DALLAS - With things looking somewhat bleak, the Dallas Stars dug deep to keep their faint playoff hopes alive.
Led by two goals from Brad Richards and another solid outing from goaltender Kari Lehtonen, the Stars hung on to defeat the Ottawa Senators 5-4 in an exciting Saturday afternoon matinee at the American Airlines Center.
Despite giving up a hat trick to Ottawa center Jason Spezza and falling behind 3-2 early in the second period, the Stars battled their way back. They managed to chase Senators starting goaltender Pascal Leclaire and picked up a much-needed victory that moves them from 13th into a tie for 10th in the Western Conference standings. They still sit six points back of Detroit, who play later Saturday evening, for the eighth and final playoff spot.
“We were very resilient tonight,” coach Marc Crawford said. “This time of the year, maybe that’s a great quality to have. We didn’t play our best game that we’ve played probably over the last homestand, and we had to be resilient enough and determined enough and we were good when we had to be.”
“We know it’s an uphill battle,” said defenseman Trevor Daley, whose beautiful goal early in the third period stood up as the game-winner. “We can only control what we do and winning games is our main focus right now. It’s do-or-die. I don’t know who’s playing tonight or where we’re at, but those teams aren’t going to let us by them. We can only control what happens in this room.”
It was the fifth game of a disappointing six-game homestand that the Stars were hoping would vault them back into a post-season berth. After winning seven of eight and going 10-2-1 over a 13-game span at home, the Stars are now just 2-4-1 in Texas since the Olympic break.
In addition to Richards’ two and Daley’s tally, the Stars also received goals from rookie Jamie Benn and Mike Ribeiro. The five-goal output leaves them with 15 goals scored over their last three games.
“We have confidence offensively,” said Richards, who reached the 20-goal plateau for the fourth time in his career. “Sometimes it doesn’t happen, but for most of the year at home, we’ve been pretty good offensively. Sometimes we forget the little things you do to get good offense, and I think that’s what we forgot early after the break. We’ve got enough talent here to score goals.”
Kari Lehtonen made his third straight start between the pipes and was solid once again, making 25 saves.
“The last two games, we’ve been playing a lot better - they haven’t been 50-shot games,” noted Lehtonen, who hadn’t started three in a row since starting nine between Feb. 19 and Mar. 10, 2009 with Atlanta. “That helps. I think we played pretty similar today to how we did against the Flyers, but we were able to score early and more often, and I think that was the difference today.”
With the Stars leading 2-1 late in the first period, it appeared as if they would take that lead into the intermission, but Ottawa tied it up with just 1.7 seconds left, on Jason Spezza’s first of the game. It was another power play tally, this one coming after Nick Foligno fed a pass out of the left corner to Spezza at the lip of the crease, and Spezza jammed it past Lehtonen for a potentially game-changing goal.
Tied heading into the second period, Spezza got another one at 5:11 to put Ottawa on top 3-2. Spezza camped out in front of Lehtonen and deftly deflected Chris Campoli’s wrist shot from the left point past Lehtonen for his second of the day.
“It was a tough one to handle,” Richards said of surrendering that goal at the end of the first period. “They scored right away (after that), so it was good resiliency by us, I don’t think we had a great game overall, but we found a way to win and that’s the important thing.”
Ottawa continued to press, building up a 10-2 advantage in shots on goal over the first 16 minutes of the period, but Lehtonen was equal to the task. Perhaps his best save was a nice pad stop on Peter Regin’s wrist shot from the slot with 4:48 left in the second.
Dallas began to push back after that and tied it up again on Richards’ second goal of the game and 21st of the season with 3:23 left. After Ottawa starting goaltender Pascal Leclaire stopped Loui Eriksson’s in-close shot at the left side of the net, Eriksson retrieved the rebound behind the net. Eriksson then fed a pass out to Richards low in the left circle, and Richards fired it over the prone Leclaire while falling to his knees.
The Stars surged ahead 4-3 with a final-minute goal of their own, as Benn notched his 18th with just 52.9 seconds remaining in the second. James Neal carried into the Ottawa zone on a 2-on-1 rush and slid a slick backhand pass around the sliding body of Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson to the charging Benn, who had an easy tap-in.
Dallas built the lead up to 5-3 at 4:33 of the final period on Daley’s fifth goal of the year, chasing Leclaire in the process. After Neal caused an Ottawa turnover at center ice, Daley collected the puck and started the rush back the other way. Weaving his way through several Senators, Daley fired a scorching wrist shot from the right circle that painted the far upper corner.
“They turned it over in the middle, and I jumped on it,” Daley said of the play. “Nealer and Benn did a great job of driving the D back, and I just kind of pulled up a little bit to the middle, and got a shot through a screen, and fortunately it went in.”
At that point, Ottawa coach Cory Clouston opted to replace Leclaire, who gave up five goals on 19 shots, with Brian Elliott.
“You can’t give up five goals on the first 19 shots,” Clouston said. “You’re going to give up chances, that’s just the name of the game. It’s very, very tough just to get momentum back.”
Elliott came up with a huge save on Benn’s rebound shot from the right circle during a Dallas power play with 7:56 remaining in regulation, while Lehtonen returned the favor 2:30 later when he robbed Alex Kovalev on his wrist shot from the right circle.
With Elliott on the bench for an extra attacker, Ottawa pulled to within one on Spezza’s third of the day and 19th of the season with just 1:27 to go. Matt Cullen fed a pass from behind the net out front, and Spezza roofed a one-timer past a helpless Lehtonen to make things very interesting.
The Senators pulled Elliott again with 1:04 left and when Ribeiro was whistled for a tripping penalty with 42.7 seconds on the clock, Ottawa had a golden opportunity to tie it up. But Dallas held strong, and Lehtonen only had to make one save, on Daniel Alfredsson’s wrist shot from the left circle with seven seconds left, to secure the triumph.
“They made a nice goal there,” Lehtonen said of the last goal against. “It’s always frustrating when you’re leading by two goals there, you’re a little more comfortable than just a one-goal lead with a minute and a half left, but we were battling. In the last minute and a half they only got one shot and that was great from our defense and our overall effort to keep them in the corners and block their shots - that was a great team effort.”
Ottawa got on the scoreboard just 1:06 into the contest on Mike Fisher’s 22nd goal of the year. Just 15 seconds after Mark Fistric entered the penalty box for a questionable hooking call, Spezza launched a wrist shot from the top of the left face-off circle that Fisher, in front, managed to deflect past Lehtonen on the short side.
Dallas nearly evened it up with 8:07 left in the opening period as Ribeiro sped in on a breakaway, but Leclaire made a nice save. Ribeiro was slashed on the play by Chris Phillips, though, putting the Stars on a power play.
The Senators almost got a short-handed goal 30 seconds later when Alfredsson led a 2-on-1 rush into the Dallas zone, sliding a pass over to Cullen, but Lehtonen made a fabulous sprawling save on the resulting wrist shot.
Shortly after that, Dallas gained a 5-on-3 advantage for 53 seconds when Ribeiro was high-sticked in the face by Ottawa defender Matt Carkner, and the Stars capitalized to make it 1-1. Technically, Richards’ first goal of the afternoon came one second after Phillips left the penalty box, but he had not yet entered the play when Richards bombed his one-timer from the top of the right face-off circle that appeared to nick Fisher on the way in.
Less than four minutes later, the Stars struck again, on Ribeiro’s 18th of the year. Skating with the fourth line, Ribeiro was in front when he received a nice pass from behind the net by Krys Barch, and Ribs buried into the open side of the net to put Dallas up 2-1 with 2:29 left in the period.
The Stars close out their season-long six-game homestand with a matchup Sunday against former coach Dave Tippett and the Phoenix Coyotes (6 pm start, FSSW). The Coyotes have been moving up the Western Conference standings, sitting fourth and creeping up on San Jose for the Pacific Division lead.
- Richards now has 13 points (four goals, nine assists) in the last 10 games, including a four-game point streak. He fired a game-high five shots on goal.
- Ribeiro notched his eighth goal in 13 games since he returned from a scary neck injury. He also has seven assists over that span.
- Benn’s goal gives him five points (three goals, two assists) in his last six outings, following a four-game pointless streak, and seven goals in his last 14 games. He tied Richards for the team lead with five shots.
- Daley now has six points (two goals, four assists) in his last seven games after picking up just one assist in the previous nine contests. Defensively, he also blocked four shots, second only to Karlis Skrastins’ five on the day.
- Morrow’s assist on Richards’ goal gives him five points (two goals, three assists) in the last three games after gaining just one assist in the previous four.
- Barch’s assist snapped a nine-game point drought.
- Neal’s assist on Benn’s goal was just his second point in the last six contests.
- Winger Brandon Segal’s assist on Benn’s goal gives him nine points (five goals, four assists) in eight games since the Stars claimed him off waivers from Los Angeles.
- Eriksson now has four assists in the last three games.
- Defenseman Jeff Woywitka and forward Fabian Brunnstrom sat out as healthy scratches. Woywitka had suited up for the last seven contests and 12 of the last 13, while Brunnstrom was scratched for the fifth straight game and for the eighth time in 10 games since the Olympic break.
- Dallas was 1-for-4 on the power play, leaving them 4-for-12 over their last three games, following a stretch in which they were just 2-for-23 in the previous six.
- Ottawa’s power play unit, ranked 28th in the league, had been 0-for-14 in their previous four games before going 2-for-5 in this one.
- Ottawa had lost their previous four games by a combined score of 17-5 and is now 1-7-1 since the Olympic break.