ST. LOUIS - After struggling on the road earlier in the season, the Dallas Stars have turned things around and now look extremely comfortable away from the friendly confines of the American Airlines Center.
Propelled by two goals from captain Brenden Morrow and a goal and two assists from center Brad Richards, the Stars defeated the St. Louis Blues 4-2 Sunday evening at the Scottrade Center to claim their fifth straight road victory.
After losing their last two contests by a combined score of 11-4, and sporting a shaky 1-3-1 mark in their previous five contests, the Stars bounced back in a big way in their first game in 2011.
The Stars rallied from a 2-1 deficit, putting home three goals in the third period to snap the Blues’ five-game winning streak and finishing off a season sweep of the Blues, winning all four matchups against them for the first time in franchise history.
“We didn’t play real well lately, we obviously lost a few, so it was good to come in here, and have a good test, against a good team and it was the last time we played them, so we wanted to come out with a win and we did,” Richards said. “It was huge, you got to take the points when you can get them right now and put yourself in a position like we did to stay in the game and that’s exactly what we wanted to do.
“We’re a gritty bunch - a gritty, naive bunch sometimes. It reminds me of a team I played on in the past, where we all grew up together and everyone’s accepting different roles and we’re having fun with it and different people are stepping up in different ways. Sometimes, we’ll have some mistakes and some games like we did last week, but we’ll also be able to handle ourselves in these situations.”
The win keeps Dallas atop the Pacific Division and third in the Western Conference standings with a strong 13-5-3 record over their last 21 games. They are also 8-2-1 in their last 11 road contests.
“I think it is a big deal when you come back, especially on a team like St. Louis,” said coach Marc Crawford. “They played well tonight, it was a hard game, everybody knew the implications of the game and you knew it was going to be a battle, as every game that we’ve played against them has been. We got key performances tonight at key times.”
“We knew we gave ourselves a chance, one down on the road and we were feeling good,” noted Morrow, who downgraded from a full face shield to a more standard half-visor for the game, two weeks after an errant puck broke his nose. “We were getting opportunities, so we just wanted to stick with it and make sure we weren’t cheating and opening the middle of the ice up. I think we did a pretty good job of turning pucks over and coming in on the forecheck. A win’s a win, the points are important, that’s first and foremost, but I think doing it the way that we’re doing it gives us confidence that if we’re in that situation, we’re able to do it.”
In addition to the offensive heroics provided by Morrow and Richards, James Neal also found the back of the net for the Stars, snapping a lengthy slump with a strong outing.
“He played well,” said Richards, his usual linemate.“The last game, he started to come a little better and tonight you could tell right from the first shift that his mind was clear and he was out there having fun and he was seeing the ice, he was making little plays that don’t get noticed that he probably weren’t doing for a while, and those little things tonight got noticed and he gets rewarded. Good things happen when you play like that.”
After a couple of shaky outings in which he surrendered 10 goals in just five periods of action, goaltender Kari Lehtonen sparkled in this one, making 28 saves to register his 16th victory of the season.
“Kari was very good tonight, a nice bounce-back game for him,” Crawford said. “He was solid. They had a couple of really good chances in the third and he stood his ground. He’s a calming influence when he’s playing like that on everybody else, so compliment him on having a nice bounce-back game.”
Trailing 2-1 heading into the final period, the Stars had to kill off a St. Louis power play to that carried over from the end of the second, then went on the offensive after that.
Morrow ended up with the equalizer just 2:28 into the third, registering his second of the day and 16th of the season. On the rush into the Blues’ zone, Jamie Benn fired a wrist shot from the high slot that St. Louis goaltender Jaroslav Halak stopped with his glove, but he left a big rebound. Morrow got to it first and chipped a backhander up and over Halak.
“Brenden Morrow’s second goal, especially, that was a hard-working goal,” said Crawford. “He had the net drive and staying on the puck and finding it and finding a way to get it up over Halak, that’s just a huge goal and I can’t say enough about it.”
Enjoying the momentum after the tying goal, the Stars surged ahead 4:04 later, as Richards collected his team-leading 18th goal of the year following a 3-on-1 rush. Richards carried into the St. Louis zone before pulling up in the right circle and firing a hard pass into the crease, where both Neal and Loui Eriksson were charging the net. Although it was initially deemed Eriksson’s goal, replays showed the puck appearing to bounce off a defender’s skate and slip under Halak for a 3-2 Dallas lead at 6:32.
The Blues kept battling, though, and nearly tied it again just over two minutes later. Emerging from a mass of humanity behind the net, former Star B.J. Crombeen curled out front on his backhand, where Lehtonen made a pad save. Crombeen managed to jam the loose rebound under Lehtonen, but Nicklas Grossman slid across the goal line to block it with his skate and after a brief moment of chaos in the crease, eventually Lehtonen smothered it.
Lehtonen came up with another big stop on Alex Steen, snagging his point-blank wrist shot with the glove, with 5:21 remaining in regulation.
Neal finally ended his scoring drought with 2:50 to go, notching his first goal in 11 games and 14th of the year. Following a St. Louis turnover at center ice, the Stars went into the Blues’ zone on a 2-on-1, with Toby Petersen feeding a nice backhand pass over to Neal, who launched a wrist shot from the high slot that beat Halak between the pads.
“That was a very big goal, it gave us a two-goal cushion and it was a hard-working effort by James,” Crawford said. “That was one of the better efforts he’s had - he stayed on the puck, he had a number of scoring chances tonight. He was strong with the puck, he was very good at recovering up high, so all-around, he was good.”
The Blues pulled Halak for an extra attacker with 1:06 left, and kept the pressure on, but Lehtonen came up with the key saves when needed. His best one was a fabulous sliding stop on Steen’s one-timer from low in the left circle with 56.3 seconds remaining.
“You weren’t going to score an easy goal tonight, it was going to have to be people driving hard to the net and paying a price,” Crawford said. “For us, I’m happy with the fact that our guys stayed with the game long enough and when you stay with it long enough, you give yourself a chance to come back in games. Give a big amount of credit to our guys for doing it, but the timely nature of, especially the Morrow goal, was just so significant for us tonight.”
The Stars had the game’s first scoring chance, just 48 seconds into the opening period, when Eriksson fed a wide open Mike Ribeiro in the slot, and Ribeiro’s attempted pass back to Eriksson on the right side of the crease pinballed off St. Louis defender Alex Pietrangelo’s skate and off the right post, then rolled across the goal line and out the other side.
One of the most entertaining fights of the season occurred at 6:45 when Krys Barch squared off with the Blues’ Cam Janssen, and the two traded numerous haymakers in the bout that left Barch bleeding over the eye and Janssen half-undressed in the penalty box.
Just under two minutes later, the second fight of the night erupted when Brandon Segal dropped the gloves with Crombeen in a scrap where an off-balance Segal still managed to draw blood from Crombeen’s mouth.
St. Louis got on the scoreboard first when David Backes scored his 10th of the year at 13:51. After Ribeiro lost a battle for the puck at center ice, the Blues sped into the Dallas zone on a 2-on-1 rush, with Matt D’Agostini opting to fire a scorching wrist shot from the left face-off circle. Lehtonen got his shoulder on it, but the puck bounced down in the crease and a diving Backes managed to jam his stick past Jeff Woywitka’s skate and knock it in.
The Stars answered on a power play less than a minute later, as Morrow notched his first of the evening at 14:45. A long pass from Richards sprung Morrow on a breakaway, and although his wrist shot went wide, Morrow quickly got to the lively bounce off the end boards and drilled it over Halak’s pad and in.
A frustrating non-call by the officials led directly to the Blues taking a 2-1 lead with just 1:15 left in the period. Just seconds after Steen hacked the stick out of Woywitka’s hands, which is usually a slashing penalty, Eric Brewer rifled a slap shot from the point that was heading wide, but Steen appeared at the left post to deflect it behind Lehtonen and in for his 13th goal.
Down 2-1 entering the second period, the Stars had a golden opportunity to tie it up 3:38 in when Neal unleashed a wicked wrist shot from the top of the left circle that beat Halak but clanked off the left goalpost.
Just 10 seconds later on the counter-attack, Lehtonen came up with a nice stop on D’Agostini after he bulled his way around Woywitka in the right circle.
Eriksson had several chances at the goalmouth at 6:44 after Trevor Daley slid a pass out from behind the net, but Halak denied Eriksson’s multiple whacks at it.
Lehtonen came up with a strong save on Brad Boyes’ spinning wrister from the slot with 3:21 left in the period.
The Stars hope to keep the road success going as they move on to Chicago to face the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks on Wednesday night (7:30 pm start, FSSW). It remains to be seen if former Stars netminder Marty Turco will be in net for them.
“Lately we’ve been really good on the road,” Richards said. “We’ve had to be because we weren’t taking care of business at home over the break, so it’s good to keep it going here on the road.”
- The red-hot Morrow now has seven goals (and an assist) in his last 11 games.
- Richards now has 11 points (six goals, five assists) over the last 10 contests. He led all Stars with seven shots on goal.
- Eriksson continues to roll along lately, having recorded 14 points (four goals, 10 assists) in the last 10 contests.
- With his assist on Morrow’s second goal, Benn now has eight points (two goals, six assists) over the last eight games, a stretch that followed nine games where he registered just one point (a goal).
- Ribeiro earned an assist for the third consecutive game.
- Daley, who picked up an assist on Richards’ goal, now has two assists in the last three games after recording just one assist in the previous 11 contests. He also topped the Stars with four blocked shots.
- Defenseman Matt Niskanen got back into the lineup after serving as a healthy scratch for the previous two games, while Mark Fistric sat out instead after scoring two goals in the last three contests. Niskanen ended up leading the squad with five hits.
- Winger Krys Barch was also back in after sitting out the last contest against Vancouver, with Brian Sutherby taking his turn on the sidelines for the second time in three outings.
- The Stars now own a stellar 15-3-4 record in one-goal games. That’s the most wins in the league in that category, just three shy of the number Dallas won all last season.
- Dallas struck for the second game in a row on the power play, going 1-for-2, leaving them 2-for-6 over the last two outings after they were 0-for-9 in the previous three games.