NEWARK, NJ - The 2010-11 regular season is underway and if the opening game is any indication, it’s going to be a very exciting campaign.
Down by two before the game was eight minutes old, the Dallas Stars battled back and after Loui Eriksson scored his second goal of the night 1:36 into overtime, came away with a thrilling 4-3 victory Friday night at the Prudential Center.
It was an impressive result for the Stars, who fell behind early but showed impressive character in pulling out the win.
After nullifying a New Jersey flurry in their own zone, the Stars sped down the other way on the counter-attack on a 2-on-1 rush. Eriksson carried into the Devils zone, with Brad Richards heading down the middle towards the net, and when he reached the right face-off circle, Eriksson wired a wrist shot over the glove of Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur for the winner.
In addition to Eriksson, linemates Brad Richards and James Neal also contributed to the Stars’ offense, notching a goal and an assist and two assists, respectively. Brenden Morrow also scored.
“It wasn’t pretty at times, but we also gave them some trouble at times and it kind of equaled out,” said Richards, who led the Stars with 67 assists and 91 points last year. “It was a fun game to be a part of, it went back and forth at times, maybe not what both coaches want, but it was a fun time for us and the fans.”
“We got off to a tough start there, but I think we kept into it and we battled back, I think it was a good job by us and it’s nice to get two points here tonight,” said Eriksson, the club’s leading goal-scorer the previous two seasons. “It’s always nice to get the first win in the first game.”
And in his first regular season game as the Stars’ undisputed number one goaltender, Kari Lehtonen sparkled, especially after the first eight minutes, making 27 saves for his 101st career NHL victory.
“I certainly didn’t get the start that I wanted, an easy goal to start it, and then they got a 2-0 lead, but it was great to see our guys kept going and when I was having a hard time, they picked it up,” said Lehtonen, who made 13 saves in the third period alone. “And then in the last period, New Jersey got more chances, but my game started going better at that point. It was great to see that the guys helped me out there.”
“It was huge for us that we stuck with how we were playing and that we battled and we played with some intensity,” Stars coach Marc Crawford said. “Give our leaders a great deal of credit, they did the things they had to do. There were periods in the game where I thought we dominated. It was an overall team win. Our goalie, while he wasn’t great in the first two (periods) he was absolutely dynamite in the third and preserved the chance for us to get it into overtime.”
With the contest tied 3-3 heading into the final period, the Stars had the first prime scoring opportunity of the third, when Richards blasted a slap shot from the top of the right face-off circle that beat Brodeur but clanked off the far goalpost at 3:20.
A Matt Niskanen turnover led to two huge saves by Lehtonen about seven minutes in, as he turned aside Ilya Kovalchuk’s wrist shot from the top of the right face-off circle, then denied Travis Zajac’s point-blank rebound attempt.
New Jersey continued to press, outshooting the Stars 8-1 through the first 11 minutes of the period, and that doesn’t include the huge block by defenseman Stephane Robidas on former Star Jamie Langenbrunner in front.
Lehtonen’s save on Patrik Elias’ wrist shot from the left circle with 9:30 remaining, coming off a Nicklas Grossman giveaway, was impressive as well.
But Dallas began to push back after that, pressuring the Devils for the next several minutes. Brodeur made a nice stop on Jamie Benn’s backhanded wrap-around chance with 7:35 on the clock.
New Jersey had one last good opportunity in regulation, with 1:31 left, as Dainius Zubrus raced into the zone and unleashed a wrist shot from the high slot, but Lehtonen came up with the save.
The Devils outshot the Stars 13-4 in the period, but Lehtonen helped send it into overtime.
“There wasn’t too many shots before that, so it was great to get some action and get comfortable,” Lehtonen said of the third period. “And we ended up with the two points, so it was huge.”
The Devils struck early, jumping out to a 1-0 lead just 2:45 in, as Zajac scored the first goal of the year on the rush into the Dallas zone. After receiving a short pass from Kovalchuk at the Stars’ blue line, Zajac took a wrist shot that appeared to be deflected by Trevor Daley’s stick and the off-speed knuckler slithered through Lehtonen’s pads.
New Jersey went up by two at 7:13 with a goal by Zach Parise. After defenseman Mark Fistric fell down at the New Jersey blue line, the Devils raced into the Dallas zone on a 2-on-1 break, with Kovalchuk carrying it. Kovalchuk then fed a cross-ice pass through Daley to the charging Parise, who fired a wrist shot from the left circle past Lehtonen on the short side.
“Especially, when it’s the first game of the season, you’re so excited to get out there and then things don’t go your way, it gets hard,” Lehtonen said, “but you just have to bear down and keep doing what you do well and that worked today.”
The Devils nearly made it 3-0 about two minute later, when Kovalchuk unleashed scorching wrist shot from the left circle that beat Lehtonen, but it clanked off the far goalpost.
Perhaps energized by dodging that bullet, the Stars got one back on Morrow’s goal at 11:16. As Mike Ribeiro carried the puck into the Devils’ zone, he slipped a pretty cross-ice pass to a wide open Morrow barreling into the slot, and the captain’s one-timer beat Brodeur just inside the far post.
“For us, I thought the biggest turning point in the game was the post that Kovalchuk hit,” Crawford said. “And we ended up coming down a couple of shifts later, and Brenden Morrow and Ribeiro made a great play to score the goal.”
“Two big mistakes and then one lucky break, our defenseman gets his stick in there, it’s just one of those things, so I think we just realized it wasn’t like they controlled the first 10 minutes,” Richards said. “We settled down and Brenden got a big goal for us to get us out of the first period only down by one.”
Entering the second period trailing 2-1, the Stars evened it up just 3:02 in on Eriksson’s first goal. Brodeur made the initial save on Neal’s wrister from the top of the right face-off circle, but left a rebound and Eriksson managed to chip it over him.
“I think the first goal there was a good job by Richie and Neal, they got it to the net and I was there on the rebound,” Eriksson explained. “That was a little bit of a typical Loui goal, I think.”
Riding the momentum, Dallas controlled play after that, outshooting the Devils 9-1 through the period’s first nine minutes, until New Jersey went on a power play with Steve Ott in the penalty box for charging, his third minor of the night.
New Jersey would capitalize on that extra-man opportunity as former Star Jason Arnott found the back of the net at 10:22, booming a slap shot from the right point that sailed past several bodies in front and in.
It took the Stars just 1:16 to answer, evening it up on Richards’ goal that was set up by a brilliant effort by Neal. First, Neal stripped New Jersey defenseman Andy Greene of the puck in the left corner, then skated behind the net before slipping a pass out front to Richards for a one-timer that banked in off the left post and past Brodeur.
New Jersey almost regained the lead with 36 seconds left in the period, but Lehtonen denied Langenbrunner’s breakaway attempt.
The hockey just keeps coming, as the Stars travel across Manhattan to Long Island to face the Islanders on Saturday night (6 pm, TXA-21), for their first of 12 back-to-back sets this season.
“We got a big win on the road, and we want to get that winning feeling, it’s kind of a contagious feeling and we didn’t have that for awhile around here,” Richards said. “It’s a good feeling, we’re happy tonight, and we’ll try to carry it into tomorrow.”
- Benn led the Stars with five shots on goal, while winger Adam Burish, making his Stars debut, was second with four shots. Benn also topped the squad with five hits.
- The Stars won 62 percent of the face-offs, led by Ribeiro’s 8-4 mark.
- The win snaps a Stars season opener winless streak, as they had gone 0-1-2 in openers the previous three years.
- Dallas coach Marc Crawford improves his record to 8-4-2 in season openers.
- For New Jersey, Brodeur started his NHL record 16th consecutive season opener.
- The Stars had been shut out in their previous two visits to New Jersey, losing by a combined score of 9-0 and they hadn’t won here since Game 5 of the 2000 Stanley Cup Finals.