DALLAS - In a tight-checking affair that didn't feature much flash and dash, Andrew Raycroft saved the day by saving his best for last.
Starting for the second straight game in favor of Kari Lehtonen, Raycroft was money for the Stars, who persevered just enough to secure a 2-1 shootout win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday night at American Airlines Center.
He finished with 22 saves, but none was bigger than the one he pulled out of his catching hand with 44 seconds left in overtime. After accepting a cross-ice pass, Carolina defenseman Joe Corvo wristed a shot from the inner edge of the right circle that was labeled for the top-right corner. But Raycroft was able to calmly slide over from the right side and miraculously snag the puck with his glove as Corvo looked to the roof in disbelief.
"It was a 3-on-2 and they hit the trailer," Raycroft said about the highlight-reel save. "I read the pass going across and I was able to get my eyes ahead of the play, which always helps. Then you just kind of throw a glove up and hope it hits it, which fortunately it did."
In the shootout, Raycroft was at it again, denying all three Carolina shooters -- Jussi Jokinen, Jeff Skinner, and captain Eric Staal -- while Brad Richards was able to solve Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward in the second round for the winner.
The victory gave the first-place Stars (17-9-2) nine wins in their last 10 home games, and moved them four points ahead of each team in the Pacific Division, pending the outcome of the Calgary vs. Anaheim game late Friday.
James Neal scored the lone goal in regulation for the Stars, who rebounded from a bitter 5-3 loss in Chicago two days ago to earn points in all but one of their last nine contests.
"You need to bounce back after a tough loss like that," defenseman Stephane Robidas said. "That's exactly what we did."
After not playing much early in the season, Raycroft made his third start in the last five games due to coach Marc Crawford's decision to shut Lehtonen down for a few games after the Finnish netminder came down with some back soreness at the morning skate prior to the Chicago game.
In seven appearances this season, Raycroft has allowed 12 goals, with nine of them coming in losses to Colorado and the Blackhawks. He entered with a sparkling 2.10 goals-against average and a just as shiny .935 save percentage.
"He's been really good everytime he's stepped in the net," Robidas said. "I think we all feel really confident in him. He's calm, and he's playing the puck really well. He's made some big saves at key times, like the last one in overtime. Everybody's just happy for him to get the chance to play. We all knew he was a pretty good goalie, and now he has the chance to prove it."
Jiri Tlusty scored, and Ward finished with 28 saves for the Hurricanes, who hadn't played since a 5-2 loss at Nashville last Saturday. Dallas sent Carolina to its third loss in the past four games.
"We knew it was going to be a tight game," defenseman Jeff Woywitka said. "We wanted to make sure we got off to a good start. We weathered the storm a little bit, stuck with it, and managed to get the two points."
"There wasn't a lot to do, to be honest," Raycroft said about the lack of premium scoring chances by both teams. "I don't think they had any power-play chances at all. It wasn't the hardest of nights."
Before Raycroft's heroics late in the extra session, Brenden Morrow had two consecutive glorious opportunities to win it in overtime. After Ward stopped Mike Ribeiro's attempt with three minutes to go, Morrow's first rebound try was denied, but on his second one he hit the left post.
Ward was then able to fend off Neal's chance from in tight about a minute later, kicking out his rebound chance.
"Both teams were pretty stingy, and then Raycroft makes that great save in overtime to put it in the shootout," Ward said.
Down by a goal after 20 minutes, Tlusty tied it at 1-1 with his third of the year at 9:03 of the second period. After receiving a pass from Troy Bodie in the left corner, Tlusty whipped a wrist shot from the slot past Raycroft.
Neal put the Stars on the board first with his 12th of the season 9:39 into the game. Richards' shot from the left point was blocked in front, but Neal was able to collect the puck to the right of Ward. He patiently waited for Ward to go down before he lifted the puck into the top of the net to give Dallas a 1-0 lead.
"Both team's best chances came in overtime," Carolina coach Paul Maurice said. "It was a good hockey game."
The Stars go back on the road for a pair of games starting Saturday in Phoenix (7 p.m. TXA-21). Following the Coyotes contest, the Stars will head to San Jose to face the Sharks on Monday night.
-- Defenseman Maxime Fortunus, who was called up from Texas of the AHL on Thursday, was the lone healthy scratch.
-- Lehtonen is being kept out of the lineup until at least Monday's game at San Jose.
-- Raycroft made three starts in the first 23 games of the season.
-- Gagnon registered his second career NHL point with an assist on Neal's goal. The rookie picked up his first-ever point with an assist on Monday at Columbus.
-- Former Star Jere Lehtinen was honored with a video montage during a stoppage in the second period. Lehtinen, who was sitting next to former teammate and current GM Joe Nieuwendyk, teared up while receiving a two-minute standing ovation from both the crowd and the players on the ice. Lehtinen announced his retirement earlier in the week.
-- Dallas improved to 9-2-0 against the Eastern Conference.
-- The Stars have nine wins and one tie in their last 10 meetings with the Hurricanes in Dallas.
-- Neal scored twice in the Stars' 4-1 win over Carolina on Nov. 29.