DALLAS - In need of a win to stop their current slide and appease their ornery coach, the Stars turned to backup goalie Andrew Raycroft. He didn't disappoint.
Raycroft, making his first start of the season, turned aside 34 shots to register his eighth career shutout, and the Stars' special teams helped settle their uneasy bench boss in a convincing 4-0 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night at American Airlines Center.
The victory snapped Dallas' three-game losing streak, and came two nights after coach Marc Crawford's postgame tongue lashing following a lethargic 5-2 loss to the Los Angeles Kings.
James Neal and Brenden Morrow scored power-play goals, Steve Ott had a shorthanded tally, and Trevor Daley potted his first goal of the year just seconds after a Buffalo penalty expired, as the Stars won for the first time since a 4-1 victory over Florida on Oct. 21.
Brad Richards contributed a pair of assists for Dallas, which improved to 1-3-0 on its current six-game homestand.
"We needed to correct a lot of things," Crawford said. "You have to learn from the adversity that you're faced with. You have to go down the road, and if there aren't obstacles on it, the road usually leads to nowhere. We've had a few adverse bumps here, and it looked like tonight we learned the lesson. It was important that we took it all the way, and I was pleased with the way we completed the task."
Raycroft continued his solid play that he started in relief of starter Kari Lehtonen in the third period of the Kings' game, while Dallas' power play and penalty killing units took care of the rest.
"It's terrific that (Raycroft) played as well as he did," Crawford said. "He had real good focus. He's a pro, and he knows how to get himself prepared. We also played a solid game in front of him."
That they did. The Stars went 2-for-4 with the man advantage -- including a two-man advantage goal -- and killed off both of the Sabres' power play opportunities.
Raycroft, meanwhile, hasn't allowed a goal in 75 minutes of action this season, and kept his team alive by thwarting Buffalo's fast starts to begin the final two periods.
The Sabres took the first 15 shots in the opening moments of the second and third periods combined, including holding an 8-0 shot advantage over the first four minutes of the pivotal third when Dallas was clinging to a 2-0 lead. Raycroft then helped preserve his shutout with a terrific save on Buffalo defenseman Tyler Myers' wicked slap shot from the top of the right circle with less than five minutes left in regulation.
"I got a great effort in front of me, and we got a few bounces here and there," Raycroft said. "It's a big win for us. We just have to stay focused through those second periods and keep plugging away and sooner or later, it breaks free."
Buffalo backup Patrick Lalime, playing in place of starter Ryan Miller, finished with 37 saves.
Raycroft's performance early in the third period gave the Stars a chance to stretch their lead, and they did just that on Ott's shorthanded goal 5:05 into the frame. At the red line, Jamie Benn snuck up on Myers from behind to niftily steal the puck away, and promptly turned back and embarked into the Sabres zone. Lalime was able to stop Benn's in-tight attempt, but Ott gobbled up the rebound and shoveled it home for his second of the season.
Daley iced it with 8:25 left in regulation, and five seconds after a penalty to Buffalo defenseman Shaone Morrisonn expired. The defenseman sent a wrist shot from the left faceoff dot that eluded Lalime.
"We had to stop the bleeding at home," Morrow said. "It was good to nip this and get rolling in the right direction again. Special teams were huge, and they did what they hadn't been able to do the last few games -- capitalize on the power play and close the door on the penalty kill. (Raycroft) then made some timely stops to keep the momentum."
Up by a goal after the first period, the Stars pushed their lead to 2-0 with Morrow's power-play tally. Standing in front of Lalime, Morrow deftly deflected out of mid air Richards' floating wrist shot from the left point with 1:40 remaining in the second period for his sixth of the season.
"I thought we were led by Brenden Morrow," Crawford said. "He was terrific tonight."
Raycroft's second period was outstanding, as he spit out all 14 shots the Sabres sent his way. He was especially sharp early in the stanza when the Sabres put the first seven shots on goal before Dallas registered its first one of the period with just under 14 minutes to go.
Raycroft's best stop was on a slick redirect attempt by Buffalo forward Drew Stafford, who charged the net before receiving a perfect pass from center Derek Roy.
The Stars struck first when Neal popped in his fifth of the season while they enjoyed a two-man advantage 7:34 into the opening frame. From the right circle, Neal received a pass from Mike Ribeiro before putting a heavy wrist shot past Lalime.
"That's the name of the game in this league, executing and realizing your weaknesses and getting better at them day-to-day," Raycroft said. "It's 10 games in, but it's an important win."
Dallas continues its six-game homestand when Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins invade American Airlines Center on Wednesday (7:30, FS-SW). The Penguins defeated the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday to improve their record to 6-5-1.
-- The Stars have scored at least one power-play goal in each of their last three games.
-- It was Raycroft's second career shutout against the Sabres.
-- Neal had a game-high seven shots. "He was shooting the puck tonight, and that usually means he's strong on the puck," Crawford said.
-- The Sabres outhit the Stars 38-30 in a physical game that featured several after-the-whistle skirmishes in the first 20 minutes.
-- Dallas has outshot its opponent in five straight games, and the 41 shots taken were a season-high.
-- The Stars snapped their five-game losing streak to Buffalo. Dallas hadn't defeated the Sabres since a 3-0 shutout win at American Airlines Center during the 2002-03 season.
-- Morrow is one goal shy from 200 career NHL goals.
-- The Stars haven't lost four straight since a seven-game skid in March 2009.
-- Myers, who was born in Houston, played his first ever NHL game in Texas, and had more than 60 family members and friends at the game. He and Benn were teammates when the two played junior hockey for the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League.
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