LOS ANGELES - After getting man-handled all season by the Los Angeles Kings, the Dallas Stars finally exacted a small measure of revenge.
Led by two goals and an assist from Brad Richards, the Stars scored a season-high four power plays goals to defeat the Kings for the first time this year Saturday night at the Staples Center.
Dallas had lost all five previous meetings (0-2-3) this season, although they still have not lost in regulation in their last nine visits to La-la land (3-0-6).
The win leaves the Stars 3-1-1 in their last five games and moves them up to 10th in the Western Conference standings, nine points behind the eighth and final playoff slot, now occupied by Colorado.
The Kings, who have lost their last three (0-2-1) sank to seventh.
“We’re on the outside looking in right now, and you’ve got to play some mind games,” said captain Brenden Morrow of staying positive while hovering on the fringes of the playoff race. “You want to be the spoiler. We came out, the power play did a good job, we moved our feet, drew some penalties and got a big win.”
“We played a real strong game,” coach Marc Crawford said. “Everybody looked like they had a little bit of jump tonight. Obviously, when your power play scores four, that goes a long way to helping you win. Full marks for our group and the battle level they had tonight. I was really pleased with our guys’ performance tonight and they were pleased too.”
In addition to Richards’ heroics, Morrow and Steve Ott also found the back of the net, while Mike Ribeiro and Stephane Robidas each contributed two assists. In goal, Kari Lehtonen was outstanding once again, making 29 saves for his third straight victory.
Basically, the Stars outplayed LA in every facet of the game.
“We had a little bit more energy, it looked like, than Los Angeles did and we won a lot of races to the puck,” Crawford said. “We won a lot of loose-puck battles and those 50-50 pucks ended up in our possession a lot more times than they did in the Kings’ and that was the difference in the game. We did a great job killing penalties tonight, we had a number of great blocked shots, our goaltending was very good, he made a couple of key saves on the penalty kill.”
But the story of the night was the Dallas power play, which hadn’t scored in their previous three games. They had also been 1-for-20 in the five previous meetings with Los Angeles before breaking loose in this one. Morrow attributed much of that success of the puck wizardry of Richards.
“He’s always been the playmaker, the quarterback on the power play who makes some really good awareness plays with his hockey sense,” Morrow said. “Tonight, he had a couple of goals and set up a couple of other ones. He makes the unexpected play where the other team isn’t ready for it, but you’ve always got to be prepared, have your stick on the ice, because it’s probably coming back to you.”
Lehtonen came up with the game’s first good save with 8:43 left in the opening period, stopping Anze Kopitar’s slap shot from the top of the left face-off circle with the glove.
The Stars also came out playing a physical brand of hockey, out-hitting the Kings 16-6 over the first 15 minutes, but it was the sixth LA hit, by Dustin Brown on Jamie Benn, that solicited a retaliatory punch by Benn and drew a King power play.
Los Angeles capitalized on that opportunity, as Michal Handzus notched his 17th goal of the year with 4:08 left in the period. After Lehtonen stopped Kopitar’s wrist shot from the top of the right face-off circle, Ryan Smyth poked the loose rebound in front to Handzus, who shoveled it into the open side of the net.
The Stars then had a golden opportunity to tie it when an interference penalty to Sean O’Donnell with 18 seconds left in the first left Dallas with a 5-on-3 power play for 1:31. Because they didn’t cash in before the buzzer sounded, the Stars still had a two-man advantage for the first 1:14 of the second period, but only needed 17 seconds to strike.
Morrow’s 18th goal of the season came off a pretty tic-tac-toe passing play from Robidas up high down to Ribeiro off to the right of the crease, back across the top of the crease to Morrow, who had an easy tap-in into an open net.
“It’s always a good feeling, knowing you’re coming out with fresh ice,” Morrow said of beginning the period on the PP. “Sometimes late in periods, the puck’s bouncing a little bit and at this level, guys can make plays - you know when you got a fresh sheet of ice out there, it’s going to be a lot easier. Just getting that momentum going into a period, it’s a lot easier to have a start when you have a power play.”
On another power play 3:29 into the second, Loui Eriksson nearly put Dallas ahead when he sped in on a breakaway. LA goaltender Jonathan Quick stopped Eriksson’s five-hole attempt, leaving a rebound that Ribeiro flipped up on top of the net.
The Stars did break through again later in the same power play on a somewhat fluky goal by Richards at 4:20. On the rush into the King zone, Richards fired a harmless-looking wrist shot from the left circle that ricocheted off the skate of LA defenseman Rob Scuderi in the crease and past Quick for a 2-1 Dallas lead.
Less than five minutes later, while enjoying a 4-on-3 power play, the Richards got another one, his 23rd of the season. Stationed about 10 feet inside the blue line in the middle of the ice, Richards bombed a one-timer that zinged past a screened Quick for a two-goal Dallas lead.
On yet another LA man-advantage with 6:14 left in the period, the Kings nearly got one back when Alexander Frolov’s pass from out of the left corner banked off Fredrik Modin’s skate in the crease and clanked off the right goalpost. Lehtonen then had to come up with a nice save on Brown’s rebound chance.
Lehtonen then made a spectacular glove save just 20 seconds later, with LA still on the power play, robbing Jack Johnson’s back-door one-timer, to keep it 3-1.
As Brandon Segal exited the penalty box 45 seconds later, he took a nice lead pass and sped in on a breakaway, but Quick turned aside his wrist shot from the slot.
Dallas made it 4-1 with another power play tally just 38 seconds into the final period, as Ott collected his 16th goal of the year. After Quick stopped James Neal’s blast from the top of the right face-off circle, the rebound ended up in front, where Ott, from one knee, swept it in.
“We got to the loose pucks, even on the power play, and when you do that, they end up in the back of the net,” Crawford said. “The fourth goal was an exact example of that - Ott got to the loose puck in the front of the net right after the battle, he won the race to it, put it in the net. On a couple of clears that they made, our guys got in position and kept it in and we were able to work the puck around while they scrambled. Those things are really positive.”
Richards had one last chance to shoot for his first career hat trick when he fired a wrister from the right circle through a screen with 1:50 remaining, but Quick made the stop.
The Stars complete their four-game road trip with a jaunt across the Los Angeles metropolitan area to Anaheim to face the Ducks on Monday night (9 pm start, FSSW). The Ducks, directly behind Dallas in the standings, are also on the verge of being officially eliminated from the post-season chase, so it should be an interesting match-up .
- Richards, who now has 13 points (five goals, eight assists) in the last eight contests, led the squad with five shots on goal. His assist on Ott’s goal gives him 62 on the year, which is the most by a Stars player since the club relocated to Dallas in 1993, and tied for the fifth-highest single-season total in franchise history.
- Morrow now has eight points (three goals, five assists) in his last seven outings.
- Ribeiro snapped a three-game point drought, which followed a four-game stretch in which he collected six points (three goals, three assists).
- Robidas now has four assists in his last five outings. He once again led the team in ice time, logging 25 minutes.
- Ott snapped a four-game pointless skid. His five hits matched defenseman Mark Fistric and center Brian Sutherby for the team lead in that category.
- Neal had just one assist in the previous six games before picking one up on Ott’s goal.
- Second-year winger Fabian Brunnstrom got back into the lineup after sitting out the previous eight contests as a healthy scratch. Brunnstrom took the spot of winger Krys Barch, who suffered a lacerated calf in the Stars’ 3-0 loss at San Jose Thursday night.