DALLAS - This is what Dallas Stars fans have been expecting all year.
The Stars got two power play goals, another outstanding performance from goaltender Marty Turco and rode a stifling defensive effort in front of him to a solid 3-1 victory over the Calgary Flames Tuesday night at the American Airlines Center.
It was a complete effort and it extended the Stars’ season-high winning streak to five games. Dallas is also 9-1-1 in their last 11 home contests.
The Stars, who are also 7-1-1 in their last nine overall, have now moved into sole possession of sixth in the Western Conference standings, having come a long way since those dark days of languishing in last place back in October and November.
Turco made 24 saves to notch the victory, outdueling Calgary netminder Miikka Kiprusoff, who was excellent at the other end, stopping 29 Dallas shots in a losing effort.
“We played pretty solid, we had contributions throughout the lineup and it was good to see our power play get some goals,” Stars coach Dave Tippett said. “Kiprusoff was very good but I liked the way we stayed with it. We are playing well without the puck and we are doing the things that allow us to win. Our special teams have been good, Marty has been excellent and we are doing things right as a team.”
“It’s been a great sight to see, doing whatever it takes to win games, blocking shots, clicking on the power play,” added Turco, who made his 20th straight start in net. “It’s been a lot of fun and we are still in a clump of teams fighting for position. One game at a time, no matter where we are in the standings. We are starting to see what we are capable of now and I think I’m coming around. I’m feeling good lately.”
Brad Richards and rookie James Neal each scored a goal and an assist and Jere Lehtinen netted the Stars’ other goal.
“We found a way to get a win and that’s all that matters,” Richards said. “We’re feeling night and day from how it was earlier in the year. I always say, it gets addictive when you start winning and putting win streaks together. The mood is a lot better and guys just go out and play and we’re getting contributions throughout the lineup and guys are feeling good about themselves.”
The Stars, opening a stretch in which they play 10 out of 13 games in February on home ice, also utilized another solid performance by their power play unit, scoring on their first two opportunities. Coming into the day ranked 25th in the NHL, Dallas is now an impressive 7-for-27 with the man advantage over their last six contests.
“We’ve been scoring some big goals,” Richards said of the PP unit. “Obviously, tonight, two guys in front of the net, getting traffic, it’s as simple as that sometimes. Nothing pretty, just putting pucks towards the net. We got two guys tipping them and that creates havoc. In this case, it created two goals.”
Calgary got on the scoreboard first, striking on a power play at 6:52 of the opening period. Just seconds after Todd Bertuzzi’s backhander clanked off the right goalpost and off Turco’s skate as he slid across the crease, Jarome Iginla retrieved the rebound at the left post. He then fed a short pass through the crease to Mike Cammalleri in front, and Cammalleri ripped a wrist shot over a prone Turco. It was Cammalleri’s 12th goal in his last 10 games and 27th overall.
Dallas tied it just 22 seconds into their first power play opportunity, on Lehtinen’s fifth goal of the season. With just 43.8 seconds left in the first period, Matt Niskanen drilled a slap shot from the point and Lehtinen executed a deft deflection from the slot, just beat Kiprusoff past the glove.
“It’s been pretty tough to find goals, it doesn’t matter how they go in,” Lehtinen said. “We try to fore-check hard and back-check hard and turn pucks over. It’s good, the beginning of the season was pretty tough, but even then we played good games and we knew it was there. We’ve finally found some consistency.”
The Stars got another power play early in the second period, and once again, capitalized to make it 2-1 on Neal’s 16th of the season at 4:21. Richards fired a wrist shot from high along the left sideboards that hit Neal in front and lay in the crease for a second, as Kiprusoff, preparing for the shot, slid across the crease. That left Neal an open net to jam the loose puck into, connecting for his third goal in the last two games.
“Just a quick shot by Richie and a little deflection and it stuck right there in the crease, and I managed to get a stick on it there,” Neal explained.
Niskanen had a golden opportunity to put Dallas up by two just over two minutes later, going in deep and making a move around Kiprusoff at the right side of the crease, but his shot was blocked and cleared out of the crease by Calgary rookie defenseman Adam Pardy.
With the Flames on a man-advantage of their own, Turco made an enormous save on Dustin Boyd’s point-blank wrist shot with 4:54 remaining in the second.
Kiprusoff then returned the favor two minutes later, as he absolutely robbed Neal’s one-timer from the high slot, and then Mike Modano’s subsequent rebound.
After stepping out of the penalty box 6:40 into the final period, with Dallas ahead 2-1, Steve Ott had a prime chance as he collected an errant pass from Bertuzzi and sped in on a breakaway. With Flames defender Cory Sarich hooking him, Ott made a move to his backhand, but Kiprusoff made a nice lunging save to send the puck just wide of the left goalpost.
The Stars got a power play of their own out of it, but were unable to cash in on it, as Kiprusoff made a big glove save on Lehtinen’s one-timer from the right face-off circle.
Kiprusoff made another larcenous stop at the midway point of the period, thwarting Brian Sutherby’s wide-open one-timer from the high slot after Loui Eriksson made a nice pass out from behind the net.
Dallas almost converted their third power play of the night with 4:14 left in regulation, but Stephane Robidas’ blast from just inside the blue line clanked off the goalpost.
The Stars did connect, just 14 seconds after that man advantage expired, as Richards iced the victory with his 13th goal of the season. With just 3:16 left in the third period, Neal hustled into the Calgary zone to negate a possible icing, then ended up making a slick pass from the left circle to Richards down low. Richards then cut across the top of the crease, and after Kiprusoff went down, lifted a backhander up and over him for the two-goal lead.
“Neal made a good play chasing down the icing and fortunately, I had time to wait the goalie out,” Richards said of the play. “Neal made a nice play and it was a good time to get a goal.”
The Flames pulled Kiprusoff for an extra attacker with a full 1:57 remaining, but were unable to generate any sustained pressure in the Stars’ zone the rest of the way.
“It was a tight game, it was ugly at times,” Richards said. “They’re a straight-forward team. We knew both teams were going to play like that. Both goalies played well. I think as a team we’ve come together here in the last month.”
The Stars actually jet out of town on a one-night jaunt to Denver to face the Colorado Avalanche Thursday night (8 pm start, FSN) before returning to the friendly confines of American Airlines Center to take on the New York Rangers Friday night.
“We’re at home here for awhile and we’re starting to put points together and wins together and its fun to be around the rink right now,” Neal said. “Stuff’s starting to roll for us, we’re playing good hockey and guys are stepping up and everyone’s going. It makes things easier and you keep going.”
- Lehtinen’s goal extends his season-high point streak to five games (three goals, two assists) and gives him nine points (four goals, five assists) in his last nine outings.
- Richards now has five points (one goal, four assists) in the last three contests.
- Neal now has seven points (four goals, three assists) in his last five games. He led all skaters with six shots on goal.
- With an assist on Lehtinen’s goal, Niskanen has points in consecutive games and three (all assists) in his last five.
- After collecting an assist on Neal’s goal, Mike Ribeiro kept his point streak alive, pushing it to five games, during which he’s registered eight points (three goals, five assists). He’s also got 10 points (four goals, six assists) in the last seven contests.
- Ott’s assist on Lehtinen’s goal pushes his career-high scoring streak to five games as well, during which he’s scored three goals and four assists. He also delivered a game-high eight hits.
- Modano was a scintillating 15-5 on face-offs.
- The Stars have now gained points in 19 of their last 23 meetings against the Flames (14-4-5), outscoring the Flames by a 61-43 margin in those games. They Stars also improved to 8-1-2 in their last 11 against them in Dallas.
- Turco is now 6-1-0 in his last seven games against the Flames and 14-6-3 lifetime, with three shutouts.