DALLAS - Leave it to Roberto Luongo to spoil the Dallas Stars’ first game in the new year.
The Vancouver Canucks’ netminder, who almost single-handedly defeated the Stars in the 2007 playoffs, was outstanding, making 31 saves to lead the Canucks to a 3-1 triumph over Dallas Saturday afternoon at the American Airlines Center.
Entering the day in ninth place in the Western Conference standings with a chance to tie Vancouver and Los Angeles for seventh, the Stars’ loss leaves them 18-12-11 as they reach the season’s 41-game midpoint. Dallas almost missed a chance to record their first three-game winning streak of the season.
It was the just the Stars’ second loss at home in their last 12 home contests (8-2-2), while the Canucks completed a four-game road trip at 3-0-1 and are now 9-2-1 in their last 12 overall.
“I thought we could have been a little bit more determined, had a little bit more of a playoff style, a to-the-net game, be a little bit more direct,” Stars coach Marc Crawford said. “I think our best period was our third period.”
“I think we are starting to gain some momentum and play with some confidence at home,” captain Brenden Morrow said of his club at 2009-10's halfway point. “It could have been three in a row, but the last two games, we had real good efforts. Tonight was a little slow, bouncing around, not really getting many breaks. Today was a disappointment but through 41 games, we’re still plugging away.”
Down 1-0, the Stars tied it early in the third, but surrendered a power play goal just 2:01 later to fall behind again and could not solve Luongo again, despite firing 14 shots in the final period.
Loui Eriksson scored Dallas’ only goal, his fifth in the last three games, and goaltender Marty Turco was solid in his own right, making 24 saves in the Stars’ crease.
“We felt like we were around it,” said Morrow, who assisted on Eriksson’s goal, of the Stars’ final push. “We got opportunities, jam plays, battles in the crease. And Loui is kind of seeing everything right now. He had a couple more chances there late in the game. We wanted to get back out there right away and he gave us a chance.”
“We played some good hockey, and had them on their heels a bit,” said center Brad Richards, who also earned an assist on the goal, of the third period. “We probably ran out of time to beat Luongo. He held them in there in the third. He’s such a big guy; he makes a lot of saves look easy. Positionally, for the most part, he’s usually sound. He made some big saves when he needed to.”
After a scoreless first period, the Canucks seized the lead just 1:30 into the second on Ryan Kesler’s 11th goal of the season. Taking a nice cross-ice pass from Mason Raymond in the slot, Kesler unleashed a quick snap shot over Turco’s glove and off the underside of the crossbar for a 1-0 Vancouver advantage.
Kesler, fresh off his selection to the U.S. Olympic team, almost got another one six minutes later, when he and Mikael Samuelsson raced into the Dallas zone on a 2-on-1 rush. Samuelsson carried the puck into the right circle before feeding a pass in front to the charging Kesler, but Turco made a scintillating sliding save.
About 30 seconds after that, Luongo made a big save at the other end, turning aside Toby Petersen’s deflection in front of Mike Ribeiro’s wrister from the right circle.
The Kesler-Samuelsson combination created another big scoring chance with 3:17 left in the period. Turco made a nice save on Samuelsson’s wrist shot from the left circle, and Kesler got to the rebound, but slid it past Turco and just wide of the far post.
Dallas thought they’d tied it with 1:09 remaining in the period, but their apparent goal was waved off. Just 22 seconds after Christian Ehrhoff entered the penalty box for flipping the puck into the crowd from the Vancouver zone, Eriksson skated out of the corner and attacked the net. Luongo made the initial save, and as Eriksson was knocked to the ice by a Willie Mitchell cross-check, it seemed like he swiped the puck in. The officials on the ice deemed it a goal, but a lengthy video review reversed the call.
Upon further review, it appeared that the puck went off Morrow’s right skate as he fell to the ice, or that Eriksson’s stick knocked Morrow’s skate into the puck to send it into the net, but the official call was that Morrow used a ‘distinct kicking motion’ to put the puck in and it was waved off.
“I didn’t really see it, but the way that the rule stands, I propelled it into the net,” Morrow admitted. “It did go off my skate. I think Loui ended up shooting my skate out from under me. But the way the rule is, I don’t think they really made a mistake.”
Down 1-0 heading into the final period, the Stars managed to get the equalizer just after that same power play ended, just 37 seconds into the third. This time, Morrow swept out with the puck from behind the net and fired a sharp-angle wrist shot that Luongo stopped, but Eriksson was right there to pop the rebound up and over for his 17th goal of the season.
“That’s a call that they make from upstairs,” Crawford said of the disallowed goal. “They judged that it was a kicking motion; the call didn’t go for us. We kept our determination. I thought we were really good right after the goal, almost scoring immediately. Then we did score, right at the end of the power play after their guy came out of the box. It’s one of those things where you just try and keep your focus, try and keep doing the right things.”
Unfortunately for the Stars, a high-sticking penalty to Mike Modano less than a minute later killed their momentum and Vancouver capitalized on their power play opportunity. Daniel Sedin had the puck at the right side of the net and attempted a spin-around backhand pass across the top of the crease, but the puck pinballed off Trevor Daley’s skate and past Turco for the go-ahead goal at 2:38.
“Unfortunately, we had that penalty called against us,” Crawford said. “They scored a goal that you’re prepared for, for the most part, but your guy was in the wrong spot and it went in off his skate.”
Turco made a fabulous save about a minute later to keep the Stars within one when he stopped Raymond’s point-blank shot on his stomach following a mad scramble at the side of the net.
The Stars then gradually began to pick up their play and sustained considerable pressure in the Vancouver end. Luongo was forced to make nice saves on Tom Wandell’s blast with 11:20 remaining and James Neal with 7:09 to go, among others.
Luongo absolutely robbed Modano with 6:06 left. After Morrow fed a pretty cross-ice pass to a charging Modano, the 21-year veteran ripped a one-timer from low in the left circle that Luongo somehow got his skate on.
“I actually didn’t see him and it was kind of a desperation play by me there,” Luongo said of Modano. “I didn’t even see the shot go off or the puck, I just put my leg out there and was able to get my skate on it, actually. It was just a reaction and fortunately, I got a piece of it.”
The Stars continued to press for the equalizer, especially after pulling Turco for an extra attacker with 1:11 remaining. Neal whipped a wrist shot from the high slot with 38 seconds left that forced Luongo to make a big save, then Eriksson had a chance at the rebound, but again, Luongo made a sparkling shoulder save.
Samuelsson found the back of the empty net with 16.1 seconds on the clock to seal the win for Vancouver.
“It was a tight game,” Richards said. “They scored a power-play goal there to take the lead after we got the momentum. And Luongo shut the door.”
The game got off to a physical start with a fight just 2:14 in. After Vancouver’s Darcy Hordichuk leveled Petersen with a big open-ice bodycheck, Krys Barch stepped in to challenge Hordichuk and the two had a long, spirited bout.
After Vancouver had built a 9-4 advantage in shots over the first 13-plus minutes of the period, the Stars applied considerable pressure in the Canucks’ zone but was unable to get one past Luongo. First Brad Richards and Eriksson had two chances during a scramble in front with 6:25 remaining, then Luongo made big saves on Morrow’s slap shot from the top of the left face-off circle and on Wandell’s scorching wrister from the left circle over the next minute.
Luongo also came up with sparkling back-to-back stops on Jamie Benn from the right circle with about three minutes left in the period.
In the end, the Canucks held an 11-9 edge in shots for the period, but Dallas had the momentum, at least temporarily.
The Stars next head out to the New York metropolitan area for a quick two-game road trip, first facing the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night (6:00 pm, My27), who they defeated here in Dallas 5-3 back on Nov. 21. The Devils are currently first in the Eastern Conference, so it should be a tough battle, but the Stars always seem to play well against elite competition.
- After scoring a hat trick in the Stars’ last game, a 4-2 win over Anaheim on New Year’s Eve, Eriksson now has five in his last three outings. He also led the team in shots on goal, with six. Wandell was a close second, with five.
- With his assist, Richards now has a modest three-game point streak going, having compiled one goal and five assists over that span.
- Defenseman Stephane Robidas once again led the squad in ice time, logging a game-high 26:28, over six minutes more than the next Star on the list, Richards at 20:14. Robidas also blocked a team-high five shots.
- Despite the loss, the Stars are still 17-9-3 in their last 29 regular season meetings with the Canucks, including a stellar 9-3-0 in their last 12 contests at the friendly confines of the American Airlines Center.