DALLAS - It was opening night and there was a lot for Dallas Stars fans to cheer for, even though in the end, the result was disappointing.
The Stars battled back from a 2-0 deficit to push the contest to a shootout, but ultimately fell 3-2 to the Nashville Predators Saturday night in front of a soldout crowd at the American Airlines Center.
Mike Ribeiro scored for Dallas in the shootout, but Nashville answered with shootout goals by David Legwand and rookie Mike Santorelli. Then, with the game on the line, Loui Eriksson’s wrist shot was saved by Predators goaltender (and former Stars farmhand) Dan Ellis to eke out the extra point for the Predators.
“I was trying to go low-side blocker there, but I got the inside of him there,” Eriksson said of Ellis. “It’s funny, I played with Ellis in Iowa my first year, so I’ve shot a lot of shootouts against him, but he got me.”
Ellis played well throughout, making 38 saves during the game and earning the contest’s first star.
“We probably deserved a little better, but that’s not the way this league works,” said center Brad Richards, who had a chance to win the shootout in the third round, but had his wrist shot stopped by Ellis. “As close as we were, there were some bounces that could have gone one way or the other, but in the end we only got one point. It’s a tough league. That’s what happens some nights. We ran into a hot goalie at times and had some chances in overtime.”
After falling behind 2-0 in the second period, Dallas rallied to tie it, receiving two big goals from second-year winger James Neal to send it into overtime. Neal also hit the post in the shootout.
The Stars also received solid performances from young players Fabian Brunnstrom and Tom Wandell, while 20-year-old rookie Jamie Benn made his NHL debut. Skating with the top offensive line alongside Ribeiro and captain Brenden Morrow, Benn looked like he belonged there.
“I thought there were so many good points,” coach Marc Crawford said. “I love the way we recovered, I like the way we established our cohesiveness as a group and we did that by backchecking hard and helping out the defense. If we continue to do those things, I think the chemistry of our group will get better and better.”
Goaltender Marty Turco, making his seventh straight opening-night start, got better as the game moved along, making 24 saves during the game and three in the shootout.
“It felt all right - we know we deserved a little bit better, getting a win tonight, the way we played,” Turco said. “We played pretty good and threw a lot at them. It was pretty great to see us coming from behind and stick with it, and give ourselves a chance to win in overtime and the shootout. But that’s my job - to win games. There’s a lot you can take from the first game but it was a good effort from us.”
Down 2-0 late in the second period, Dallas got one back in dramatic fashion with just 9.3 seconds remaining in the period on Neal’s first goal. Second-year man Fabian Brunnstrom fired a wrist shot from the top of the right circle that Ellis saved with the blocker, but Neal fought his way through Nashville defender Francis Bouillion to the rebound in front and roofed it to pull Dallas to within 2-1.
That gave the Stars the momentum heading into the final period and they started off pushing the offensive pace, forcing Ellis to make tough stops on Neal and Matt Niskanen in the first 3:45.
When the Predators’ Ben Guite high-sticked Morrow in front of the Nashville net, the Stars needed just 20 seconds of power play time to tie it. After Ellis gloved a long dump-in, he attempted to clear the zone himself, but with Eriksson pressuring him, Ellis ended up putting it right on Neal’s stick in the high slot, and Neal quickly drilled the gift just inside the left post at 4:05 to make it 2-2.
“I was ready but it kind of surprised me when you get a puck like that on your stick and a bit of an open net, but I’ll take that any day,” Neal said of the goal.
Three minutes later, the Predators nearly went back ahead when Dan Hamhuis’ booming slap shot from the high slot clanked off the post behind Turco.
Consecutive power plays later in the period gave the Stars ample chances to pull ahead, but were unable to capitalize. Their best chance came when Trevor Daley’s pass from the left circle found Benn all alone in the right circle, but the rookie shanked the one-timer just wide.
The Stars held a 12-0 lead in shots in the period until Turco made a nice save on Ryan Suter’s wrist shot from the right circle with 6:59 left in regulation.
With 34 seconds to go in the period, the Stars got into a sticky situation when Turco was forced to make a sprawling save on former Star Jason Arnott’s slap shot, and then Brad Richards, in the process of preventing Nashville’s Patric Hornqvist from getting to the rebound, was whistled for slashing.
Dallas managed to kill off the Predator power play in regulation and into overtime, then went on a power play of their own in OT when Nashville’s Martin Erat was called for hooking, but were unable to cash in.
The best chance of either team in overtime came in the final three seconds when Steve Ott took a pass from Daley and sped into the right circle before firing a wrist shot that Ellis got just enough of with his pads to deflect it wide.
“We felt like we were playing better,” Ribeiro said of the third period. “We had more possession of the puck, cycling the puck, getting shots on net. It got better as the game went on. Nealer’s first goal is an example of what we’re looking for. You want your 5-on-3 to score there. There’s still things for us to work on, but you have to take the positives out of it. We didn’t put our hands out, we kept pushing and kept pushing. We didn’t see the results, but to come back and have a chance to win this game, it’s a good positive.”
Mike Modano’s 21st NHL season began with a penalty on the opening shift, and unfortunately led to the Predators’ first goal. Sitting in the box for tripping, Modano watched as Arnott muscled past Daley for a wrap-around attempt at the left goalpost. Turco made the save, but Arnott managed to get two whacks at the rebound and the puck dribbled through and just over the goal line for a 1-0 Nashville lead at 1:48.
The Stars had a golden opportunity to tie it up when a Nashville too-many-men penalty gave Dallas a 5-on-3 power play for a full minute. Their best chance came 50 seconds later when Ellis made a pad save on Niskanen’s slap shot and Morrow steered the rebound just wide as he was leveled in front.
So despite outshooting Nashville 14-9 in the first period, the Stars found themselves trailing 1-0 heading into the second.
There was a scary moment 2:43 into the period when defenseman Stephane Robidas leveled Nashville’s J.P. Dumont with a crushing bodycheck in the right corner and Dumont stayed down on his back for several minutes with an apparent concussion. Eventually, he was helped off the ice under his own power, but he did not return.
Dallas came oh-so-close to pulling even 3:45 into the second when Ribeiro took a short pass from Benn and fired a scorching wrist shot from the right face-off circle that beat Ellis over the shoulder but pinged off the far post.
Then just over a minute later, Nashville’s Steve Sullivan found the back of the net to make it 2-0. Sullivan emerged from the left corner with the puck, Arnott picked it up in the lower circle and chipped a shot that Turco stopped, but Sullivan swept the loose rebound under Turco and in. So instead of being tied 1-1, the Stars were down by two.
Turco made a spectacular pad-stacking save on Arnott’s one-timer from the left circle less than two minutes after that with Nashville on a power play to keep it a two-goal game.
“When we have that type of effort, most nights we’re going to be successful,” Crawford said. “At this time of the year, you’re concerned about process and I thought our process was good. There were a couple of points early in the game, especially where we had the power play goal against us, that we slipped a little. But we recaptured it very quickly and I thought we started to do the things that will make us successful.”
After opening the season at home, the Stars immediately hit the road with their annual tour of Western Canada, beginning with a date in Edmonton Tuesday night (8:30pm start, FSN), the first of three in the Great White North. Dallas will be back home for a return engagement with Nashville on Oct. 14.
“For us, we didn’t travel at all during the pre-season, so from that standpoint, this is good,” Crawford said of the trip out West right off the bat. “The early-season road trip, while difficult, also serve to let the team get to spend time with each other, have dinners together, get to know each other better, make the new players to feel a little more comfortable, so that’s something we’ll try to take advantage of next week.”
- In salvaging a point after entering the third period while trailing, the Stars are already well ahead of last season’s pace, when they earned a point in just five of 32 games (3-27-2) in a similar situation.
- Richards had an assist on Neal’s first goal and also led the club with eight shots on goal, while Neal was second with five shots.
- Robidas led the club with 24:52 of ice time.
- In his NHL debut, Benn registered two shots on goal and one penalty in 15:59 of ice time.
- Defenseman Karlis Skrastins made his Stars debut and led the squad with four blocked shots.
- Veteran winger Jere Lehtinen, who did not appear at all during the off-season, is still recovering from his hip/groin injury and did not play. He is currently listed as day-to-day and Crawford expects him to be back in the lineup at some point in Western Canada, perhaps even Tuesday in Edmonton.
- With the shootout loss, the Stars are now 8-2-6 on opening nights since relocating from Minnesota in 1993. This was the 10th time Dallas opened at home in that time, and they have still not lost in regulation, with a 7-0-3 mark. Overall, the Stars still boast a 16-4-1 all-time record against the Predators in Dallas, including 9-2-1 in the last 12.
- Modano was pointless, but is still the NHL’s active scoring leader in season openers over the course of his career, with nine goals and 23 points.