DALLAS - What was supposed to be the emotional return of the former face of the franchise turned into a dominating performance at both ends of the ice and a statement by the Dallas Stars that they are a team to be reckoned with this season.
With former icon Mike Modano back in town for the first time as a visitor, the Stars brushed the nostalgic emotion aside and throttled the Detroit Red Wings 4-1 in their home opener Thursday night in front of an American Airlines Center sellout crowd of 18,532.
And in the end, it didn’t really matter that Modano was wearing number 90 for the Stars’ biggest rivals, just that Dallas was able to take down one of the NHL’s best teams in convincing fashion.
The Stars have now improved to 3-0-0 on the young season, putting together their first three-game winning streak since January 2009.
Offensively, the Stars scored within the first minute in each of the first two periods and built up a four-goal lead heading into the third period.
In goal, Kari Lehtonen delivered another outstanding outing, making 25 saves.
“Overall, I was comfortable there and it was a big game, with Mike back here, the home opener, so it was nice to have a good game and get the two points,” Lehtonen said.
“We had a real strong night from Kari, he looked really comfortable tonight,” coach Marc Crawford said. “What’s nice about it, it doesn’t even look like it’s that much effort and when it looks as natural as he’s making it look, you have to give him a great deal of credit for his preparation and for his reading the play. Most of the time he was very controlled, he was in position, he was on the shot, and that’s the sign of a guy that’s seeing the puck real well.”
Also helping the Stars’ cause was a solid performance on the penalty kill. After entering the night last in the NHL, having nullified just 5-of-9 opposition power plays, Dallas killed off the first four Detroit man-advantage opportunities before a late, meaningless tally.
“I think there are so many good things to come from the victory tonight,” Crawford said. “We scored early in the first and the second period and any time you do that, it gives your team such a lift. We got another outstanding goaltending performance from Kari Lehtonen, I thought our penalty killing was real good tonight. That’s a dangerous power play. Other than them scoring with 10 seconds left on the last penalty, we really did a terrific job - a big part of it was getting the saves. And I thought our defense as a whole unit tonight was very good. That’s a challenging group of forwards on the other side.”
Up 1-0 heading into the second period despite being outshot 7-3 in the first, the Stars quickly jumped on top by two, as Eriksson struck for his third of the year just 44 seconds in. Richards slid a nifty pass out from behind the net out front, where Eriksson snapped it between Detroit goaltender Chris Osgood’s pads and in.
“It was good to get that second goal and start the second period with a little more momentum and a little more attacking and we just kept going,” Richards said of the goal.
The Stars made it a three-goal advantage on Morrow’s fourth of the young season off a fortunate bounce at 7:03. On the rush into the Detroit zone, Ribeiro fed it to Morrow, and as he entered the left face-off circle, the Dallas captain attempted a cross-ice pass that ricocheted off Red Wings defender Brad Stuart and in.
It was almost 4-0 just over a minute later when Toby Petersen sped away on a short-handed breakaway after stealing the puck from Wing defenseman Niklas Kronwall at the Dallas blue line, but Osgood denied his slap shot from the top of the left circle.
Dallas did reach four with 3:34 to go in the period, as an outstanding play by Neal netted him his first of the season. After receiving a backhand pass from Richards in the left corner, Neal outbattled Stuart in front for the puck and then jammed a backhander through Osgood.
“James was strong on the goal that he got - he stayed on it, kept banging away,” said Crawford, “and you could see that’s maybe part of his increased strength and better conditioning this year to be able to stay in those fights a little bit longer.”
Carrying a commanding 4-0 lead into the final period despite registering only 11 shots on goal, the Stars had to withstand a strong Detroit surge and, thanks primarily to Lehtonen, weathered the storm.
The Red Wings ended Lehtonen’s shutout bid with 8:35 remaining on the power play. Todd Bertuzzi’s slick pass from off the right goalpost found Kronwall back door, sneaking into the left circle and the resulting one-timer slipped past the diving Lehtonen.
At that point, Detroit was outshooting the Stars 10-1 in the period, something that seems to be turning into a trend for Dallas. But the Stars stabilized things after that. Brandon Segal raced in on a breakaway a couple of minutes later, and Dallas defended well through the final minutes to secure the W.
Lehtonen didn’t seem to mind that the Stars were outshot 12-4 in the third period.
“That’s something that you just enjoy, when the goals are already 4-0, you’re just enjoying the moment and when things are going your way, you don’t have to think too much,” he said. “Overall, I felt good and it’s a great win.”
With Modano on the ice for the opening face-off (he lost it to Ribeiro), the Stars quickly defused some of the bubbling emotion with a power play goal. Stuart was whistled for boarding just 28 seconds into the game and the Stars’ power play unit needed 13 seconds to convert, as Richards ripped a slap shot from the left point through a screened Osgood for his second goal of the young season.
Some of that emotion returned at the first TV time-out, when Modano was shown on the scoreboard video screen with the inscription, ‘Thank you, Mike’ and received a standing ovation that appeared to bring the former Stars icon to the brink of tears as he acknowledged the sellout crowd with a couple of waves.
“It was really nice. It was great to be back, great to see familiar faces,” Modano said. “There was just a world of emotions and memories. A lot of special things have gone on here. I was involved in the game from the ground floor and helping to promote the game of hockey here in Texas. It was fun to play here.”
“After 20 years in Dallas and in that uniform, it’s a little different to see him in red and white,” Morrow acknowledged. “You try not to think about it after a shift or two and concentrate on what you need to do. But I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t strange to see him in red and white.”
The Stars had a golden opportunity to go up by two on their second power play at 9:32, when Eriksson fed a pass from the left corner through the crease to Morrow low in the right circle for a one-timer, but Osgood made a spectacular shoulder save on it.
The Stars remain home for a date with the St. Louis Blues Saturday night (7:30 pm start - changed from 7 pm, TXA-21), with a chance to make it four in a row.
“We’re gaining some momentum and we really like the way we’re playing,” Richards said.
- With the Stars totaling only 15 shots on the night, Morrow, who now has a team-leading four goals in three games, led the squad with three.
- Defenseman Trevor Daley led the team in ice time with 24:48 and in blocked shots with four, while fellow blueliner Nicklas Grossman topped the squad with seven hits. Mark Fistric delivered six hits, and perhaps the most significant one of the night when he leveled Red Wing center Johan Franzen just 12:31 into the game. Franzen stayed down for a while, seemingly dazed, and was helped slowly off the ice and did not return.
- Second-year forward Jamie Benn sat out with concussion-like symptoms after getting knocked a bit loopy in the Stars’ shootout victory over the Islanders last Saturday.
- Through three games, the Stars have now been outshot by a combined 48-13 margin in the third period, but have been outscored just 3-1.
- After going 1-for-3 on the power play, the Stars are now 2-for-11 on the season overall.
- Having entered the night dead last in the NHL in penalty killing, the Stars are now a bit more respectable in that category, having nullified 9-of-14.
- The Stars were 3-1-0 against the Wings last season and are now 7-2-0 against them since Detroit eliminated Dallas in the 2008 Western Conference Finals en route to the Stanley Cup. The Stars have won six straight games in Dallas against the Red Wings.
- Dallas is now 9-0-3 in its last 12 home openers.