DALLAS - If there was any doubt about just how razor thin the margin is between winning and losing, it was on full display Tuesday night.
It required a lengthy video review to determine that Brad Richards’ third period shot just barely edged over the goal line and that represented the game-winning goal as the Dallas Stars eked out a 2-1 victory over the Anaheim Ducks at the American Airlines Center.
It was a much-needed half-inch for the Stars, who had lost three in a row, getting outscored 12-3 the process, including a 4-2 defeat Friday night in Anaheim. With every other Pacific Division team passing the Stars or lengthening their lead in the standings over the past week, Dallas, which still sits last in the division, opened a three-game homestand desperately needing the points to keep pace.
“This was very important,” said Richards, who also added an assist and was named the contest’s first star. “That was three in a row. It’s tough in this league, you start losing like that on the road like that, it’s tough. But we stuck together, got home and got our feet under us and that’s kind of what we did. As quick as you lose ground, you can make it back up with a few wins and that’s our goal on this homestand.”
The Stars had lost their first two meetings with the Ducks this year by a combined score of 9-4 and entered the day with a 1-4-0 record against divisional opponents, so that made the triumph even more significant.
“We had a tough loss there last week in their building,” said forward Steve Ott, whose first period power play goal put Dallas up 1-0. “These are huge divisional games and you need points. We needed to get the right foot going forward again and get back to was way we’d been playing at the start of the season and tonight was a lot better.”
In addition to the offense provided by Richards and Ott, Dallas received another outstanding performance from goaltender Kari Lehtonen, who made 26 saves in earning his eighth victory of the season.
“It was a big win,” said Lehtonen, who was named the game’s second star. “We were in a similar situation (Friday in Anaheim), 1-1 tie after two on the road, but we kept believing and played better than they did in the third. It’s great to get back to winning ways.”
“I think he’s one of the heroes of tonight’s game,” said coach Marc Crawford. “He was one of the stars and I think deservedly so. He was big when he needed to be. He’s a big contributor to our win tonight. That’s the type of goaltending that you seem to need. He was that much better tonight and he was the difference-maker.”
Tied 1-1 entering the final period, Richards notched the go-ahead game-winning goal at 8:24, but only after a lengthy video review. After James Neal intercepted an errant pass from Ducks rookie Cam Fowler, the Stars counter-attacked into the Anaheim zone, and after Loui Eriksson fed a pass to Richards, he fired a scorching wrist shot from the left face-off circle that beat Anaheim goaltender Jonas Hiller over the glove. The puck pinballed off the goal post, hit Hiller in the shoulder, grazed the post again and bounced on the goal line, and based on the replay, just over it before Hiller smothered it.
“I wasn’t sure. I thought maybe it was in,” Richards said of the play. “But James was right there and he thought for sure it was in. It was a good job by our line to turn it over in the neutral zone and Loui gave me a good pass, I just wanted to create something there and got lucky.”
There was no call by the officials on the ice, and they immediately consulted the video goal judge. It’s the kind of play that went against the Stars in the previous three games.
“We turned puck over in the neutral zone, which is what we wanted to do, got the 3-on-2 rush, and ended up developing the great shooting opportunity for a great shooter,” Crawford said of the play. “I wasn’t sure it was in, but when I saw it on the scoreboard, it looked pretty evident, I thought it was in. It was nice that it turned our way. It’s nice that you have video review for those sorts of things, because that quite possibly could have been a non-goal in the years before they had video review, so it worked in our favor tonight.”
“It was good to see,” Ott said. “I think I screamed like a 10-year-old girl with all the fans when I saw it on the Jumbotron. It was good to see that go in, a lot of bad breaks, a lot of posts. We haven't been scoring much lately, so any goals that go in like that, it definitely helps.”
Even the Ducks recognized just how close it was.
“I saw the replay on the Jumbotron and it appeared from the overhead that the puck was on its end,” Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle said, shaking his head. “It might not have been completely in if it had landed flat, but it landed on its end.”
The Stars were able to keep the pressure on over the next several minutes as they enjoyed back-to-back power plays, and although they were unable to get another one past Hiller, they controlled the play and kept the Ducks on their heels.
Anaheim pulled Hiller for an extra attacker with 55 seconds left in regulation, and Lehtonen denied Bobby Ryan at the left post on the Ducks’ best chance before the final buzzer sounded.
“The last couple games, we had 1-1 games going into the third periods and we lost ‘em,” Ott said. “Tonight, a 1-1 game and we ended up on top, so this is the direction we need to go in.”
Dallas started out strong, generating a good scoring chance just 1:02 into the opening period, when defenseman Nicklas Grossman drilled a slap shot from the left point through a screen that squeezed through Hiller and trickled just wide of the far post.
The Stars, on a power play, had another great opportunity when Richards fed a cross-ice pass to Brenden Morrow in front, but Hiller made a nice sliding save on the resulting one-timer at 3:43.
The Stars did a good job limiting Anaheim’s chances as the Ducks didn’t register their first shot on goal until 9:17 in, which includes two Duck power plays, when Lehtonen stopped Lubomir Visnovsky’s slap shot from the point.
About a minute later, the Ducks nearly snapped the scoreless tie when Teemu Selanne sped into the right circle on the rush and lifted a wrist shot just past Lehtonen’s glove, but the puck clanked off the goal post and stayed out.
Anaheim had another golden opportunity with 5:28 left in the period with Dallas on the power play, when longtime Stars nemesis Todd Marchant stole the puck from Mike Ribeiro at the Duck blue line and raced in on a breakaway. Marchant deked to his backhand, but Lehtonen made an acrobatic glove save.
Just 11 seconds later while still up a man, the Stars struck on Ott’s fourth goal of the season. Following the face-off in the Dallas zone, Richards fed a nice head-man pass up to Ott at the Anaheim blue line, and Otter slipped behind the Duck defenders and in on a breakaway of his own before slipping the puck between Hiller’s pads and in.
“I thought that Steve Ott’s power play goal, with the way that we enter the zone, it’s that we enter with speed,” Crawford said. “The two big factors on that goal, Richie made the great pass, but Steve has to go fearlessly into that seam. It’s very much like a wide receiver - you know that you have to be there and you have to trust that the ball’s going to be there, and keep going and that was exactly what it was. He ran the pattern well and finished it off.”
The play would have never happened, though, if Lehtonen hadn’t made the important save on Marchant immediately beforehand.
“That’s usually how it happens, if I’m able to make a good save and something good happens on the other end,” said Lehtonen. “It was one of my first saves so it was kind of great to get that. I felt great after that, very confident, and that helped me through the game.”
Ducks enforcer George Parros picked a fight with Grossman less than a minute later trying to get his team going, but although it was just Grossman’s second documented NHL fight in four seasons, he held his own against the experienced Anaheim tough guy.
Anaheim almost tied it with 1:53 remaining in the period when Matt Niskanen overskated a loose puck just in front of Lehtonen and Ryan Carter swept in and fired a point-blank wrist shot, but Lehtonen made the stop.
Lehtonen also came up big just before the period expired when he robbed Bobby Ryan in front twice.
Up 1-0 heading into the second period, Dallas killed off consecutive Duck power plays and then had a chance of their own at 5:18 when Morrow fed a nice cross-ice pass to a charging Ribeiro, who lifted a backhander that Hiller managed to turn aside.
The Ducks evened up the score on a power play at 8:29 when Corey Perry struck for his ninth goal of the year. Selanne, stationed on the goal line to the left of the Dallas net, saucered a pass to Perry in front, and on his second swipe at a bouncing puck, Perry drilled it over Lehtonen’s shoulder.
Anaheim almost took the lead about three minutes later when Selanne and Ryan caught the Stars on a bad line change and rolled into the Dallas zone on a 2-on-0 rush. Selanne carried it in and slid a pass over to Ryan, but the puck bounced over his stick and harmlessly into the corner.
About a minute after that, Parros obliged Stars’ enforcer Krys Barch and the two squared off in a long, memorable bout at 12:14.
The Ducks continued to generate opportunities, as Jason Blake raced in on a partial breakaway with 4:47 left in the period, with Lehtonen making a nice pad save on his backhander from the right circle.
With a power play late in the period, the Stars had some pretty good pressure, but Hiller denied them, making a nice stop on Eriksson’s point-blank re-direct in front.
Overall for the period, Dallas outshot the Ducks 11-6 but were outscored 1-0.
Dallas continues its homestand with a matchup Thursday against another division rival as San Jose visits for the first time this season (7:30 pm start, FSSW). The Sharks have won three in a row and currently sit sixth in the Western Conference with a 9-5-2 record.
“We worked hard for the break tonight,” Crawford said. “I don’t know if it’s a break, we deserved to score the goals that we did. We had several great chances. It was a real good game. Our guys have to be prepared to play as many of these games as they can. If we have that type of effort and that type of commitment to play an overall game, then we can be very successful. We score on a goal that bounces the right way for us, but if you work hard, most people will tell you that most breaks will go your way and we worked really hard tonight.”
- Referee Marcus Vinnerborg, who is from Sweden, made his NHL debut in the game, becoming the first European referee to ever officiate a league contest.
- Richards’ goal was his eighth of the season, second only to Eriksson’s nine on the squad, and the 200th of his NHL career. He also fired a game-high seven shots on goal.
“It kind of sneaks up on you,” Richards said of the milestone, attained in his 716th career game. “It’s special. To be in the NHL, I never thought I’d get a chance to play this long. To get that many goals, I’m very fortunate, I count my blessings every day I’m here. Hopefully there’ll many more and there’s another milestone someday.”
- Ott’s goal gives him three goals and an assist in his last seven games, despite failing to register a point in the previous three contests. He has 14 goals in his last 30 games, dating back to last season.
- Defenseman Stephane Robidas logged a game-high 28:34 of ice time. He also blocked a team-best four shots.
- Defenseman Jeff Woywitka, for the third straight contest and eighth time in the last nine, sat out as a healthy scratch, as did forward Brian Sutherby.
- Dallas went 1-for-5 on the power play after going 0-for-10 in the previous three games.
- The Ducks lost for the first time in regulation in eight games, coming in on a 6-0-1 hot streak.
1 - 0 DAL
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 DAL