In the Stars’ second-to-last pre-season contest before the regular season starts on Oct. 8, both squads iced almost a complete NHL lineup, with the intensity starting to ramp up accordingly.
The dramatic come-from-behind victory leaves the Stars 3-2-0 in the pre-season with one more contest remaining, on Saturday in St. Louis.
“We got one pre-season game left and I think tonight is a big win,” said Stars defenseman Stephane Robidas, who led the squad in ice time, logging 24:10. “Even though it’s pre-season, it’s a huge lift for our team. Sometimes you need momentum like that to build the confidence. You got to be pleased with the effort and the way we’ve been playing. Obviously, there’s always going to be a few little things we need to adjust, but overall, we’ve been pleased with the effort and the way we’ve been playing.”
The Stars got outstanding goaltending again from Kari Lehtonen, who made 22 saves just a few days after missing some practice time earlier in the week due to a sore groin.
“I thought it was a very exciting game for us,” Stars coach Marc Crawford said. “We’re going to be in a lot of those kind of games this year, with our goaltender being as good as he’s showing to be. He gives us a chance to win every night, I think that’s definitely the case tonight. It should continue to build the confidence of the players that are playing in front of him.”
“This is the time just to get more comfortable and it helps a lot when the guys do a good job cleaning up the rebounds,” said Lehtonen, who added that his groin felt good now. “It wasn’t 100 percent, but probably like 95 percent. It’s strong. It was just aching a little bit, which is normal for me during the pre-season, when you get used to being a goalie again and not just working in the weight room. It’s just part of the process, we have plenty of time to get it to 100 and get ready to go.”
Captain Brenden Morrow also led the way, scoring the game-winning goal with 59.8 seconds remaining in regulation, earning an assist on the other Stars goal by Mike Ribeiro and even providing an emotional lift with a fight late in the second period (although it wasn’t officially a ‘Gordie Howe hat trick’ because roughing penalties were called for the fight).
“Certainly in a number of instances with Brenden tonight, with the fight, going to the net, finishing checks, killing penalties, he was really good all night,” Crawford said. “I thought (Morrow and Ribeiro) did show chemistry, they’re playing as well as they did all of last year, if not better than they did last year.”
With the contest still scoreless heading into the final period, it took a shorthanded situation for the Stars to generate their best offensive chance of the game to that point, when Steve Ott and Loui Eriksson sped into the Colorado zone on a 2-on-1 rush at 2:53. Avalanche netminder Craig Anderson made a nice save on Ott’s wrist shot from the slot. Eriksson retrieved the rebound and dropped it back to the charging Nicklas Grossman, who fired a quick wrist shot from the high slot that Anderson denied with a strong pad save.
Colorado got the first goal at 8:43 when Kevin Porter connected after a mad scramble in front. Lehtonen made the initial save with his mask on Philippe Dupuis’ wrist shot from the right face-off circle, but the rebound bounced out in front, where several players took whacks at it. David Jones managed to poke it over to Porter, alone just off the right post, and Porter popped it home.
The Stars tied it up on a power play with 6:28 remaining in regulation, as Ribeiro found the back of the net. Morrow controlled the puck low in the left face-off circle and fed a cross-ice pass that nicked off Avalanche defenseman Kyle Quincey’s stick to a wide open Ribeiro, who quickly launched a laser beam of a wrist shot over Anderson’s glove.
Dallas went right back on the power play 13 seconds after that, but was unable to duplicate their man-advantage success.
With overtime looming, Morrow notched his third goal of the pre-season with 59.8 seconds on the clock. Winger Adam Burish carried the puck into the Colorado zone down the right sideboards and into the corner before sliding a pass in front for the charging Morrow, who somehow managed to get his stick on it and jam it past Anderson with two defenders covering him.
“I get some ugly ones, but that one was right up there,” said Morrow, who also delivered a game-high five hits. “It was tipped with the sharp end of the stick on that one. I don’t want to get too far ahead, but we’ve found a pretty good fit with a worker in Burish, he goes hard, skates well, he threw the puck at the net for the winner there.”
“Burish made the play on the last goal,” Crawford added. “He took it wide, he got it to the net, Brenden went to the net and we got a bounce.”
The Avalanche pulled Anderson for an extra attacker in the final 40 seconds, but were unable to threaten.
“I loved their battle tonight,” Crawford said. “I thought we stayed with it, we showed a lot of character in the third period, especially showed a lot more character after we got down, so that’s a real compliment to all our guys tonight, especially the leaders.”
The Avalanche enjoyed the territorial advantage for most of the first half of the opening period, partially due to two early power plays, building up an 8-1 edge in shot on goal through the first eight minutes.
But the Stars pushed back after that and didn’t allow another shot the rest of the period, taking four more themselves, although there weren’t many prime scoring chances generated by either club.
The contest’s first good scoring chance came 1:45 into the second, when Ott lost the puck at the Colorado blueline and Chris Stewart took off on a breakaway. As he reached the slot, Stewart faked a wrister, then tried to slip a quick shot through the five-hole, but Lehtonen closed the pads and made a nice save. Then about 10 seconds later, with the Avs still pressing, Lehtonen came up with a big glove snag on Stewart’s wrist shot from the right face-off circle.
On a power play midway through the second, Dallas had several good opportunities, but Anderson came up with some nice saves, particularly on Morrow’s uncontested wrist shot from the right face-off circle at 9:50.
A fight got the American Airlines Center crowd all riled up with just 5.2 seconds left in the second, as Morrow took exception to a couple of cheap shots that Avs enforcer Cody McLeod gave Ribeiro. Morrow then confronted McLeod and after a brief fight, took McLeod down to the ice.
Overall, it was a good way to close the home portion of the pre-season. The Stars will close out their exhibition schedule Saturday at St. Louis in preparation for the regular season opener next Friday, Oct. 8, in New Jersey.
“Everybody really persevered tonight and we get a lot of positives to take away from it,” Crawford said. “I think the best part, too, is we really did start to play the way that we need to play in that third period. I thought we were much more direct in our attack, we were much more supportive coming up the ice and it just seemed like we had a greater desire to win those one-on-one battles.”
- The Stars went 1-for-7 on the power play, leaving them 3-for-24 overall for the pre-season - not the best performance in that area of the game.
“We’ve got to sharpen up on the power play,” Morrow said. “Ribs’ goal was a power play, but there were some times earlier in the game where we could have grabbed some momentum, but we feel it’s a strength of ours, so that’s something we want to sharpen up.”
- As for the penalty killing, which was a weak spot last season that finished 27th in the 30-team NHL, the Stars have looked good. After killing all seven Avalanche power plays, the Stars have now nullified an impressive 28-of-30 throughout the pre-season.
“When things don’t go well, everybody knows we were 27th in the league and that’s not good enough, so it’s one of the areas that we’ve been focusing on in training camp,” Robidas said of the PK unit. “It’s just pre-season, but I think we’re heading in the right direction. There’s a lot of positives, we just got to keep building on that and building confidence in our system, that we can kill penalties.”
Wrist shot -