DALLAS - It seems that the Dallas Stars’ recent troubles scoring goals are behind them. And this time, they were able to clamp down defensively in the third period to protect a late lead.
The Stars rode special offensive performances from one player expected to score and one unexpected source to defeat the Detroit Red Wings 4-3 in a Saturday afternoon matinee at the American Airlines Center.
In their first game back home after a five-game road trip in which they went 1-1-3 and lost several third period leads, the Stars ended Detroit’s four-game winning streak and moved into an eighth-place tie with the Red Wings in the Western Conference standings in the process.
After managing just 46 goals over a 19-game stretch (barely more than two per game), the Stars have erupted for 12 in their last three contests.
But while second-year forward James Neal, who recorded two goals and an assist, is counted on for his offensive contributions, the Stars also received some offense from an unexpected source. Defensive defenseman Karlis Skrastins also scored two goals and an assist, including the game-winning tally early in the third period.
“I was waiting for this for a long time,” said Skrastins, who hadn’t scored a goal yet this season, his first with the Stars, entering the day. “I’ve had a couple of good opportunities the last couple of games, but the puck wasn’t going in. Tonight was one of those nights where I had a little bit of luck. I scored my first goal and then I scored the game-winning goal. It’s very exciting, but what’s important is that we won the game.”
“We played just as good in Atlanta and their goalie comes up big,” Neal said of the Stars’ 6-5 overtime loss on Thursday in which he didn’t register a point. “We just tried to do the same things tonight and when things are going, they’re going, and it showed when I was going to the net - I get a little bit of a bounce off the pads and right on my stick. It’s a start. We held onto the puck more, we got to do that, we’re a good line when we’re cycling and controlling the puck.”
The Stars also received big efforts from Neal’s linemates, Brad Richards and Loui Eriksson, who each recorded two assists. In goal, Marty Turco was very solid, turning aside 30 Detroit shots.
Even though the injury-depleted Wings got a monster game from their top line, with Pavel Datsyuk and Todd Bertuzzi each scoring a goal and two assists, the Stars’ defensive effort in the third period was crucial to the victory, despite having two regular defenseman out of the lineup.
“I thought the defense really stepped up tonight,” Stars coach Marc Crawford said. “They recognized how much onus was on them and how much responsibility they had to have. Tonight, I thought our guys really paid attention to details. We backchecked hard, we recovered pucks real well, I thought we had an identity tonight of a team that wanted the puck and played strong defensive hockey. Yeah, there were a couple of mistakes, but there always is in a game.”
Tied 3-3 heading into the final period, the Stars jumped on top on Skrastins’ second goal of the afternoon just 1:16 in. After receiving a short pass from Richards out of the left corner, Skrastins wired a lethal wrist shot from the left face-off circle over the shoulder of Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard.
“It was great to score early,” Crawford said. “I thought that gave us a huge boost, you score a minute and a half into the period, it just puts so much more belief into the team. We knew that the one line you had to watch, so we felt confident, I thought the confidence got enhanced by the goal by Skrastins.”
Turco prevented the Red Wings from tying it again about two minutes later when he made a scintillating blocker save on Bertuzzi’s wrist shot in front.
Turco also denied Bertuzzi again with 3:55 remaining to maintain the Stars’ lead.
Ribeiro had a golden opportunity to put the game away when he stole the puck at center ice and raced in on a breakaway with just 1:01 left in regulation, but Howard made a sparkling arm save on his high wrist shot.
Dogged fore-checking by Dallas kept the Wings hemmed in their own zone, unable to pull Howard for an extra attacker, until Richards was whistled for a questionable slashing penalty on Bertuzzi with 26.4 seconds to go.
Captain Brenden Morrow essentially sealed the win when he slid out to block Brian Rafalski’s slap shot with 14 seconds left and subsequently cleared the zone.
“I thought the blocked shot by Brenden Morrow was very significant, and that was kind of the effort we got tonight,” Crawford said. “Guys paid the price and that sort of stuff is infectious throughout the group, people blocking shots, battling hard - those are the things that end up equaling victories.”
“We didn’t sit back, we put the same amount of pressure on them in the third as we did in the first and second and you got to when they’re so skilled like that,” Neal said. “It was a good win.”
The Stars started off with at a frenetic pace, earning an early power play and registering the game’s first five shots on goal, including a point-blank one-timer by Steve Ott 2:23 in during the man-advantage that Howard made a nice pad stop on.
It was seven-plus minutes until Turco faced his first shot. Before Detroit got another one, though, a very entertaining pre-meditated fight took place between Krys Barch and Red Wing veteran Brad May at 10:16. Barch ended up leaving the ice due to a cut on his punching hand, but returned to the penalty box before his five minutes were up.
Detroit appeared to catch fire after that, but Turco stood tall in the Dallas net, making a big save on Bertuzzi’s wrist shot from the left face-off circle with 6:11 left in the period and another sprawling save on Kris Draper’s backhand about 30 seconds later.
The Red Wings broke through for a 1-0 lead on Tomas Holmstrom’s 13th goal of the year with 2:38 remaining in the first. Bertuzzi had fought his way through Skrastins in the slot for a deceptive backhand shot that Turco stopped, but left him out of position with the rebound bouncing in front. Holmstrom, following up the play, drove to the crease and popped it into the open net.
Detroit ended up outshooting the Stars 11-7 in the period, leading 1-0 entering the second, but the Stars tied it just 1:40 in on Skrastins’ first goal in a Stars uniform. Mike Ribeiro fed a slick backhand pass from the right face-off circle out front to a charging Skrastins, who drilled a one-timer over Howard and in.
Each goaltender made some big saves in the ensuing minutes to keep the game even, with Turco denying Datsyuk’s wrister and Darren Helm on a breakaway, while Howard thwarted Mike Modano’s slap shot from the left circle and Neal’s wrist shot from the slot.
Neal notched his first of the day with 7:40 left in the period when he drove the net and steered in the rebound of Richards’ sharp angle backhander to give Dallas a 2-1 lead.
Detroit tied it again shortly afterwards on Datsyuk’s eighth goal of the year on a shot that Turco would undoubtedly like to have back. Bertuzzi carried into the left circle and as Datsyuk headed to the net, fed a soft shot/pass towards the goal that Datsyuk swiped at. The puck barely nicked off his stick, seeming to not change direction at all, before rolling between Turco’s pads.
The Stars restored their one-goal advantage just 66 seconds later, though, when Neal notched his second of the contest and team-leading 16th of the season. Skrastins rifled a slap shot from just inside the blue line, but it hit either Neal or Detroit defender Brad Stuart in front. Neal managed to get to the loose puck in the slot and quickly whipped a wrist shot past the scrambling Howard to make it 3-2.
The Wings evened it at 3-3 with just one minute remaining in the second on Bertuzzi’s 10th of the year. Datsyuk set it up with a pretty backhand pass from behind the Dallas net, finding Bertuzzi in the high slot before the resulting one-timer beat Turco over the glove.
“It’s a big win. I hope now we can try to play the same way we played today,” Skrastins said. “A good team works hard, sticks together and plays all 60 minutes, which is the most important thing. Every game is very important.”
The Stars remain in the Metroplex to face the visiting San Jose Sharks Monday night (7:30 pm start, FSSW). Dallas beat the high-flying Sharks in a shootout in their rink on Dec. 11 and will hope to repeat the result at home.
“We played well in there in a couple of victories against them, and they’re right near the top of the league,” Crawford said of the Sharks. “We’re going to have to pay special attention to their special people.”
- Entering the day, Neal had just one goal in his previous four games before erupting for three points. Neal also delivered six hits, trailing only Ott’s eight for the team lead.
- Skrastins had gone 17 games without a point coming into the day. His first goal was not only his first of the year and first as a Star, but his first in 63 total games, dating back to last February 5, when he was a member of the Florida Panthers.
- Eriksson extended his scoring streak to a season-high six games, during which he’s notched two goals and seven assists.
- Richards had gone pointless in his previous two outings.
- Modano fired a season-high eight shots on goal (out of 21 total by the team) in just 13:38 of ice time. His three-game scoring streak, during which he’d collected one goal and three assists, was snapped.
- Ribeiro’s assist on Skrastins’ first goal gives him five assists in his last three contests.
- Defensemen Mark Fistric (concussion) and Trevor Daley (shoulder) sat out with injuries. Both are listed as day-to-day.
- To take their place in the lineup, Dallas recalled 26-year-old defenseman Maxime Fortunus from the AHL Texas Stars and he made his NHL debut, wearing jersey number 38. In 19:47 of ice time, he registered one shot on goal and blocked one shot.
“It was unbelievable,” Fortunus said. “Playing against a team like Detroit, too, some of the best players in the world, it was a good challenge for me. I was obviously excited, I just wanted to make the right moves on the ice. I’ve been working my whole life for it, the day finally came and to me, it was a blessing and I owe it to a lot of people.”
- The Stars are now 5-0-2 in their last seven home games and 7-1-4 in their last 12.
- Turco is now 6-12-5 lifetime in the regular season against Detroit, but is 5-3-0 in his last eight games against the Wings.
- The Stars have now beaten the Red Wings four straight times at home, outscoring them 13-8 in those contests.
Wrist shot -