ground in the playoff chase.
“Good way for us to start the second half and we had a lot of chances tonight,” Ribeiro said. “We put a lot of pressure on them and we created some good momentum for ourselves.”
- With his two-point night, Ott now has six points (three goals, three assists) in his last six contests. Ott also delivered a game-high five hits.
- Lehtinen’s goal was his second in the last four games after notching just one in his first 14 outings this year.
- Ribeiro now has seven points (four goals, three assists) in his last four games, including his first career hat trick in Florida last Wednesday.
- Daley and Brad Richards shared the team lead with four shots on goal. Daley also led the squad with two blocked shots.
- After sitting out as a healthy scratch for the last six games, right winger Chris Conner was inserted back in the lineup. In 12:05 of ice time, he registered two shots on goal and three hits.
- To make room for Conner, winger Mark Parrish, who has a goal and an assist in his last nine contests, was scratched.
- Rookie winger Fabian Brunnstrom was assigned to AHL Manitoba earlier in the day. He had been on Injured Reserve since suffering a lower body injury on Dec. 27. In 31 games for Dallas this season, he collected 10 goals and 14 points with two penalty minutes.
- This was the first meeting between the clubs since Nov. 17, 2006, a 5-3 Stars win in Atlanta. The Stars have now won 10 of their 11 all-time meetings against Atlanta (10-1-0), giving the club the best record in the league against the Thrashers since they joined the NHL in 1999-2000, outscoring them 34-21 in the process. The Thrashers won for the first (and only) time in Dallas, 5-2 on Jan. 18, 2006, their previous visit to North Texas.
1 - 0 DAL
2 - 0 DAL
Holding the stick