DALLAS - In true March Madness spirit, the Dallas Stars are just simply trying to survive and advance.
Playing once again with a depleted lineup that didn't include injured wingers Jere Lehtinen, Fabian Brunnstrom and Mark Parrish, the Stars were able to squeeze two points out in dramatic, NCAA buzzer-beater fashion, as Nicklas Grossman netted the game winner 2:23 into overtime to give Dalas a 3-2 win over the pesky Minnesota Wild on Saturday night at American Airlines Center.
After the Wild erased a two-goal deficit with a pair of goals in the second period, Grossman gave the Stars the bonus point when he sent a sharp wrist shot from the top of the right circle past Minnesota goalie Niklas Backstrom. Loui Eriksson picked up his third assist of the night on the play when he slid the puck to Grossman off a faceoff in the right circle.
It was only the second goal of the 24-year-old Grossman's 138-game NHL career, but it couldn't have come at a better time.
"I don't score a lot, so this one feels really good," he said. "It was a big faceoff win, there was good traffic in front, and I was lucky enough to get it through. It honestly feels a little unreal. All the guys coming over and celebrating was a good feeling. This is huge because every point counts and every game is going to be like the playoffs the rest of the way. This has to be the biggest goal I've scored."
Steve Ott, meanwhile, had his own big game, scoring both goals in regulation for his first two-goal effort of his career. Mike Ribeiro added two assists, and goalie Marty Turco made 28 saves to help lift Dallas to its second straight win, and third in the last five games.
"We knew it's going to be an extremely tight game," Ott said. "When you build momentum it can go either way in a hurry. Right now this is playoffs. It's going to be like this every night. Every single night is a fight for that playoff spot."
The win at least temporarily put the Stars two points in front of Edmonton for seventh place in the Western Conference. The Oilers hosted Colorado later Saturday night, but even with a win can't push the Stars below the playoff cutoff line.
"We did what we needed to do," Turco said. "We had some guys back me up and bail me out. The third period was pretty intense, and both teams played so hard to stay in this tight race. It was a game of momentum. Holding it was important, and you have to create anything you could when you might lose that momentum. We found a way to get the win, and we got a big one tonight. We know what the standings look like and we know what we have to do as a team to get where we need to go."
It certainly looked iffy after the Wild rallied to tie the game in the middle frame, but because of Grossman's heroics there continues to be three certainties in life -- death, taxes and the Stars beating up on Minnesota in Dallas.
The Stars have won 10 straight over the Wild on home ice, and are an amazing 12-2-2 all-time against Minnesota in Texas.
"We needed to find a way to get points, and our top line took that to heart," coach Dave Tippett said about the Eriksson-Ribeiro-Ott triumvirate. "Ribeiro makes great plays and finds the open guy, and they complement each other well. Otter has really stepped up, taken his game to a new level and has an impact in every game we play. There was a huge momentum shift in the second, but our guys hung in there."
Firmly up by Ott's two goals, the Stars began losing control of the territorial edge in the second half of the second period. That's when Minnesota's Mikko Koivu and Andrew Brunette scored goals 111 seconds apart to tie the game heading into the third period.
In the final stanza, both teams had a chance to win, but James Neal's rebound attempt went off the post early on before Eric Belanger rang a shot off the iron midway through the frame.
"Play as a team, play disciplined and play tight on the puck," Ribeiro said about the key to the big win. "We need to have big power plays, and Marty has to be huge. We need everyone to chip in and give us a chance to win. It was important for us to keep it tight, move the game along and get some points out of it. We'll take those two points and run with them."
Up by a goal after the first period, Ott stretched Dallas' lead to 2-0 with his second of the game and 15th of the season just 38 seconds into the second period. Standing near the inner edge of the left circle, Ott easily tapped-in a cross-ice pass from Ribeiro, who was standing at the hash marks along the right boards.
"Anytime you get rewarded with two tap-ins, it means your linemates are doing some great things for you," Ott said. "As long as we keep winning like this and trying to solidify a playoff spot, that's what really matters right now. It's going to be a battle and a grind but the guys are definitely up for it."
Koivu, who is Minnesota's top point-getter, scored his 18th of the season while the Wild enjoyed their first power play of the game at 12:09 of the second. Standing near the slot in the left circle, he accepted a pass from former Star winger Antti Miettinen, then quickly snapped a shot that eluded Turco to cut the Stars lead to 2-1.
The Wild quickly tied it just under 2 minutes later when Brunette potted his 16th on a double-deflection. Pierre-Marc Bouchard's shot from the right point first went off Nick Schultz's stick in the slot before Brunette steered it into the net from a couple of feet from the edge of the crease.
It didn't take long for the Stars to penetrate the scoreboard, as Ott gave the Stars a 1-0 lead just 2 minutes into the contest. At the side of the net, Eriksson's attempt to jam the puck was stopped by Backstrom before Eriksson slipped it out to Ott in the low slot. Ott promptly deposited the puck into the net.
Dallas hits the road again for its next three games, starting with an encounter in Vancouver against the Canucks on Tuesday at 9 p.m. (my27). The Stars returned from a three-game west coast excursion last week.
Vancouver entered play Saturday night in fifth place in the Western Conference with 79 points after defeating Los Angeles 4-2 on Friday. The victory snapped their two-game losing streak.
"We get to go on the road with these big points in our pocket," Ott said.
--Tippett said that both Lehtinen and Brunnstrom are close to returning, and are going on the road trip.
--Turco made his 65th appearance, the fourth time in the last five years he's played in 65 or more games. His career-high is 73 games played in 2003-04.
-- Ribeiro's assist on Ott's first goal extended his season-long points streak to seven games, which also matches his career-high. He's now accumulated 14 points in the last 10 games, and 17 points in his past 14 games.
--Ott snapped a four-game goal-less string.
--Eriksson has points in seven of his last eight games (5-6-11), and his three assists were a career-high.
--Fourteen of Ott's 15 goals this season have either given the Stars the lead (four times), tied the game (twice), or extended the Dallas lead (eight times).
--The last time the Stars lost to the Wild in Dallas was a 3-2 overtime defeat in March 2003. Saturday's loss set a new Wild franchise record for longest winless streak against an opponent on the road.
--Turco is 13-4-1 in 21 career appearances against Minnesota.
1 - 0 DAL
2 - 0 DAL
2 - 1 DAL
2 - 2 Tie
3 - 2 DAL