DALLAS - They may be separated by 19 years, but the past and the future combined to lead the Dallas Stars to a victory in the present.
Returning to the lineup after missing nine games with an appendectomy, 39-year-old veteran Mike Modano joined forces with 20-year-old rookie Jamie Benn for two goals in the third period, including the game-winner, to power the Stars to a 6-3 win over the Edmonton Oilers Friday night at the American Airlines Center.
The Stars are now 4-1-1 in their last six home contests, and 5-2-1 in their last eight overall. The W keeps the Stars’ faint playoff hopes alive for at least another day, as they moved to within five points of Colorado for the eighth and final post-season slot, with just four games on the schedule.
“We’re still alive, so there’s still that chance,” said Modano, who picked up career assists 800 and 801. “Until that’s solid, we just kind of take care of our game and do what we’ve been trying to stress for the last six months, as far as our system and how we play. The last little while, it seems like we’ve been starting to get some results there.”
Facing the NHL’s worst team, Dallas dominated the first period, surging out to a 3-0 lead, but then allowed the Oilers to come back in the second and tie it, before Benn and Modano helped them regain control in the third period.
Skating on a line together with Jere Lehtinen, Benn scored two in the final period to reach the 20-goal plateau, both off primary assists from Modano. Lehtinen chipped in with a goal and two assists of his own.
“I thought he played a great game,” Benn said of Modano. “I think he had a lot of energy out there and he definitely brought it tonight. He’s been in this league for a long time and knows a lot of stuff. It’s always nice to get advice from him, and it’s even more special playing with him.”
“He played very well tonight for being off for two weeks,” Stars coach Marc Crawford added. “He had two assists and I thought he played a pretty good game. It was a very good night. I thought that line was a very good line. Both Lehtinen and Benn had extremely good games and Mike complemented them very, very well with his great passing ability.”
Dallas also received offense from plenty of other sources. Brad Richards and Mike Ribeiro each scored a goal and an assist and James Neal also found the back of the net as the Stars sent the Oilers, last overall in the NHL by a wide margin, to their fourth straight defeat.
Kari Lehtonen was back in goal for Dallas, starting for the seventh time in the last 10 games, and made 25 saves for his fifth victory of the season.
“He was good,” Crawford said of Lehtonen. “As much as they got three goals in the second period, they could have got more, and he made some very good saves. I thought on the penalty kill, he was especially sharp tonight. It’s a good victory for him. He was able to keep us in it. Our goaltending’s been very good lately.”
With the Stars seemingly in control with a 3-0 lead entering the second period, the Oilers cut the lead to two on a goal by Dustin Penner at 4:46. After Ryan Potulny stole the puck from Benn at the Edmonton blue line, he sprung Penner on a breakaway. As he reached the slot, Penner fired a quick snap shot that beat Lehtonen between the pads for his 28th goal.
Edmonton continued to press after that, and on a power play at 6:43, nearly got another one when Ryan Whitney’s one-timer clanked off the near-side post.
The Oilers did cut it to 3-2 at 9:06 on Marc Pouliot’s seventh goal, an easy tap-in at the right post after Penner’s shot from the slot was deflected to him.
Edmonton, riding a wave of momentum, nearly tied it on the next shift, as they hemmed the Stars in their own zone, forcing Lehtonen to come up with a couple of important saves, including one on Mike Comrie’s stuff attempt at the left post.
Gilbert had a prime chance with 5:46 left in the period, but Lehtonen thwarted his point-blank wrist shot with a pad save.
The Oilers struck again, though, tying it off the ensuing face-off, as Shawn Horcoff beat Modano on the draw and fed the puck back to Whitney at the left point. Lehtonen stopped Whitney’s wrist shot, but left a rebound that Ethan Moreau collected and carried around the prone Lehtonen before shoveling it into the open net for his seventh goal.
“We knew they weren’t going to quit,” Richards said of the Oilers’ second period comeback. “They got some momentum and we didn’t handle it too great, but we regrouped in the second intermission and had a strong third. There wasn’t much said (in the dressing room). We knew the ice was tilted toward our direction, and we were making it tough on ourselves with some of the sloppy plays. I think we all kind of talked about it on the bench before we got into the third.”
Tied 3-3 heading into the final period, the Stars regained the lead on Benn’s first of the night at 2:22. Modano controlled in the left corner and passed out to Benn in the high slot, and Benn’s wrist shot managed to somehow squeeze through Edmonton goaltender Devan Dubnyk and trickle over the goal line.
“I guess it’s a good achievement for my first year, but I’ve got to give a lot of credit to my teammates,” Benn said of hitting the 20-goal mark. “Modano put it in the corner for me to get it back, and we kind of just hit a little cycle there, and he found me up top. I just had a quick shot.”
“He can shoot the puck. I mean, he’s got a great release, a great shot,” Modano said of his young linemate. “Just to put him in that slot area is kind of an easy scenario to draw up. That’s what I was telling him, just get in that slot.”
Moments later, the giant scoreboard announced the milestone of Modano’s 800th assist, and he was somewhat emotional as he saluted the fans when they gave him a nice ovation.
“There have been a couple of things, some special moments here that I’ve been able to share with the fans, and that’s certainly one of them,” Modano said. “Numbers aside, the moments over the past 17 years have been very nice to share with them.”
“The inspiration in the crowd, I hate to sound corny, but there certainly was a lot of love out there for Mike Modano,” Crawford said. “A nice ovation for him. I didn’t realize that was a milestone for him.”
Infused with some additional energy after the goal, the Stars kept pushing and nearly got another one at 6:55 when Steve Ott, one game after his first career hat trick, deflected Brian Sutherby’s backhander in front, but Dubnyk made the save.
Dallas went ahead by two at 8:35 on Ribeiro’s 19th goal of the season. After carrying the puck into the Oiler zone, Ribeiro pulled up along the right sideboards, then slid a pass intended for Daley charging down the slot. Daley waved at it but missed and the puck then deflected off Edmonton defenseman Jason Strudwick’s stick, jumping over Dubnyk’s shoulder.
Benn connected for his second of the night and 21st of the season with 4:53 remaining to restore the Stars’ three-goal lead. Benn, in the slot, received Modano’s pass from the right circle and almost lost the puck as he evaded several Oilers, but managed to sweep a quick wrist shot on goal that slithered under a diving Dubnyk, kissed off the goalpost and ended up about two inches over the goal line.
“I love the way we responded in the third period,” Crawford said. “We really did play almost a flawless period. Killed penalties great, a lot of second effort. Did the right things going to the net, getting above the puck.”
Dallas got on the board first when Neal scored his 26th goal of the season just 3:51 into the opening period. Seconds after Dubnyk stopped Loui Eriksson’s partial breakaway, Eriksson outworked Oiler defender Tom Gilbert to win the puck back behind the net. He quickly fed a pass into the left corner to Richards, who relayed the puck with one-touch out to Neal in the slot, and the resulting one-timer found the back of the net.
With the 17,626 in attendance already hyped up from the goal, Sutherby helped rile them up even more when he squared off with Strudwick in a short but spirited fight at 4:59.
Lehtonen came up with a big save 35 seconds later on an Edmonton power play, denying Ryan Jones’ point-blank one-timer from in front.
Neal almost scored another one with 7:27 left while Dallas was killing its third penalty of the period, when he stripped Strudwick of the puck in the Edmonton zone and fired a wrist shot from the left circle, forcing Dubnyk to make a good blocker save.
The Stars then struck twice within 11 seconds to extend their lead to three. First, Dallas converted on their first power play of the game, as Richards notched his 24th goal of the year at 16:42, with just four seconds left in the man-advantage. On a 3-on-1 rush into the Oiler zone, Ribeiro attempted a pass across but Gilbert blocked it right back to him, so Ribeiro fed it back to the charging Richards in the slot, and Dubnyk had no chance on the subsequent one-timer.
Just 11 seconds later, Sutherby chased down a loose puck in the left corner and swept a quick pass in front, where a wide open Lehtinen re-directed it from the edge of the crease up and over Dubnyk’s shoulder for his fourth goal of the season.
The Stars kept the pressure on, as Richards and Neal came in on a 2-on-1 with 1:16 remaining in the period. Richards attempted to dish it off to Neal at the right goalpost, but Gilbert blocked the pass in the crease and shoveled it out just past the post.
Ribeiro then nearly put Dallas up by four with 35 seconds left after weaving his way through the Edmonton defense and came in alone on Dubnyk, but the Oiler netminder made a nice pad save.
The Stars have a quick turn-around, immediately flying out to St. Louis to face the Blues on Saturday night (7 pm start, My27). While both clubs will likely miss the playoffs, they are still battling for position, with St. Louis sitting one point back Dallas and six behind Colorado.
“We’ve just got to try to win again,” Richards said of the team’s mentality. “I don’t know what’s going to happen around the league, so it’s not really in our control here anymore. But we can keep winning games, and no matter what, it’s going to build what we’re trying to do. Everybody wants to put their best foot forward here in the last week.”
- All nine goals in the game went in the same net, at the north end of the rink.
- After going four games without a point, Benn now has four points (two goals, two assists) in his last two contests.
- Richards now has 17 points (six goals, 11 assists) in his last 11 outings.
- Neal’s goal snapped a 12-game goalless streak, although he now has five points (one goal, four assists) in the last four contests. The goal also marked Neal’s fourth this year in four games against the Oilers.
- Lehtinen snapped an 11-game point drought and scored his first goal in 26 games played.
- Modano’s assist on Benn’s goal was the 800th of his NHL career. A somewhat emotional Modano saluted the fans on the giant scoreboard when they gave him a nice ovation after the milestone was announced.
- Sutherby’s assist was his third point (one goal, two assists) in the last two games, following a 12-game pointless streak.
- The Stars dominated on face-offs, winning 38 and losing just 15. Steve Ott went 9-1, while Richards was 10-3 on the draw.
- Kari Lehtonen, who is now 4-1-0 in his last five starts, also earned an assist on Ribeiro’s goal. That marks the seventh assist this year by a Stars goalie (four for Marty Turco, two for the since-departed Alex Auld), which leads the NHL.
- Making room for Modano in the Dallas lineup, second-year winger Fabian Brunnstrom sat out as a healthy scratch after playing the previous three contests. Defenseman Jeff Woywitka was also a healthy scratch, for the fourth time in the last five games.
- The two Stars goals within 11 seconds was the fastest two this season and just four seconds off the franchise record, set by the Minnesota North Stars’ Bill Goldsworthy vs. L.A. on Nov. 27, 1971.
- Dallas is now 21-3-2 in regular season meetings with the Oilers in Dallas since 1996-97.