SAN JOSE - Other than the fact that it went to a shootout, this one felt like a playoff game.
In a high-intensity, fast-tempo contest, the Dallas Stars received another big performance from goaltender Andrew Raycroft, overcame a 2-1 second period deficit and outlasted the San Jose Sharks for a 3-2 victory Monday night at the HP Pavilion.
It was the third time in their last five games the Stars needed a shootout to settle things, and Dallas has now prevailed twice, both times needing outstanding outings from Raycroft to complete the task. Overall, the Stars are now 4-2 in shootouts and 7-2 in games going beyond regulation.
After Jamie Benn and San Jose’s Joe Pavelski traded goals in the shootout, Brad Richards connected for Dallas, firing a close-in wrist shot over Shark goaltender Antti Niemi’s blocker, to put Dallas ahead in the tie-breaker. It was Richards’ second consecutive shootout winner.
Then Raycroft came up with a nice pad save on Ryane Clowe, the NHL’s reigning star of the week, denying his backhand-to-forehand deke to clinch the triumph.
“You watch video and you try to get an idea of what guys’ tendencies are and that’s always been an advantage for us,” said Raycroft, who has now stopped five-of-six shots in his two shootout victories. “Obviously, if you don’t guess right, they’ll make you look ugly, but at that point, you’re just trying to put pressure on them as the shooter. Don’t let anything through you, make them make a great move or a great shot and let our shooters do the rest.”
Despite it being the Stars’ fifth game in eight nights in five different cities, they showed no signs of any fatigue and snapped their three-game road losing streak (0-2-1). Overall, Dallas sports an impressive 8-2-1 mark in their last 11.
It was a crucial victory for the Pacific Division-leading Stars, especially since all five teams in the division entered the day separated by just two points, and both clubs responded accordingly with strong performances.
“Every game is so big, every team in the conference is a good team,” noted center Mike Ribeiro, who scored a goal and an assist. “We were able to contain them after they scored those two goals. They came right at us and Andrew some big saves at the right time. Shootout, you never know, but we stuck with the plan, and kept it tight. After the first point, to get the second, I think was just a bonus.”
The two squads will actually face each other again Thursday night in Dallas, as they completed the first leg of a home-and-home series.
As if they needed any further inspiration, the Stars received it from their captain Brenden Morrow, who took a puck in the face late in the first period and left the ice bleeding, but returned midway through the second period wearing a full face shield.
“It wasn’t a foot, it wasn’t a shoulder, I could put a mask on it,” shrugged Morrow, who likely broke his nose.
“He’s been around a long time, and you expect it almost,” Raycroft said of Morrow. “I don’t think any of us were very surprised that he decided to come back. He’s made a career of it. He’s our captain.”
In addition to Ribeiro’s two points, Benn also found the back of the net.
In goal, Raycroft started his fourth straight contest in place of usual starter Kari Lehtonen, who remains out with lower body tightness. After surrendering five goals and getting pulled in the third period Saturday night in Phoenix, Raycroft bounced back with a strong performance, making 31 saves and two more in the shootout.
“We played our game and I think last game, we felt like we didn’t, so we wanted to come out and do that tonight,” Raycroft said. “They got a couple of fluky goals, to be honest, so we didn’t give them much at all and we just plugged away all night.”
Knotted up at 2-2 heading into the final period, the Stars nearly went ahead just 40 seconds in, but Niemi made a fabulous pad save on Tom Wandell’s uncontested one-timer from in front off a cross-ice pass from Benn.
Niemi made another huge stop at 6:53, flashing out the pad when Richards fed Adam Burish for a one-timer from the high slot.
On a power play a couple of minutes later, the Stars applied considerable pressure and buzzed around the Shark net the whole time, but were unable to find the back of the net.
Another Dallas opportunity to snap the tie came with 6:01 left in regulation, when Brandon Segal collected a loose puck in front and whipped a high backhander, but Niemi snagged it in his glove.
San Jose had a power play of their own (their only of the night) shortly after that, and pressured the Stars for virtually the entire time. Raycroft ended up making two big saves on Shark captain Patrick Marleau, most notably his one-timer blast from the top of the right face-off circle with 4:23 remaining that Raycroft snagged with his glove.
Despite not converting on their power play, the Sharks rode that wave of momentum for the rest of regulation, pressing to the final buzzer, forcing Raycroft to make several big saves in the final 35 seconds or so, as he stopped Logan Couture, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Dan Boyle over that stretch.
“There was only two or three penalties the whole game,” said Morrow, noting the similarities to a playoff atmosphere. “There was good pace to the flow, the goalies played well, it was physical, both teams got pucks to the net, crashed the net - a pretty patient, simple game, and we won it in the shootout.”
The Stars struck first, taking a 1-0 lead 6:17 into the opening period on Benn’s seventh goal of the season. Seeming to have just a little extra jump in their step than the Sharks, the Stars won a battle for a loose puck when Ribeiro outworked Vlasic for it behind the net. Ribeiro then slid a pass out front into the slot, where Benn whipped a scorching wrist shot past Niemi’s blocker.
Dallas controlled the tempo through the first half of the period, building up a 7-2 shots on goal advantage before the Sharks started to push back. Raycroft ended up making a huge shoulder save on Jamie McGinn’s point-blank one-timer with 6:15 left in the first to keep it 1-0.
The Stars had another prime opportunity less than two minutes later while on a power play, but Richards’ snap shot from the left point deflected off Shark defender Justin Braun and clanked high off the goalpost.
Dallas endured a major scare 38 seconds later when Vlasic’s clearing attempt glanced off the glass and nailed Morrow in the face. He immediately headed off to the dressing room, bleeding profusely.
“That was a hard one, too, because you lose the puck in the stands,” Ribeiro said. “You see it along the boards, but once it goes up, you kind of lose it and that puck came hard. That was surprising to see him back, and I told him to call Robi’s doctor to fix his nose now.”
Raycroft came up with another strong save with 1:49 left in the first period, when Marleau sped in on a partial breakaway and attempted to cut across the top of the crease. Raycroft knocked the puck off his stick with the blocker.
Ribeiro nearly had another one, following a dominant shift by the Stars in the San Jose zone, firing a wrist shot from the left circle through a screen, but Niemi made the stop.
Entering the second period with a 1-0 lead with an outstanding performance, the Stars nearly made it 2-0 on two different occasions, as Niemi made nice saves on Trevor Daley each time, once two minutes in and again five minutes in, both high wrist shots from the slot.
Then the Sharks found their mojo, striking twice within two minutes to take over the lead. First, it was youngster Derek Joslin who beat Raycroft, receiving a pass from Joe Thornton behind the net and firing a sharp-angle wrist shot from low in the left face-off circle for his first career NHL goal in his 47th game at 6:56.
Clowe snapped the tie just two minutes later with his ninth of the year. Jason Demers set up the play, carrying the puck down the right sideboards before firing the puck towards the net, where Clowe, parked in front of Raycroft, managed to get a piece of it and deflect it just inside the right post.
Raycroft had to come up with a key save just past the mid-point of the period to keep Dallas within one when rookie Benn Ferreiro sped in on a breakaway and tried to slip a shot between his pads.
With Morrow back on the ice, Dallas started to stem the Sharks’ momentum and almost tied the contest again at 11:46 when Richards fed a cross-ice pass to a charging Neal, who drilled a one-timer from the slot, forcing Niemi to make a big pad save.
The Stars did even things up on a power play with 2:20 remaining in the second on Ribeiro’s fifth of the season. Stephane Robidas boomed a one-timer from the point and Ribeiro, stationed in the high slot, executed a nifty deflection over Niemi’s pad.
Both teams travel back to the Metroplex for the second leg of the home-and-home series on Thursday night at the American Airlines Center (7:30 pm start, FSSW).
“We just played smart, we didn’t turn the puck over, we played a tight game,” said Ribeiro. “You never know in the shootout what’s going to happen, tonight we came out with the win, but overall, it was a big win for us and we look forward to the next.”
- Benn’s goal snapped a six-game point drought.
- Ribeiro’s two-point night ended a four-game pointless streak. Three of his five goals this season have now come against San Jose. He also fired five shots on goal, which ranked second on the squad to Daley’s career-high six shots.
- Robidas’ assist on Ribeiro’s goal snapped a four-game drought. He logged an amazing 29:23 of ice time to top all skaters.
- Winger James Neal saw his seven-game scoring streak, which tied a career high, end.
- Defenseman Mark Fistric was back in the lineup after missing the previous 10 games with a groin injury. In 12:45 of ice time, Fistric delivered a team-high three hits. To make room for him, Matt Niskanen sat out as a healthy scratch for the first time this season.
- The win improved the Stars’ record on the road against Western Conference teams to 2-5-1, games in which they’ve been outscored 27-15.
- Dallas was 1-for-3 on the power play, marking the second straight road game in which they’ve scored after starting the season 2-for-42 on road power plays.