COLUMBUS - The Stars latest win in what has become an impressive line of victories over the last month may have come with a big price.
Despite winning for the ninth time in their last 12 games, the Stars were a bit somber following their dramatic 3-2 shootout win over the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on Monday night that moved them into sole possession of fifth place in the Western Conference with 63 points.
Already missing feisty forward Steve Ott because of a lower-body injury sustained over the weekend against Chicago, center Brad Richards left the game Monday midway through the second period and didn't return because of an upper-body injury. The team's second-leading point-getter was hurt after falling awkwardly into the end boards behind the Stars net, about 30 minutes after his goal 27 seconds into the game gave Dallas a lightning-quick 1-0 lead.
Richards will be re-evaluated on Tuesday when the Stars arrive back in Dallas.
"It was a big loss once Richy got hurt, but guys had to pick up the slack once he went out," said rookie forward James Neal, who netted the winning goal to give the Stars the bonus point in the second-round of the shootout. "We have had injuries all year, and we'll fight through it."
Loui Eriksson had a goal and assist, and Marty Turco made an amazing 41 saves before stopping all three Blue Jackets attempts in the tiebreaker in a game the Stars realistically had no business being in, let alone picking up a pair of prized points against a Columbus team they came in tied with.
But Turco single-handedly willed his team to the win, thwarting the Blue Jackets at every turn with save after save. In the second period alone, Turco steered away all but two of Columbus' 20 shots, keeping the Stars in it long enough so that Eriksson could net the equalizer that made it 2-2 with just over seven minutes to go in the middle frame.
"Turks was great again tonight," Eriksson said. "He had some big saves, and he's playing so well lately."
After grabbing a 1-0 advantage thanks to Richards, the Stars steadily began to lose individual battles to the puck, as the Blue Jackets took command of the physical affair that featured 78 total hits, 48 of which delivered by Columbus.
Through the first 13 minutes of the second period, the Blue Jackets peppered Turco while allowing just three shots to get through to rookie goalie Steve Mason. Midway through the second, the Blue Jackets held an eye-popping 17-1 advantage in shots, but only a 2-1 edge on the scoreboard.
Dallas survived the blitz, then played a more balanced final frame without the services of Richards.
"We were much better in the third period," Eriksson said. "We had some good chances, and found a way to get a big two points."
In overtime, the Stars hung tough, erasing Columbus' man-advantage opportunity granted when Mike Ribeiro hooked Mike Commodore with 3:35 to go. Turco then made two scintillating saves late in the extra stanza, denying Rick Nash from the right circle before turning aside Michael Peca's shot from the left faceoff dot.
"I always try to have the mentality to do whatever it takes for the team, whether its one shot or 100," Turco said. "What matters most is the two points. This is a tight race right now throughout the West, and the teams who play well as a team down the stretch are going to separate from the pack. It feels good and we got some fortunate bounces tonight, but it's a hard working team and we found a way."
R.J. Umberger scored both goals, while Mason finished with 20 saves for the Blue Jackets, who were denied in their attempt to win their fifth consecutive game for the first time since Dec. 2006.
In the second round of the shootout, Neal deposited a wicked snap shot into the top-left corner that Mason, who came in with a league-leading 2.06 goals-against average, had no chance of stopping.
"I want to be a guy who can help put the puck in the net in big opportunities," Neal said. "I'm glad Tip sent me out there. Points are so big right now, and everyone is working so hard for wins in the West, so this is big."
Down 1-0 after one period, Columbus tied it when Umberger scored on the power play 6:17 into the second. Standing in front of the net, Umberger outmaneuvered Matt Niskanen before backhanding home the rebound of Kris Russell's slap shot from the point.
Umberger put the Blue Jackets ahead for the first time just 89 seconds later, registering his 19th goal of the year to make it 2-1. Umberger once again shoveled a rebound in from the front of the net, this time outbattling defenseman Trevor Daley to a loose puck.
The two tallies by Umberger set a Blue Jackets franchise record for fastest goals by one player in a game.
"It was a battle tonight with two teams that wanted to win," he said.
Eriksson knotted the score with just over seven minutes left in the middle frame, notching his team-leading 27th of the year to make it 2-2. After the Stars successfully killed-off Krys Barch's roughing penalty, Eriksson chipped in Daley's slick pass while planting himself at the doorstep to the left of Mason.
Up to that point, Dallas had been outshot by a whopping 18-3 margin in the second period.
Richards opened the scoring, potting his 16th to give the Stars an early 1-0 lead. Richards' original shot from the left circle was punched out by Mason, but Eriksson was able to corral it and send it behind the net where Richards collected it. Mason blocked the center's wraparound attempt before Richards banked it off the goalie and in from along the goal line.
"The first and third periods were good. We made them chase the game," coach Dave Tippet said. "We were scrambling during the second, though. But we came here for two points, and I guarantee you we are going to come down to the last week of the season and this is really big. Marty was excellent again and bailed us out of some bad spots."
The Stars will have the next couple of days off before starting a season-high six-game homestand on Thursday night against Edmonton (7:30, FSN). The Oilers entered Monday's action in ninth place in the West with 60 points.
Edmonton will be concluding a four-game road trip that they started with a 3-2 win at Los Angeles on Saturday.
--Rookie Fabian Brunnstrom originally took Ott's place on left wing alongside Ribeiro and right wing Jere Lehtinen.
--The Stars had erased 18 straight opponent power plays until Umberger snapped the string in the second period.
--Eriksson scored five times in the four games this season against Columbus. He and Richards shared the team lead with seven points against the Blue Jackets.
--Winger Brian Sutherby got into a second-period scrap with Columbus' Derek Dorsett.
--Dallas has earned at least a point in each of its last 11 trips to Columbus, going 9-0-2 in that span.
--The Stars are 17-2-4 in their last 23 meetings with the Blue Jackets.
--Columbus went 1-for-6 on the power play, while Dallas was 0-for-3.
--The Stars moved to 12-14-3 on the road.
--Dallas is 15-1-1 when leading after the first 20 minutes.