DALLAS - In another crucial contest against a team in the middle of the Western Conference playoff race, the Dallas Stars passed their first test with center Brad Richards out of the lineup.
Rookie Fabian Brunnstrom snapped a 2-2 tie and right winger Raymond Sawada scored in his NHL debut to help lead the Stars to a 4-2 triumph over the Edmonton Oilers Thursday night at the American Airlines Center.
In their first outing without Brad Richards, following his broken wrist that will keep him out 6-8 weeks, the Stars got contributions throughout the lineup and won for the 10th time in their last 13 outings (10-3-0).
Dallas, which began a season-long six-game homestand, has also been scintillating at home lately with a 13-2-1 mark in their last 16 on American Airlines Center ice.
With the win, Dallas remained in seventh place in the Western Conference, keeping pace one point behind both Vancouver and Columbus, who each won earlier in the night. They moved three points up on Edmonton, who is in eighth.
“Every game right now is like a playoff game, the points are so valuable,” said Brunnstrom, who also picked up an assist. “It was a tough game and Edmonton played well, but I’m glad we played well and got the points.”
“You look at the rankings, it was a big game, we could push them down a little bit,” added center Mike Ribeiro, who collected two assists. “I think they knew that, we were prepared for that, it was physical - just great to play in those games. You need to be ready mentally, ready physically, be ready to get hit, it makes you aware of what you have to do and guys respond well.”
For Sawada, it was a very happy 24th birthday, who celebrated with his first NHL goal in his NHL debut. Sawada, who was recalled from AHL Manitoba earlier in the day, filled the roster spot opened when the club placed Richards on Injured Reserve.
“It was a great birthday present,” Sawada said of his goal. “Coming here, first and foremost, was a great birthday present and getting that goal and the win was even better. Definitely, this is going to be a great memory and hopefully there will be many more of these to come.”
“Ray is a great example of how young players develop in the minors,” Stars coach Dave Tippett said. “He has been well-coached and it’s a hard step, but he was very good tonight and opportunity is an interesting thing. It’s a great story.”
Brunnstrom’s goal, early in the second period, was his fifth game-winning goal of the season, which leads the club as well as all NHL rookies.
Krys Barch and Jere Lehtinen also found the back of the net for Dallas, while Marty Turco was solid in goal yet again, making 21 saves for his 28th victory of the season, which is tied for third in the league.
“It was choppy and not a lot of flow, but we competed and found a way to win,” Tippett said.. “It’s great to see contributions throughout the lineup. We were much better defensively and that’s a positive. We are going to need everyone contributing and not just on the scoreboard. It was well-rounded - Marty did his job, the penalty kill was good and we were solid in our own end.”
“Everyone knows that we have big names out of the lineup, big pieces of the puzzle,” Ribeiro added. “I think guys were ready for Edmonton. To lose Brad is big, but hopefully it will keep us together and keep pushing forward and other guys will step up.”
Leading 3-2 heading into the final period, Dallas had a golden opportunity to go up by two just 1:45 in, but Edmonton netminder Dwayne Roloson made two big saves. Toby Petersen, on the rush into the Oiler zone, ripped a slap shot from the top of the left face-off circle that Roloson made a nice pad save on. A charging Loui Eriksson got to the rebound in the slot, but Roloson dove across and got just enough of the puck with his stick to re-direct it into the right goalpost.
The Stars did take a 4-2 lead at the 8:07 mark, on Lehtinen’s seventh goal of the season. Ribeiro had the puck deep in the left face-off circle and slid a perfect pass to the top of the crease, where Lehtinen re-directed it past Roloson, off the right post and in.
Ott nearly started a riot with 5:07 left after he leveled Edmonton defenseman Tom Gilbert behind the Oiler net. Roloson then came out of the crease and flattened Ott, and that brought in Ladislav Smid and Ethan Moreau attacking Ott as well. Two fights came out of it, with Nicklas Grossman taking down Moreau and Mark Fistric duking it out with Erik Cole.
“You know the type of player that he is going in,” Edmonton coach Craig MacTavish said of Otter. “There’s nobody that does it better than Steve Ott. He’s a sharp guy. He picks his spots and he never takes a bad penalty and is a very disciplined guy. He’s an effective player.”
With the teams skating four aside after that, Turco made a big save through a screen on Gilbert’s slap shot from the left point with 4:03 remaining, then denied Shawn Horcoff’s uncontested wrist shot from the right face-off circle about a minute later to preserve the victory.
“They were one point behind us and we knew the implications of the game were going to be very strong,” Ott said. “They were a big physical team and we tried to match it as best we could.”
Turco started off right where he left off after his 41-save 3-2 shootout win in Columbus Monday, when he made a sparkling sliding save just two minutes into the opening period, robbing Andrew Cogliano’s point-blank one-timer.
After several consecutive shifts of pressure in the Edmonton zone, Dallas jumped on top when Barch notched his fourth goal of the season with 9:19 left in the first. Brunnstrom set it up with an outstanding individual effort, collecting a loose puck off the right boards just inside the Oiler blue line. Brunnstrom then proceeded to weave his way through several defenders, cut across the slot with it, and slid an in-close wrist shot that Roloson stopped, but Barch, camped out on top of him in the crease, jammed the loose puck through him and in.
“I just tried to get the puck to the net,” Brunnstrom said, “and I heard Barchie was yelling to me, ‘Shoot, shoot, shoot!’ and it’s going on net, so I shoot and he scored, so it was good.”
With 3:24 remaining in the period, Sawada’s birthday wish went up another level with his first goal to give Dallas a 2-0 lead. Mike Ribeiro carried the puck into the Oilers zone and fed a cross-ice pass from the left circle to Sawada cutting across the slot. Sawada let go a tricky backhander from about 10 feet out that somehow squeezed between Roloson’s pads.
“I just came off the bench and was skating hard to the net and Ribs pulled up,” Sawada said, describing the play he’ll remember forever. “I got on my backhand. I was just looking to throw it on net and I did and the goalie fumbled it a little bit and it snuck through.”
Edmonton responded quickly, getting one back just 24 seconds later. Smid’s long wrist shot was deflected about chest-high in the left circle by JF Jacques, and Turco still made the save, but Liam Reddox was right on the lip of the crease and swatted the rebound in off the post.
After outshooting the Oilers 13-6, the Stars took a 2-1 lead into the second period, but Edmonton tied it just 47 seconds in on somewhat of a fluke play. Sheldon Souray ripped a slap shot from the left point, but it sailed wide, ricocheting off the end boards and out into the right circle, where Horcoff swept in to backhand it just inside the post past a sliding Turco.
With Oiler captain Ethan Moreau feeling shame in the penalty box for a tripping/roughing double minor, Dallas capitalized on the resulting power play as Brunnstrom netted his 13th of the year. After receiving a nice cross-ice feed from Eriksson, Brunnstrom fired a one-timer from the slot that beat Roloson through the pads at 3:08.
“I think I got a great pass from Loui and just tried to shoot it directly and it went in,” Brunnstrom said. “It was great.”
The Stars had a prime opportunity to go up by two with 4:50 left in the second when Ott sped in on a breakaway, but was unable to get a shot off, fanning on his attempt as he made a move to his forehand.
Dallas continues the big homestand with a date Saturday afternoon (1 pm start, FSN) against the Blackhawks, who defeated Dallas 6-2 in Chicago in a modern version of the Valentine’s Day Massacre.
“They basically embarrassed us last week in their barn,” Ott said. “We know they have great young speed and a great skilled team. We have to make sure we’re ready to go for them - a 1:00 game, so we got to make sure everybody’s ready to go.”
- Sawada, skating primarily on the fourth line with Barch and Brian Sutherby, became just the sixth Dallas Star to score in his debut - and the third this season, joining fellow rookies Brunnstrom and James Neal. Wearing uniform number 12, he logged 6:58 of ice time, dishing out three hits.
-Lehtinen’s goal ended a four-game pointless stretch, although he still has 16 points (six goals, 10 assists) in his last 17 contests. The Stars are now 6-0-1 this year when Lehtinen scores.
- Barch snapped a 15-game point drought and netted his first goal in 24 games.
- Sutherby, with his assist on Barch’s goal, recorded a point for the third straight game and has a goal and two assists over that span.
- Ribeiro’s two assists ended a stretch of just one assist in four games, although he still has 15 points (five goals, 10 assists) in his last 13 outings.
- After going six contests without a point, Trevor Daley now has assists in three straight.
- By assisting on Brunnstrom’s goal, Eriksson extended his assist and points streaks to four games, during which he’s registered two goals and four assists.
- Ott returned to the lineup after missing the previous contest with a lower body injury. His assist on Lehtinen’s goal was his first point in four games, but he still has 12 points (six goals, six assists) in his last 11 outings.
- The Stars’ power play unit, which had gone 1-for-10 in previous four games after 10-for-29 surge in prior six contests, was 1-for-6 on the night.
- The Stars killed off all three Edmonton power plays, and have now nullified 25 of the last 26 opponent man-advantage opportunities over the last seven games.
- Dallas has now won 11 of their last 14 games against Edmonton (11-3-0), and since the start of the 1996-97 season, the club has gone 20-3-1 vs. the Oilers on home ice, outscoring them 90-47 in those games.
- Including a 1-0 edge in this game, Dallas has now outscored their opponents 17-6 in the third period over the last 13 games.