DALLAS - It wasn’t quite as dramatic as their two comeback victories at home last week, but it was just as important.
Jamie Benn scored a goal and an assist and Mike Ribeiro notched the game-winning goal with 3:19 left in the third period to lead the Dallas Stars to a hard-fought 3-2 triumph over the St. Louis Blues Friday night at the American Airlines Center.
On the first leg of a home-and-home set with the Blues, the Stars entered the third period trailing 2-1, but Benn’s shorthanded goal at 7:53 and Ribeiro’s game-winner at 16:41 secured the Stars a crucial two points in the standings.
The win leaves the Stars a stellar 6-0-1 in their last seven home games and 4-1-1 in their last six contests overall. It also lifts them to 12-8-1 on the year as they completed the first quarter of the season in a tight Western Conference where just five points separated first from 12th in the standings coming into the night.
“It was a good game overall,” Stars coach Marc Crawford said. “It was a hard-fought game, had some momentum swings. It really was a great game to be involved in.We persevered as a team and I think we’re starting to grow a little bit. We’re not opening it up too soon, we stayed with the game long enough tonight. We got some fortunate bounces, but we worked for them, too. I’m very pleased with the two points, as our guys should be.”
In addition to Benn and Ribeiro, Brad Richards also scored for Dallas.
“Jamie Benn did two magnificent things for us,” Crawford said. “The breakaway goal was as nice a goal as you’re going to see and especially coming shorthanded.”
“I’m just trying to do my part, play hard every shift,” said Benn, who spent the majority of the night at left wing alongside Ribeiro and Brenden Morrow. “Things were just clicking tonight with our line.”
Back in net after a rare night off Wednesday, Kari Lehtonen delivered yet another strong performance, making 25 saves, including spectacular stops immediately before and immediately after Ribeiro’s game-winner late in the third period.
“I think the third period, we played well,” Lehtonen said. “It felt good to make a couple of big saves there, too, when the game was on the line. It’s a great win.”
It was an impressive result in a game against a Blues team that had won three in a row and controlled much of the first period, but only emerged with a 1-0 lead. The Stars found their legs again in the second and ended up gutting out yet another come-from-behind triumph - the third time in their last five games, they’ve rebounded from a late deficit to earn points.
“Any time you can get a win when you come back like that, especially against a team in your conference, it’s always big,” defenseman Stephane Robidas said.
Trailing 2-1 heading into the final period, the Stars began with a full two-minute power play, but were unable to get one past Blues netminder Jaroslav Halak.
The Blues ended up on a power play of their own several minutes later, but it was the Stars who took advantage, as Benn notched the equalizer at 7:53. Moments after blocking Johnson’s slap shot from the point, Benn charged out and stripped the puck off Johnson’s stick at the Dallas blue line and took off on a breakaway. He made several moves on Halak before slipping a backhander around the Slovak netminder for his fourth goal of the season.
“I think he just tried to make one too many moves up there and I kind of just poked it away,” Benn said of Johnson on the play. “Pretty lucky, and I just did my part and scored the goal. I think I stole that (move) from Loui, but it was nice to get that one.”
Benn had another prime chance to find the back of the net with 7:13 left in regulation, when he re-directed a slick pass out of the right corner from Ribeiro, but Halak made a nice stop.
The Blues nearly went back on top with four minutes to go, as they sped into the Dallas zone on a 3-on-2 rush, resulting in David Backes’ point-blank wrist shot, but Lehtonen made a sparkling save to keep the game tied.
“Kari Lehtonen, I can’t say enough about the two saves that he made late,” Crawford said. “When it was 2-2, they had an outstanding chance there, I think it was Backes who came across on the 3-on-2, and he stared it right down. Those are the types of big saves you need, they keep your momentum going and it allowed us to head back the other way and we got the goal.”
Then, just 39 seconds later, Ribeiro scored his third goal in five games to put the Stars ahead for good. Following a botched exchange behind the St. Louis net between Halak and Eric Brewer, Benn swept in, stole the puck and quickly slid a pass from the right circle across the top of the crease to the charging Ribeiro, who slammed it into a wide open net at 16:41.
On the very next shift, Lehtonen again made a huge stop, denying Carlo Colaiacovo’s slap shot from the high slot with 2:57 remaining.
The Blues pulled Halak for an extra attacker with 55 seconds left, but were unable to even get a shot off before the final buzzer.
The Stars fell behind early, surrendering a shorthanded goal to Andy McDonald 5:07 into the opening period. With the Stars pressing on the power play, the Blues counter-attacked the other way off an odd-man rush. Lehtonen stopped Alex Pietrangelo’s wrist shot from the slot, but McDonald got to the loose rebound and chipped it over Lehtonen.
Despite the fact that they were outshot by just a 6-5 margin in the period, the Stars clearly were on their heels much of the time and probably felt fortunate to exit the first just down by one.
After Dallas opened the second period with some extra jump, maintaining pressure in the St. Louis zone, the contest’s first fight took place at 3:39 when Brian Sutherby dropped the gloves with former Star Brad Winchester in a pretty entertaining bout.
The Stars had a golden opportunity on a power play at 6:34, but Benn’s point-blank one-timer, off a nice cross-ice pass from Ribeiro, deflected off Halak and pinged off the left goalpost.
Dallas evened it up on Richards’ team-leading 11th goal of the season at 10:53. After some sustained pressure in the Blues’ zone, Loui Eriksson fed a nice cross-ice pass to Richards in the right face-off circle and he beat Halak over the shoulder just inside the post with a scorching wrist shot.
But St. Louis went back on top 2-1 with 4:21 remaining in the period, immediately after a face-off in the Stars zone that came after a Stars’ icing. Backes beat Richards on the ensuing face-off and McDonald whipped a wrist shot from the top of the left circle that ricocheted off Nicklas Grossman’s leg and past Lehtonen for his second goal of the night and eighth of the season.
“There’s not much you can do about that,” Lehtonen said of the bad bounce off Grossman. “You just have to keep working and try to do the right things and not let that go to your head, not question your goaltending. Just focus on the next shot.”
The Blues gained the momentum after that and reeled off six straight shots after the goal, but Lehtonen managed to hold them off.
That allowed the Stars to have a couple of chances in front with 15 seconds left, but Halak denied Benn and Ribeiro in front.
Then at the final buzzer of the second, St. Louis’ Alex Steen cross-checked Steve Ott, and then Ott ended up squaring off with Brewer in a long, drawn-out fight, underlining the notion that these teams just don’t like each other.
The two clubs now head out to St. Louis for the rematch on Saturday night (7:30 pm start, TXA-21), where the Blues have not yet lost in regulation (8-0-1). The Stars had lost four straight on the road before their 2-1 triumph in Ottawa on Wednesday.
“I think it’s good that there will be another game tomorrow, it will be even more physical I think and you can sense that there’s a lot of tension,” Robidas said. “That’s what hockey is all about.”
- Skating in his 100th career contest, the 21-year-old Benn notched his first-ever NHL shorthanded goal.
- Ribeiro has five points (three goals, two assists) in the last five games after enduring a 16-game goal drought to open the season. He led the Stars with five shots on goal.
- Richards now had nine points (five goals, four assists) over the last seven outings.
- With an assist on Richards’ goal, Eriksson now has seven assists in the last seven games, although he has not scored a goal in nine contests now.
- Daley now has points in back-to-back games (one goal, one assist) after recording just one assist in the previous nine games. He also logged a game-high 24:53 of ice time.
- With defenseman Mark Fistric being placed on injured reserve for a groin injury suffered in practice on Tuesday, blueliner Jeff Woywitka suited up for the second straight contest after sitting out as a healthy scratch six consecutive games. He received 21:27 of ice time, ranking third on the club, while blocking two shots.
- With the win, the Stars improved their record to 2-6-1 in games they trailed entering the third period.
- Dallas went 0-for-3 on the power play, leaving them 0-for-9 over the last three games and 3-for-33 over the last nine.
Wrist shot -