Less than a week earlier, the Phoenix Coyotes, led by former Stars coach Dave Tippett, came into the American Airlines Center and handed the Dallas Stars a 4-2 defeat. This time, it was the Stars who dictated the result, riding two goals from rookie Jamie Benn and a 34-save performance from goaltender Marty Turco to crush the Coyotes 4-0 Saturday night.
In doing so, the Stars continued their incredible hot streak at home, winning for the 10th time in their last 12 games in Texas, and improving their record to 15-3-2 in their last 20 at the friendly confines of the AAC.
Dallas, which began the day tied with Anaheim for 10th in the Western Conference, five points back of Calgary in the eighth and final playoff spot, also snapped a six-game losing streak against the Coyotes, including all three prior meetings this season.
While Phoenix was playing their second game in less than 24 hours in a different city (they beat Chicago 2-1 in a shootout Friday night), the Stars had much more jump and a higher compete level than they demonstrated last week in playing an outstanding all-around game, excelling in just about every facet.
“We had a strong game tonight,” Stars coach Marc Crawford said. “We haven’t had a lot of games where we’re really comfortable coming into the third period. We did a lot of things that we needed to do. We knew they were a team that this was their third in four nights with travel, and you’ve got to make it a hard game. The last time we played them we didn’t get off to the good start. Tonight, I thought we were better, and we did things that made it difficult on them.”
“I think personally it was probably our best 60-minute game that we’ve had in, I don’t know, a month or two,” said forward Steve Ott, who earned an assist in the contest. “I think our goaltending was solid, our defense was solid, our power play was solid, our penalty kill was solid - you can kind of go down the list and if you want to talk about complete games, the complete package, those are the ones you model it after. For us, I thought we did that tonight and it proved to ourselves that if you jump on a team like that, physically engaging them and winning one-on-one battles and playing well, then we’re a heck of a team.”
In addition to Benn’s heroics, Loui Eriksson and James Neal each contributed a goal and an assist, while Brad Richards registered two assists, as the Stars snapped Phoenix’s six-game winning streak.
Turco made his third straight start in goal after sitting out six of the previous eight contests, and earned his third shutout of the season with another top-notch performance, which was reminiscent of the Turco Stars fans had grown to love over the years.
“I’m seeing (the puck) pretty good,” said Turco, who extended his franchise record with his 39th career goose egg. “It just helps to have good balance and to be able to move well. That always aids my patience - that allows me to stand in there and wait to see the puck and react accordingly and not get ahead of myself. And when we score four goals, I like our odds.”
“He’s played very well in the last three,” Crawford said of Turco. “Probably the biggest thing he needed was a break; he didn’t want it to be as long as he got it, but all you can do in those types of situations is prepare for your next outing. Definitely he’s feeling good about himself right now. You can see it in his body language, you can see it in the way he moves the puck, and it couldn’t come at a better time for us.”
The Stars jumped out of the starting blocks much better in this match-up with the Coyotes, taking the early 1-0 lead on Neal’s team-leading 23rd goal of the season just 3:36 in. After a particularly buxom rebound was given up by Bryzgalov, Eriksson retrieved it in the slot and fed a quick cross-ice pass to Neal, stationed off to the right of the crease, and Neal fired it into the open side of the net.
“Loui hit me backdoor. It was kind of an open net, so it was nice,” Neal said of the play.
Turco came up with a big save at the other end after a Dallas turnover in their own end led to Taylor Pyatt’s point-blank slap shot from the high slot at 5:50.
Turco also denied Radim Vrbata’s slap shot from the top of the left circle with a sprawling save through traffic with 7:40 left in the period.
Dallas went up 2-0 while shorthanded, on Eriksson’s 22nd goal of the year with just 1:27 left in the first. Neal intercepted a Phoenix pass in the Dallas zone and fed a perfect head-man pass up to Eriksson at center ice, springing the Swedish Olympian on a breakaway. Eriksson then fired a scorching snap shot from the slot that beat Bryzgalov over the glove hand for his first goal in eight games.
“Loui got the jump on the penalty kill there, and I found him,” Neal said. “When he gets a chance like that, he’s going to bury it.”
Leading 2-0 entering the second period, the Stars dodged a bullet just 30 seconds in, when the Coyotes sped into the Dallas zone on a 2-on-1 rush, but Vrbata ended up firing a wrist shot over the crossbar.
The Stars pushed their lead to three at 2:37 on Benn’s first of the night. Captain Brenden Morrow slid a nifty backhand pass from behind the net to Benn in front, and Benn cut across the top of the crease on his backhand, briefly losing control of the puck before getting off a backhand shot that beat Bryzgalov just inside the right post.
“He was in good spots to get open looks at the net and he put them in the back of the net when he had the chance,” Morrow said of Benn.
Benn made it 4-0 less than four minutes later on a power play, notching his 13th goal of the season at 6:28. After receiving a pass from Ott in the right corner, Benn skated in from the right sideboards into the face-off circle before uncorking a wicked wrist shot that beat Bryzgalov between the pads.
The 20-year-old rookie nearly netted the hat trick just 1:37 later when he raced into the Phoenix zone on a 2-on-1 rush with Morrow. Once he reached the left face-off circle, Benn launched another wrist shot, but Bryzgalov came up with a strong blocker save.
Turco’s save on a Coyote power play with 2:33 left in the second was huge, when he made a nice glove snag of Keith Yandle’s slap shot from between the top of the circles.
Benn had another chance for the hat trick just before the period ended, firing a snap shot from the high slot, but Bryzgalov made a nice pad save.
With a huge 4-0 lead heading into the final period, the Stars were firmly in control. The sellout crowd of 18,532 got riled up some more when Krys Barch squared off with Phoenix’s Paul Bissonnette at 5:27 in a fight that traversed much of the ice.
The Coyotes seemed to wake up a bit after that, but Turco was equal to the task, making an outstanding diving save on Pyatt’s re-direction in front at 6:03, then denying Vrbata’s slap shot from the right circle 45 seconds later.
Dallas then killed off a Phoenix power play after that, their sixth of the night, and then seemed to regain their footing. All that was left was securing the shutout for Turco, and he helped himself in that regard with a nice pad save on Vernon Fiddler’s wrist shot from the right circle with 3:05 remaining.
“The body actually feels a lot better,” Turco said of his recent performance. “It was nice to work on some things while I wasn’t playing, but a couple of games really doesn’t do it for me. We are out of the playoffs, we’re scratching and clawing on the road, and we’ve got three huge ones coming up.”
The Stars head right back out on the road for a three-game road trip leading into the Olympic break next week. The first date comes Tuesday night against the Central Division-leading Chicago Blackhawks (7:30 pm start, FSSW), who lost 2-1 in a shootout to this very Phoenix team on Friday. The Stars are 2-0-0 so far this year against the young and talented ‘Hawks and will once again be looking to snap their recent skid (1-10-2 in their last 13) on the road.
“This is a huge road trip for ourselves,” Ott said. “Going on the road, our road record has been pretty shameful, I guess you could say, in the last while, and for us to bear down and to push for a solid playoff spot, we have to do it on this road trip before the break.”
“A huge one in Chicago,” Turco added. “I can’t say how big it is to go in there, a tough game, to collect points, but we have to. We’re just in that position so we’re going to have to be just as good, if not better, and we’re going to have to do like we did tonight.”
Dallas won’t be back at the American Airlines until after the two-week shutdown, until March 2, a span of 23 days between home games.
- Benn’s first career multi-goal game gives him five points (four goals, one assist) in the last five games, after going the previous nine outings with just one point (a goal). Benn also set a career-high with seven shots on goal, while also going a scintillating 7-1 in face-offs.
- Neal now has three points (two goals, one assist) in the last three games, following a stretch of just one point (a goal) in his previous four outings. He tied Benn with a game-high seven shots on goal.
- Eriksson now has four points (one goal, three assists) in the last three contests after collecting just one assist in the previous five.
- Richards’ two assists gives him four points over the last three games (two goals, two assists).
- Ott’s assist on Benn’s second goal gives him 10 points (four goals, six assists) in the last 13 games, not to mention a shootout game-winner.
- Morrow’s assist gives him four assists in his last five contests after going pointless in the previous five. He also delivered six hits, second only to defenseman Stephane Robidas’ seven.
- Center Mike Modano returned to the lineup after missing one game with a lower body injury. He had compiled seven goals and nine points in his previous 10 outings.
- Defenseman Mark Fistric sat out with a lower body injury, suffered Thursday night in Columbus, and is currently listed as day-to-day.
- Taking Fistric’s spot in the lineup was defenseman Jeff Woywitka, who had sat out the previous 10 contests as a healthy scratch.
- The power play unit went 1-for-3 after going 1-for-10 in the previous four games and a horrendous 6-for-57 since New Year’s.