DALLAS - If this was what is called a ‘measuring stick game,’ then the Dallas Stars certainly made a statement Thursday night that they belong among the league’s elite.
Facing the NHL’s top team, which leads the league in goals scored and boasts the league’s most dynamic offensive player, the Stars gutted out a hard-fought 2-1 victory over the Washington Capitals at the American Airlines Center.
It was the Stars’ fifth straight victory and leaves them 7-1-1 in their last nine contests. Dallas has also excelled on home ice, fashioning a 7-0-1 mark in their last eight outings at the American Airlines Center, and their 9-3-1 record at home this season ranks third in the NHL.
Holding on to a 1-0 lead in the third period, the Stars surrendered the equalizer on a power play at 10:18, but bounced back with a goal by Brandon Segal just 20 seconds later that stood up as the game-winner.
The Stars also managed to hold Washington superstar Alex Ovechkin off the scoresheet while snapping the Caps’ four-game winning streak. Dallas survived a scare in the final seconds when what would have been the game-tying goal was waved off because Ovechkin was ruled to have been in the crease.
Overall, it was a big night for a team that has vaulted from last in the Pacific Division into first during the course of their current hot streak.
“When you knock off the top team in the East, it says a lot about our group,” Stars coach Marc Crawford said. “I liked our resolve. We had outstanding performances from a lot of people. We had a call go our way at the end. For what it’s worth, it was the right call. We didn’t have any passengers in our group, we knew we were going to need everybody and I think we can be better the next time we play them, too, because that’s a confidence booster for us. When we played with authority, we really played a very effective game.”
In addition to Segal, Mike Ribeiro also scored for the Stars.
Andrew Raycroft, coming off a solid 18-save win in Ottawa Nov. 22, made his fourth start of the season in goal and delivered an outstanding performance, making 37 saves.
“We had to have a great performance from our goalie, Andrew Raycroft, and he was absolutely terrific,” Crawford said. “I don’t think you’re going to get a much bigger win from your backup than to have him play one of the best teams in the league and have him come up with a performance like that. He played a really clean game, he was seeing the puck real well, he was on focus and that was huge for him and huge for us.”
“I work hard every day,” said Raycroft. “There are some game situations you can’t replicate in practice, but your job is to get in front of the puck and you do that every day. I know I can play and I have confidence when I get in there.”
As far as keeping the winning streak going, the Stars have been receiving contributions from throughout the lineup. On this night, they came through with a power play goal, did a nice job killing penalties against the NHL’s second-ranked power play unit nullifying 2-of-3, and of course, got great goaltending from Raycroft.
“It’s been a little bit of everything,” said captain Brenden Morrow, who assisted on Segal’s game-winner. “Goaltending, obviously, has been sharp. When we needed a goal tonight, we got one on special teams. Penalty killing did a pretty good job - they got one, but that’s a pretty potent power play and we did a pretty good job staying disciplined, staying out of the penalty box, keep moving our feet.”
Carrying a 1-0 lead into the final period, the Stars continued to press for more, and although they were forced to kill off back-to-back penalties later in the period, it was Dallas with the better scoring chance.
Still skating shorthanded at 8:55, Steve Ott stripped the puck from Mike Green at the Dallas blue line and took off on a 2-on-1 rush. After carrying it into the Washington zone, Ott opted to keep the puck and shoot, forcing Capitals goaltender Michal Neuvirth to make a strong save.
Eventually, though, taking too many penalties in a row will catch up with you and the Capitals broke through at 10:18 on another man-advantage, on Mike Knuble’s fourth goal of the year, which he entombed into an open net from the slot after a nifty cross-ice pass from Green.
But the Stars responded on the very next shift, as Segal connected for his third of the season just 20 seconds later. On the rush into the Washington zone, Segal launched a wrist shot from the top of the right face-off circle that appeared to roll on him and beat Neuvirth over the shoulder on a play the Caps’ netminder would probably like to have back. Still, it was a big boost for the Stars, restoring the momentum in their favor.
“I always try to work on my shot every day in practice,” Segal said. “It was nice to finally get a chance to let it go tonight. I got a great pass from Morrow and got a little room to let it go. Obviously, it was great to see it go in.”
“Although it didn’t look like a great goal, the puck did turn, kind of went on its side,” Crawford said. “A very fortunate shot for him, but he was in the right spot. That was one of the shifts where we made a great breakout, it was a good pass in the neutral zone from Brenden over to him, so you do little things right and you get rewarded.”
The Capitals made a strong push to tie it up again down the stretch, and pulled Neuvirth for an extra attacker with 1:39 to go. They didn’t generate a whole lot of offense until, with 7.6 seconds on the clock, they appeared to get the equalizer. Nicklas Backstrom had the puck behind the Dallas net and slid a nice pass into the slot for rookie John Carlson, who, with Ovechkin jostling with Dallas defenseman Karlis Skrastins in the crease, unleashed a quick wrist shot that found its way through the mass of bodies and in.
“I couldn’t see a thing,” Raycroft said. “I didn’t see the puck go in. I didn’t see the puck the rest of the game.”
The play was waved off relatively quickly, with the explanation being that Ovechkin was in the crease. Of course, the Capitals’ bench was livid and their coach Bruce Boudreau picked up an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for arguing the call.
“No comment about it. It’s unbelievable,” was all Ovechkin would say about it.
“What do you want me to say that I can’t get fined for?” Boudreau said. “I mean, if you look at the friggin’ call, Ovie doesn’t touch the guy. Their guy slides into the goalie and takes him out of the play, and the one ref is telling me Ovie’s in the paint. Well, I want to know when that rule changed that you can’t be in the paint, when you don’t touch anybody and you don’t interfere with anybody and why the two refs aren’t consulting each other?
“It cost us two points. It’s a bad call. Refs make bad calls, but at that time of the game, when you’re down by one, you better be sure something is happening. Obviously, we tie the game up, I lose my mind because they make a bad call, and they don’t want to take any accountability that they might have made a bad call because nobody talked about it.”
Overall, Ovechkin registered five shots on goal, but the Stars, and particularly defenseman Stephane Robidas, did an excellent job limiting his opportunities.
“Robidas probably had the biggest part in that,” Crawford said, “but I thought that Burish, Petersen and Ott did a good job, too, and early in the game, we had Ribeiro, Morrow and Benn against him, so whoever it was, you have to be conscious of him, you have to make sure you have backside pressure, because he’s so good, coming in and gaining the line and cutting across and finding somebody. So you’ve got to be right on with your stick coverage, with your positioning and we were really good.”
The Stars dodged a bullet 4:48 into the opening period when a mistake by Raycroft almost ended up in his own net. After coming out to play the puck behind his net, Raycroft slid it right to Washington’s Matt Hendricks, who quickly relayed it out front to the charging Eric Fehr. As Raycroft scrambled back in front, Fehr drilled one-timer past him, but it rolled just wide of the left goalpost.
The atmosphere livened up a bit more with 5:19 left in the period when Segal squared off with Hendricks in a pretty good scrap.
Some more rough stuff occurred at the period’s buzzer, after Adam Burish leveled Marcus Johansson with an open ice hit and Ovechkin and Green rushed him.
Even though the Capitals outshot the Stars 14-7 in the period, Dallas entered the second in a scoreless tie, and even began on a power play after Ovechkin was given a roughing penalty for going after Burish.
It ended up being the Capitals who had the best scoring chance, though, after a Brad Richards giveaway at the Washington blue line led to an Alexander Semin breakaway just as Ovechkin’s penalty expired. Matt Niskanen caught up to him from behind and ended up taking a holding penalty as Raycroft stopped Semin’s wrist shot.
Raycroft made a sparkling glove save on the ensuing power play when he snagged Green’s scorching wrist shot from the high slot and another big stop on Carlson’s blast 30 seconds later.
The Stars began to take over the momentum as the period wore on and had three consecutive power plays before Ribeiro struck at 13:29 on the man advantage. Neuvirth made a nice pad save through a screen on Richards’ wrist shot from the top of the right circle, but the rebound spit out front, where Ribeiro slipped it from his backhand to forehand and fired it over Neuvirth’s pad for his fourth goal of the season.
The Stars remain home through the weekend as they host the Minnesota Wild on Saturday (7 pm, TXA-21) as they try to push the win streak to six. The Wild, at 11-11-2, sit 13th in the Western Conference standings, but that is just five points back of Northwest Division-leading Vancouver. It may not be as strong an opponent as Washington, but the Stars will still have to find a way to be just as hyped up for that one.
“It was just one of those hard-fought games,” Raycroft said. “I thought we put in a gutsy effort against the number one team in the league. We were ready for the battle tonight.”
- Ribeiro’s goal was his fourth in the last eight games after failing to find the back of the net through the season’s first 16 outings. He also extended his points streak to five games (two goals, three assists).
- Through their five-game winning streak, Dallas has outscored their opponents 7-1 in the third period.
- The Stars went 1-for-6 on the power play, leaving them 2-for-21 on the PP over their last six games.
- On the penalty kill, the Stars had a streak of 12 straight kills snapped when Knuble scored, which goes back six games.
- The win leaves Dallas a perfect 8-0-0 when they enter the third period with a lead.
- The Stars are now a stellar 8-2-0 against the Eastern Conference this season, outscoring the opposition 35-22 in those contests.
1 - 0 DAL
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 DAL