LOS ANGELES - The Dallas Stars finally managed to wake up from their recurring nightmare, but it may have come a little too late.
Dallas scored the opening goal for the seventh time in their last eight games, but this time, they managed to build on a lead and expand on it, riding two goals from Brendan Morrison to a 3-2 victory over the Los Angeles Kings Tuesday night at the Staples Center.
The injury-decimated Stars, who had gone 0-5-2 in their previous seven and 4-12-3 since Feb. 19, gutted out the win for the first time in their last six road games. But with only five contests left in the regular season, time is running out on the Stars’ playoff hopes - with 78 points in the Western Conference standings, they remain in 12th place, six points back of Nashville for the eighth and final slot.
But on this night, still missing three regular defensemen, including their top defense pairing - and that’s not including Sergei Zubov, who’s been out almost all season - the Stars put forth an impressive, gritty effort.
“A win is a win,” Stars coach Dave Tippett said. “We did a lot of good things, still had some hiccups, but for the most part, we did very well. It’s about making good simple plays and limiting your errors. It’s good to see some things go our way and we saw some positive signs.”
In their first visit back to Los Angeles since their epic third period meltdown in a 5-4 overtime defeat on March 5, Dallas scored twice on the power play, marking the first time they had more than one with the man-advantage since Feb. 6, a span of 26 games. Dallas was also proficient on the penalty kill, nullifying both Kings’ power plays, which overlapped for a 1:10 stretch of 5-on-3 in the second period that could have turned the game around.
In addition to Morrison’s two goals, the Stars received another goal from Mike Ribeiro, while Steve Ott contributed two assists.
“It’s nice to get a win, it’s been a frustrating couple weeks,” Morrison said. “It’s been tough for me personally this year and I feel like I still have a ways to go, to where I can contribute on a nightly basis like this. I just want to have a good finish, show a lot of pride and work hard.”
Marty Turco, who had a rare night off the previous game in Phoenix, was solid in goal, making 26 saves for his 33rd victory of the season.
“Some nights, we’ve had tough luck here which is definitely taxing,” said Turco, who played his 72nd game of the season, one off his career high from 2003-04. “We went out and simply got the job done tonight. It’s so important to play with some pride and character down the stretch here. It’s disappointing where we are in the standings and playoff race, but the win tonight is big for us.”
Having lost yet another early 1-0 lead and tied 1-1 heading into the second, this time the Stars grabbed it back and even extended it.
With an early power play, the Stars capitalized on it just 1:55 into the period. Mike Modano fed a crisp pass out of the right corner, across the top of the crease to Morrison all alone on the left side of the crease and Morrison one-timed it into the open net.
“Morrison was very good tonight, he makes timely plays and has good skill,” Tippett said. “He made a skill play on Modano’s pass.”
Los Angeles netminder Jonathan Quick made a nice save while down, stopping Loui Eriksson’s screened shot from the slot six minutes in to keep the Dallas lead at 2-1.
Dallas dodged a bullet several minutes later when a hooking penalty to Morrison put the Kings on a 5-on-3 power play for 1:10. Turco made several saves, including one on Anze Kopitar’s screened wrist shot from the top of the right face-off circle, to kill off the two-man disadvantage.
The Stars then went back on their own power play and cashed in again with 4:41 left in the second. This time Morrison drilled a slap shot from the top of the left face-off circle through a Ribeiro screen, past Quick, off the far post and in for his second goal of the night and sixth as a Star.
Up 3-1 entering the final period, the Stars had another early power play but nearly surrendered a shorthanded goal 3:11 in. As Jack Johnson led a Kings 2-on-1 rush into the Dallas zone, Stars new blueliner Garrett Stafford, playing just his second NHL game this season after he was recalled from AHL Grand Rapids Sunday, blocked the passing lane, forcing Johnson to fire a wrist shot from the left circle that Turco denied.
Morrison had a golden opportunity to post the sixth Stars hat trick of the season at the midway point of the third, breaking into the LA zone, zipping around Kings defenseman Denis Gauthier and in alone, but Quick made a nice save on Morrison’s in-close backhander.
With the painful memories of the Kings’ miracle comeback here on March 5 still on the brain, Los Angeles pulled to within one with just 1:31 remaining on Kopitar’s 26th goal of the season, as he beat Turco with a quick wrist shot from the right sideboards.
It was white-knuckle time after that, and the Kings pulled Quick for an extra attacker with 42 seconds to go, but were unable to generate any prime opportunities before the final buzzer.
“This group has been playing catch-up from the beginning, injuries all year long, and it’s about having the winning attitude,” Morrison said.
The Stars got the game’s first power play early, but did not generate any serious scoring opportunities. They did have the first real chance 7:12 in when Ott burst into the LA zone, worked his way around Kings defender Davis Drewiske to cut in alone, and even though he didn’t get a clean shot off, Quick made a nice pad save.
Turco made a nice stop with nine minutes left in the first when Raitis Ivanans made a tricky deflection in front off a slap shot by Drewiske.
Seconds later on the counter-attack, Dallas nearly took the lead when Morrison, cutting to the net from the right circle, lifted an in-close wrist shot that Quick got his shoulder on and pinged high off the goalpost.
Another nice save by Quick with 7:27 left in the period foiled a point-blank one-timer by the snake-bitten Modano in the slot after Steve Begin fed him from behind the net.
Then, with 5:11 left in the first, Dallas scored the first goal of the game for the seventh time in their last eight games. Ribeiro notched his 21st of the season from behind the net, banking a quick, spin-around shot in off Quick’s pads to make it 1-0.
But just like each of the prior seven occasions, the Stars then surrendered the lead, allowing the Kings to tie it just over three minutes later, as Johnson recorded his sixth of the year at 17:58. LA’s Brad Richardson beat Joel Lundqvist on a face-off in the Dallas zone and worked the puck back to Johnson at the right point. Johnson let loose a slap shot along that ice that managed to squeeze through Turco on a goal he undoubtedly would love to have back.
Dallas returns to American Airlines Center for their last two home contests of the regular season, beginning Thursday against the Calgary Flames (7:30 pm, FSN). The Flames, with 92 points, were just overtaken by Vancouver for the Northwest Division lead and will be desperate for points as well.
- After his two-goal night, Morrison now has six goals and nine points in the last 10 games, with three goals and one assist coming in the last two. After collecting 10 goals in 62 games with Anaheim before he was claimed off waivers on March 4, Morrison now has 16 overall on the season. He led the Stars with six shots on goal.
- Ribeiro now has 18 points (six goals, 12 assists) in the last 15 games, including six (two goals, four assists) in the last three.
- With his two assists, Ott has collected 13 points (four goals, nine assists) in his last 14 contests.
- Niskanen, after assisting on Morrison’s second of the night, now has five points (one goal, four assists) in his last five outings. The second-year defender led the squad with 22:47 of ice time, the only skater to log more than 20 minutes.
- With his assist on Morrison’s first goal, Modano snapped a five-game point drought.
- Eriksson, who earned an assist on Morrison’s first goal, now has 10 points (two goals, eight assists) in his last 10 contests.
- Jere Lehtinen’s assist on Ribeiro’s goal marked his first point since Feb. 28, a span of 10 games played, as well as six missed due to injury.
- After going 2-for-5 on the power play, the Stars matched their goal output with the man advantage from their previous nine games, a span in which they were 2-for-35.
- The Stars’ just-ended seven-game losing streak was the franchise’s longest since the Minnesota North Stars dropped seven in a row from Nov. 11-29, 1978.
- Dallas finished the season series against their Pacific Division rival with a 2-1-3 record after going 4-2-2 vs the Kings last year.