DALLAS - Down by a pair of goals early on, the Dallas Stars didn't panic. They just looked to their fabulous fivesome to help them get off to their best start in four years.
James Neal and Loui Eriksson had a goal and assist each, Mike Ribeiro scored the winning shootout goal, Brad Richards had a pair of assists, and Kari Lehtonen shrugged off a sluggish start to finish with 41 saves in the Stars' 3-2 come-from-behind win over the St. Louis Blues on Saturday night at American Airlines Center.
The victory pushed Dallas' season-opening win streak to four games, the first time they've strung together that many since capturing the first five to start the 2006-07 season.
It didn't matter that the Stars came in ranked dead last in shots per game, or that they were facing a Blues team that had allowed the fewest shots per game along with taking the second-most shots on net per contest.
Nope. This Stars team isn't concerned with secondary statistics. All they're looking for are wins, and so far that's all they're getting.
Just like last season, three of the first four games this year have gone to either overtime or a shootout. But unlike last season when Dallas lost all three of those games, this year the Stars have gotten the bonus point every time out.
Those extra points will certainly come in handy in April.
After falling behind 2-0 before the game was four minutes old, the Stars slowly but surely worked their way in, thanks in large part to the dynamic triumvirate of Eriksson, Richards and Neal. The trio has now accounted for eight of Dallas' 14 goals scored, while Richards took over the league-lead in scoring with his nine points.
In the shootout, Richards, Eriksson and Ribeiro all converted, while Lehtonen needed to stop just one of two St. Louis attempts.
"We had a good start but they made the most of their opportunities," Blues defenseman Eric Brewer said. "We didn't find the net enough. It was a physical game, but we couldn't find a way to score big goals."
That's because Lehtonen was there at every turn to foil the high-octane Blues, who came in averaging nearly 38 shots per game.
"I would say in the first game of the year I wasn't sharp, but the team was sharp," Lehtonen said. "It is great to see how when one part is not doing well, the other part picks up. We were in a little bit of trouble and I was able to make good saves. The next night it could be another way. That's the sign of a good team."
With the game tied at 2-2 in the third period, the Stars dodged a major bullet when they were able to kill off St. Louis' two-man advantage effectively after Nicklas Grossman was whistled for delay of game less than a minute after Krystofer Barch was called for slashing.
Lehtonen helped preserve the kill with an outstanding left pad save on a quick shot from the slot from Blues forward David Backes.
"He was terrific. He gave us an opportunity to win and he was superb all night long," coach Marc Crawford said about his netminder. "Your goaltender builds such a foundation for your team. Tonight was a case where we did not have much going other than (Lehtonen). The belief that was built by him tonight was infectious."
Grossman then went right back into the box after he received a double minor for high sticking Carlo Colaiacovo 7:29 into the third, but the Blues were only able to use two minutes of the advantage because T.J. Oshie was sent to the box after interfering with Adam Burish in the Dallas zone.
Patrik Berglund and Andy McDonald scored, and Ty Conklin -- making his first start of the season in favor of starter Jaroslav Halak -- made 23 saves for the Blues, who've now lost two straight.
"We executed well on offensive zone time early in the hockey game, and even through the second period," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "The problem was it felt like Lehtonen was barring the door in the second period. They were keeping the game within striking distance. and that's exactly what happened."
Trailing by a goal after the first 20 minutes, the Stars tied it when Eriksson notched his fourth of the season with 5:17 left in the middle frame. With the puck rolling behind the net, Richards sent a pass to Eriksson, who was standing to the right of Conklin. The Swedish native made no mistake, depositing a shot into the top-right corner to tie the game, 2-2.
Up to that point, the Stars had weathered the Blues second-period storm, as St. Louis had sent 14 shots on Lehtonen in the first 14 minutes of the middle frame. Berglund and David Perron also were stumped when each of them hit the goal post on separate occasions.
Dallas nearly took the lead on the power play with 2:35 remaining in the second, but Conklin made an amazing save on Ribeiro to keep the game tied. Standing in the lower part of the right circle, Ribeiro wristed a shot that appeared to be going into a gaping net, but Conklin lunged to his left and reached behind him to snag the puck out of mid-air before it crossed the goal line.
The Blues struck first when Berglund tallied his second of the season just 71 seconds into the game. While standing in front of Lehtonen and battling Dallas defenseman Matt Niskanen, Berglund deftly backhand deflected Brad Boyes' wrist shot from the right point for a 1-0 St. Louis lead.
The Blues stretched the lead to 2-0 when McDonald cashed in on a power play at 3:48 of the first. Streaking towards the net, McDonald tapped in a perfect feed from Backes from the right circle that barely got past a sliding Trevor Daley.
The goal came on St. Louis' fifth shot.
Neal cut the deficit to 2-1 with two minutes left in the first with his second of the year. Richards picked up a Berglund turnover just inside the St. Louis blue line along the right boards and slid a cross ice pass to Eriksson. Eriksson in turned slipped the puck to Neal, whose one-timer from the high slot squirted through Conklin.
The Stars will now take to the road and will play their next two games in the state of Florida. First up will be a meeting with the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday night (6:30, FSSW), and then on Thursday they will face the Florida Panthers (6:30, FSSW). Those two teams played each other on Saturday night, with the Panthers blanking the Lightning 6-0.
-- Left wing Jamie Benn missed his second game because of concussion-like symptoms and continues to be day-to-day. The other scratch was defenseman Jeff Woywitka.
-- Richards is off to his best start point-wise in his career. His previous best was six points after four games last year. He also has at least two points in every game this year.
-- Richards has 15 assists in his career against the Blues. Amazingly enough, he has never scored a goal against them.
-- Right wing Brandon Segal's clearing attempt in the second period squarely hit St. Louis center Alexander Steen above the right eye, producing a deep gash.
-- The Blues had a 25-13 edge in shots when Eriksson tied the game at 2-2 in the second period.
-- St. Louis came in having won six of the last eight meetings with Dallas, and had outscored the Stars 30-19 in those games.
1 - 0 STL
2 - 0 STL
2 - 1 STL