DALLAS - If only every Dallas Stars home game came against the San Jose Sharks.
Powered by Steve Ott’s first career hat trick, the Stars crushed the Western Conference leaders 5-1 Wednesday night in front of 17,263 happy fans at the American Airlines Center.
The Stars are still battling hard, even though they no longer have a realistic chance to reach the post-season this year, currently tied with Anaheim for 11th in the West standings, seven points back of Colorado in the eighth and final playoff slot, with just five games remaining.
The win, which leaves the Stars 3-1-1 in their last five at home, keeps the Stars mathematically in the race for now, but...
“We’ve got a lot of pride in this dressing room,” said Ott, who has scored seven goals in his last nine games. “We might not make the playoffs here, or it’s pretty unrealistic right now, but to finish with character and finish with pride, I think means more than anything. And to go out there and give the fans a good showing, show the people how much character and heart we have in here, and build on that with all of the youth that we have here, I think is the important thing we take the rest of the way.”
Following their 8-2 triumph back on March 16, Dallas has now outscored the Sharks 13-3 in their last two home matchups with them, although this was the third meeting between the clubs in 16 days, with the Sharks shutting out the Stars 3-0 in San Jose last Thursday.
This win clinched the season series for the Stars, finishing with a 4-2-0 mark against a Sharks team that had won four in a row and is closing in on the Western Conference’s top seed for the second consecutive season.
“We’ve played very well against one of the top teams in the league this year,” Stars coach Marc Crawford said. “It’s our fourth win against them, two here, two in their building. We’ve won a lot of different ways. I thought tonight we played a very, very strong game. We killed penalties well, we had a really good goaltending performance and I thought physically we were very assertive tonight.”
“I don’t know if they’re having a tough time of it in this building, but we just won the season series from arguably the best team in the league, and you got to take some pride out of that,” said Ott, who connected for five of those 13 goals in the two recent Dallas contests.
Ott was outstanding right from the start in this one, securing his first career hat trick, in his 405th game, with two in a span of 68 seconds late in the second period that quickly turned a close 3-1 contest into a 5-1 blowout.
It had been at least eight years, since his junior days with OHL Windsor, that Ott put home three in a game, but he couldn’t actually recall the last time he’d done it.
“It’s probably junior, that’s probably the last time - that’s a lot of years ago, I can’t even remember,” said Ott. “I just try to work hard, and there were a couple of phenomenal plays that I was the beneficiary tonight, and two of the three were tap-ins.”
“What can you say about him tonight?” Crawford said of Ott. “He was everywhere. He scored a shorthanded goal, he scored a power play goal, he scored an even strength goal. He went to the net, he was physical. He was very deserving of being the first star of the game.
He does have that combination of being able to play a robust style and being able to get under the skin of the opposition. He’s not a lot of fun to play against and he’s a pretty good player. His read is pretty good and certainly, he’s got a terrific ability to dig in and battle.”
Marty Turco was back in net, making just his third start in the last nine games, and was outstanding as he turned aside 29 shots.
“I did fine. It’s beneficial to play loose, and not have to worry about too much and have any extra stress, and the guys have been playing a lot better maybe for that reason,” Turco said. “Personally, I felt all right. I got some breaks, and my stick got in the way a few times of some scary moments there in the game. We’ll take this two points and keep plugging along.”
Leading 2-1 at the first intermission, Dallas nearly went up by two 6:05 into the second period when Neal sped in on a shorthanded breakaway. After intercepting a pass from San Jose’s Patrick Marleau at the Stars’ blue line, Neal took off and went in alone on Sharks starting netminder Evgeni Nabokov, but Nabokov made a nice pad save on his wrist shot from the slot.
The Stars increased their lead to 3-1 with 7:44 left in the period on Sutherby’s fifth goal of the year, after he was set up by a spectacular individual effort by rookie Jamie Benn. After stripping San Jose defender Niclas Wallin of the puck in the neutral zone, Benn raced into the right face-off circle. He faked a wrist shot, causing the other Shark blueliner, Jason Demers, to drop down, but Benn pulled the puck around Demers, then managed to tuck it behind Nabokov. It pinged off the post and dribbled into the crease, where Sutherby pounced on it and shoveled it into the open net.
Dallas then took complete control of the contest as Ott completed his hat trick with two goals in a span of 1:08 late in the period. On the first one, Sutherby proved his toughness by carrying the puck into the SJ zone on the rush and receiving a devastating bodycheck from Douglas Murrary as he fed a nice pass into the slot from the right circle, where Ott re-directed it past Nabokov with just 1:41 remaining in the period.
“(Murray) just came out of the blue, and I kind of saw him coming at me but I also saw Otter, and things were happening that fast,” Sutherby said of the play. “I knew I was going to get hit, but I saw (Ott) going. It definitely was a big hit, but he scored so that made it all right.”
“I was more proud of the sacrifice of my teammates,” Ott said. “On that second goal, Sutherby got demolished. He made a play to me that he knew he was going to get hit and he slid over a great pass, I ended up tapping it in - it was pretty easy. If I didn’t score that, I would have been pretty upset with myself because of the sacrifice he made on the play.”
Ott struck again on a power play, notching his 19th goal of the season, tying his career high set last year, with just 32.9 seconds on the clock. Neal controlled the puck along the goal line in the right corner before sending a slick pass in front, where Ott outmaneuvered Shark captain Rob Blake to re-direct the puck past Nabokov for a commanding 5-1 lead.
“It’s amazing how much hard work can pay off,” Turco said of Ott. “He got put in some great positions, too, by our other guys making great passes and great plays all around the ice. He was a big beneficiary of what guys did out there tonight, but certainly you’ve still got to put the puck in the net, and he’s been playing some pretty good hockey.”
San Jose replaced Nabokov, for the second time in 16 days in this building, for the final period, replacing him with backup Thomas Greiss.
The Sharks almost got one back less than two minutes in, when Marleau stole the puck from Matt Niskanen at the San Jose blue line and raced in on a shorthanded breakaway. He fired a wrist shot from the slot, but Turco made the save.
Turco made another big save on a power play with six minutes remaining, stoning Joe Pavelski’s point-blank one-timer in front.
The elated crowd got one last event to cheer when defenseman Mark Fistric squared off with Demers in a fight with just 10.5 seconds left on the clock.
Mike Ribeiro was back in the lineup after getting scratched from the Stars’ previous game as discipline for missing a team meeting, and had an impact on the game on his first shift. After getting tossed out of the face-off circle, Ribeiro continued to argue with the linesman and ended up earning himself an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty just 1:03 into the contest.
That turned out to benefit Dallas as Ott claimed his first of the night while shorthanded. Jumping on a Marleau giveaway in the San Jose zone, Ott turned and blasted a one-timer from the hash-marks that beat a surprised Nabokov over the glove at 1:45.
The Sharks ended up tying it before the same power play expired, as rookie Logan Couture scored just 1:01 later. Couture was stationed in front and executed a nifty chest-high deflection of Dan Boyle’s slap shot from the point, beating Turco just over the glove. After a relatively short video review, it was determined Couture’s stick was not above the crossbar, and thus, the goal stood.
Dallas went back on top on Eriksson’s 29th goal at 10:20, on a goal in which each member of the line played a key role. Neal took a big hit to win a puck battle behind the net and pass it off to Brad Richards in the right face-off circle, and Richards fed a perfect seeing-eye pass through the crease to Eriksson for an easy tap-in at the far side of the crease. Replays showed the puck ricocheting off Eriksson’s skate, so the play was reviewed, but it was deemed that he did not use a ‘distinct kicking motion’ and the Stars had a 2-1 lead.
The Stars had a golden opportunity to increase their lead when Murray’s interference penalty gave Dallas a 5-on-3 power play for 1:15, but they were unable to capitalize, registering just one shot during the advantage.
The Stars remain home to take on last-place Edmonton on Friday (7:30 pm start, FSSW). Dallas will need to be ready, though, because the Edmonton management team, including head coach Pat Quinn, were in Dallas early, watching this one from the press box.
- Ott scored goals in three different scenarios - one shorthanded, one even-strength and one on the power play. The shorthander was just the second one of his career. He also led the squad with five shots on goal.
- Eriksson’s goal was his fourth in the last six games, and he now has 14 points (six goals, eight assists) in his last 15 outings.
- Sutherby’s second multi-point game of the season snapped a 12-game point drought, dating back to Jan. 22 (he missed some time with a shoulder injury in that span as well). The Stars are 7-1-1 all-time when he scores a goal.
- Richards’ assist on Eriksson’s goal was his 64th of the season and gives him 15 points (five goals, 10 assists) in his last 10 contests.
- Neal now has four assists in the last three games, after going through a stretch in which he recorded just two assists in nine outings.