DALLAS - It may not have been pretty, but the Dallas Stars will take it.
On the strength of a couple of fluky goals by two slumping players who needed a boost, Dallas turned a 1-0 third period deficit into a 2-1 lead and pulled out a 3-1 victory over the Anaheim Ducks Thursday night at the American Airlines Center.
The win leaves the Stars 4-0-1 in their last five home games, and 6-1-3 in their last 10, while pushing their overall record to 13-8-7.
Goals by James Neal and Steve Ott turned the game around and a final-minute empty-netter from captain Brenden Morrow sealed the triumph, while goaltender Marty Turco was outstanding in goal, making 26 saves to earn the game’s first star.
“I thought Marty was the difference tonight for us,” Stars coach Marc Crawford said. “That’s a great sign for us that Marty played that well, because it wasn’t an easy game and there were a lot of people crashing the net when you play Anaheim. Marty was a difference-maker tonight, so that was pleasant to see.”
“He made some tremendous saves and looked like the Marty we all know,” Ott said. “He never gives up and he’s always a battler and he proved it again tonight.”
Neal snapped a five-game pointless streak with his game-tying tally just 1:50 into the third period, while Ott recorded his first point in 13 contests at 3:01 to give Dallas a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
“It’s big for both of them,” Crawford said of his goal-scorers. “I thought that James Neal generated a lot tonight. That’s the first time in the last few games that I saw him skate like he was earlier in the year. He was noticeably stronger with his skating. His goal was lucky, but he’ll hopefully loosen up and play with a little more ease right now.”
“You’re going to have your ups and downs,” the second-year Neal said. “I’ve been playing the same way, I just haven’t gotten the bounces, and then got a lucky bounce tonight, and hopefully it gets things going again.”
Ott, who played a key offensive role last season, felt like quite a burden lifted off his shoulders.
“It looked like he skated better after the weight of the world lifted off his shoulders and he had another terrific chance in the third period,” Crawford noted.
“It definitely always feels good to score, it’s a lot more fun to score,” said Ott, whose last goal came on Oct. 31 in Nashville and registered a -9 plus/minus rating since. “November was a pretty tough month in the minus category and the scoring department. By the end of it, having a goal out of it, it felt pretty good.”
Down 1-0 heading into the final period despite outshooting Anaheim 18-7 in the second, the Stars evened it up just 1:50 in off a fortunate bounce that gave Neal his team-leading 12th goal of the season. Anaheim defenseman James Wisniewski fed a pass from behind his net to Ryan Whitney on the right sideboards, but Neal poked his stick in there and knocked the puck towards the front of the net. With no Stars within 20 feet, the puck rolled towards the far side of the crease and banked off Wisniewski’s skate and past goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere.
“I was lucky,” Neal said. “Lucky. One of the luckiest goals I’ve ever scored. Hopefully it turns things around.”
Just 1:11 later, Dallas surged ahead on Ott’s third goal of the year. From just above the goal line in the right corner, Ott sent the puck into the crease where Giguere seemed to make the save, but the puck squeezed through him and slowly trickled over the line to make it 2-1.
“Sometimes when the gates open, it definitely brings some confidence to the team,” Ott said. “We brought a persistent effort throughout the whole game, I thought, and played pretty solid. A couple of lucky shots got in and all of a sudden, you’re up in the game and think that you probably deserved to be up earlier and we ended up getting a win.”
Turco made the lead stand up from there, making a big save on Scott Niedermayer’s blast from the left point 1:47 later, while Corey Perry’s rebound attempt slid just wide and then denied Todd Marchant’s deflection in front 1:35 after that.
Anaheim pulled Giguere for an extra attacker with 1:26 left, but were never able to really set up an offensive push and Morrow then iced it with 42.1 seconds remaining when he fired his 12th goal of the season into the empty net from center ice.
“We were fortunate in the third to get those goals one and two, and get the momentum for the rest of the third period,” Turco said. “That’s the way it goes, I’ve been on that other side of it. All that being said, it doesn’t matter how they go in.”
Anaheim jumped on the Stars early, taking a 1-0 lead just 1:28 into the contest on Saku Koivu’s third goal of the season. Koivu finished off a nice three-way passing play, receiving a deceptive cross-ice dish from Whitney while standing about five feet to the right of the crease, his one-timer beating Turco just inside the near post.
“I read the play great and missed the shot,” Turco said. “You enjoy the times you make the saves and when you don’t, sometimes you can second-guess yourself. Early in the game, you just have to let it go because there’s not much you can do and just focus on keeping it to one goal as long as you possibly can.”
On a Ducks power play midway through the period, Turco made a dazzling sliding pad save to deny Whitney’s one-timer from the right face-off circle.
Defenseman Stephane Robidas was assessed a five-minute major penalty for boarding at 11:51 of the first when he leveled Anaheim’s Bobby Ryan along the boards, although the first two minutes of that was spent at 4-on-4 when Duck defender Nick Boynton jumped in and picked up a roughing penalty.
Dallas killed off the remaining three-minute power play, thanks in part to a Turco point-blank save on Koivu and a long slap shot by Wisniewski that deflected off the left goalpost.
The Stars received a considerable boost and seized the momentum, even generating a late man- advantage of their own for the final two minutes of the period, but were unable to capitalize. Rookie Jamie Benn had the best chance with 1:24 left when his wrist shot from the left face-off circle beat Giguere on the short side, but pinged off the post and through the crease into the far corner.
“There’s always going to be big moments in the game,” Turco said of the big penalty kill, “and I think this team realizes that every play can count, every power play, every kill, every situation, you don’t know which play is going to be the difference-maker. Momentum swings in this sport, and we know we can be a lot more consistent in the way we play.”
Trailing 1-0 entering the second period, Benn had another chance just 1:30 in at the left post, but his stuff attempt pinballed off the side of the net and under Giguere.
Turco made a key stop with 7:05 left in the period, using his blocker to deny MacGregor Sharp’s point-blank wrist shot.
With 2:14 to go in the second, Benn had another prime chance as he fluttered a one-timer from the right side of the crease, off Mike Ribeiro’s pass from behind the net, that appeared to plonk off Giguere’s mask before the Duck defense cleared the loose puck away.
The Stars are back in action Saturday for a 1 pm matinee (FSSW) at the American Airlines Center against their old rivals, the Edmonton Oilers, who defeated Detroit 4-1 earlier in the evening to pass Anaheim and move into 14th in the Western Conference standings.
“Edmonton got a big win in Detroit tonight, so they’re going to be coming in here with some confidence,” Crawford said. “Our club should get some confidence here because of the way we won. The belief is that if you stay with the simple things that make your team successful, and tonight it was attacking from around the goal line, I hope that’s something that we can build on and use as a trademark of our club.”
- Morrow’s empty netter extends his goal-scoring streak to a career-high five games. His point streak is now at six games (five goals, one assist).
- Loui Eriksson picked up two assists, which follows a stretch in which he had just one assist in his previous five games.
- Benn and Brad Richards each had six shots on goal to lead the club.
- The victory was the Stars’ first this season when trailing after two periods (1-4-3).
- Defenseman Karlis Skrastins left the game in the third period with a badly lacerated finger. It’s unknown yet if he will miss any games, as he will be re-evaluated on Friday.
- With everyone on the roster completely healthy (before the game), Krys Barch, Brian Sutherby and Jeff Woywitka sat out as healthy scratches.
- Anaheim’s Teemu Selanne, who assisted on Koivu’s goal, left the game later in the first period after suffering a fractured left hand. The injury will require surgery and he is expected to miss 4-6 weeks.
- Dallas is now 13-3-4 in their last 20 regular season meetings overall with Anaheim, dating back to 2006-07 and own a 15-5-2 record against them at the American Airlines Center since 2002.
- Anaheim’s Corey Perry had his 19-game scoring streak, the longest in the NHL this season, snapped, a stretch in which he collected 10 goals and 26 points.
1 - 0 ANA
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 DAL