CHICAGO - The Dallas Stars keep displaying impressive resilience and that was on display once again Wednesday night in the Windy City.
After the defending Stanley Cup champions erased an early 2-0 Dallas lead and carried the momentum into the third period, the Stars rallied to earn a hard-fought 4-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center.
Coming three nights after the Stars battled back from a third period 2-1 deficit to defeat the Blues 4-2 in St. Louis, it was yet another example of how the club keeps fighting and never quits, no matter what the circumstances.
The Stars’ sixth straight road victory, by a combined score of 21-12, keeps them atop the Pacific Division and in third place in the Western Conference standings with a strong 14-5-3 record over their last 22 games. They are also a stellar 9-2-1 in their last 11 road contests.
“It was a big character win for us on the road,” said captain Brenden Morrow, who sparked the club with a goal and an assist. “It does feel good. These have been big character games for us, giving ourselves a chance to win and playing well.”
A big part of the victory for Dallas was the play of their special teams, as the Stars scored all three goals on the power play, going 3-for-3, and managed to kill off all four power plays for Chicago, who entered the contest ranked first overall in the NHL in power play efficiency.
“Our power play was very good tonight,” Stars coach Marc Crawford said. “We had good control in the offensive zone, it seemed like everyone was on the same wavelength, and those cross-ice plays, when you see teams make more than two or three times in a power play, it’s usually when they’re clicking and they’re reading each other really well and feeling good with the puck.”
“Our special teams did the job, scoring three on the power play - we struggled at the beginning of the season, but lately we’ve been better,” said center Mike Ribeiro, who scored two goals, including the game-winner with 9:14 remaining in regulation. “We just took what they gave us, we moved the puck well and quick and if you do that, you can get teams out of position and a bounce here and there and we score. We’ll take those two points.”
In addition to the offensive heroics of linemates Morrow and Ribeiro, Brad Richards and Loui Eriksson chipped in with two assists each, while Steve Ott sealed the deal with an empty net goal with 1:01 to go.
Kari Lehtonen, making his fourth straight start and his seventh in the last eight games, enjoyed another strong night in goal, making 35 saves. He denied a second period penalty shot when the game was 2-2 and Chicago had all the momentum, and he kept the Stars in the game during a late barrage when the defending champs were looking for the equalizer.
“He’s a big body, takes away a lot of net,” Morrow said of Lehtonen. “He’s a lot more agile than most people think with a big body like that, he came up with a big one late tonight.”
“We had to have some huge penalty kills tonight, and our goalie made some big, big saves for us,” Crawford said. “You need to have a lot of facets of your game going to win. Tonight, I thought our power play and penalty killing were quite good and aside from the second period, we were pretty pleased with a lot of what we did tonight.”
Somewhat fortunate to be tied 2-2 heading into the final period after Chicago outshot them 15-5 in the second, the Stars first had to kill off the remainder of a too many men on the ice penalty from the final minute of the second.
Dallas killed off another power play after Stephane Robidas was whistled for cross-checking at 4:34, and finally began to push back a bit themselves. Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford made a nice stop on Ott’s wrist shot from the high slot at 8:47.
Dallas then went on their third power play of the night and registered their third power play goal when Ribeiro collected his second of the game and eighth of the year at 10:45. Stationed in the right face-off circle, Ribeiro fed a hard pass towards the crease for Morrow, but it pinballed off the leg of Chicago defender Niklas Hjalmarsson and past Crawford.
“It’s part of the game,” Ribeiro said of the fortunate game-winning ricochet. “I’ve had so many chances like that and them not going in and today I got a lucky bounce, but it was a team effort. We’ve been (in Chicago) a few days, and sometimes you don’t know how you’ll come out, but we came out strong. We stuck with it.”
Down to four defensemen for the third period due to unspecified injuries that forced Karlis Skrastins and Matt Niskanen to the dressing room, the Stars fought valiantly, receiving assistance from Lehtonen. With 4:23 remaining in regulation, Lehtonen made a sparkling glove save through a screen on Jordan Hendry’s wrist shot from the left circle.
Lehtonen then absolutely robbed Chicago’s top goal-scorer Patrick Sharp with 2:19 to go. After Brent Seabrook’s cross-ice pass found Sharp wide open at the left side of the crease, his tap-in attempt was swept off the goal line by Lehtonen’s stick before Richards cleared it out of harm’s way.
With 1:55 left, Ott’s stick clipped Hendry in the mouth, but the penalty was assessed to winger Jamie Benn, who was also in the vicinity instead. Chicago pulled Crawford for an extra attacker, so they had a 6-on-4 advantage, but Lehtonen came up with a huge glove save with 1:37 on the clock, denying Patrick Kane’s scorching wrist shot from the high slot through a screen.
Then as the Stars continued to kill the penalty, Ott carried the puck over center ice and launched a long wrister that found the empty net to clinch the victory with 1:01 remaining. So instead of sitting in the penalty box, Ott winds up securing the triumph with the fourth shorthanded goal of his career.
“Our goalie made a big save late, they could have tied it up on the penalty kill, but we got a bounce and took advantage of an empty net,” Morrow said of the final three minutes.
“They carried the play in the second period and the third period, we had a little bit of a calamity of errors right from the warm-up when we lost two defensemen, so we played the whole third period with just four defenseman,” Marc Crawford said. “That power play goal in the third period was huge for us, with the number of big kills that we had, and of course, the penalty shot staying out.”
Chicago had the contest’s first scoring chance just 1:18 into the opening period when Marian Hossa zipped into the Dallas zone on a breakaway, ripping a slap shot from low in the right face-off circle, but Lehtonen calmly made a nice stick save.
The Stars struck on the power play to take an early 1-0 lead when the red-hot Morrow collected his 17th of the season at 2:40. Crawford saved Niskanen’s slap shot from the point, and Eriksson swatted at the loose rebound in front, chipping it up into Morrow’s chin. Morrow, who had just downgraded from a full face shield to the typical half-visor a game earlier, managed to find the puck at the side of the net, pull it above the goal line and stuff it in.
“I think since he broke his nose, I think he got mad,” Ribeiro joked about Morrow’s recent hot streak, which includes four goals in the last three games. “He’s just around the net, that’s where he scores his goals, and again today, it hit him in the face and he got the rebound, he’s been strong around the net and has some big goals for us.”
It almost became a quick two-goal lead 1:34 later when Ott and former Blackhawk Adam Burish raced into the Chicago zone on a 2-on-1, but the duo were unable to convert, as Ott’s pass pinged off Burish’s skate and off the side of the net.
Dallas connected again with the man-advantage when Ribeiro found the back of the net at 7:28. This one was started by Richards, who drilled a slap shot from the top of the left circle, and Ribeiro, stationed at the top of the crease, re-directed it with his stick and then his skate and past Crawford.
Lehtonen came up with a huge save 1:33 later to preserve the two-goal lead after Chicago captain Jonathan Toews, skating in on the rush, fired a point-blank wrist shot from the slot that Lehtonen managed to turn aside.
The Stars had a prime chance with 1:58 remaining in the period, but Crawford made a nice save on Tom Wandell’s wrist shot from the slot and an even better stop on Burish’s backhand rebound attempt.
Taking a 2-0 lead into the second period, the Stars successfully killed off an early Chicago power play, and then 3:45 in, received a huge pad save from Lehtonen to keep the ‘Hawks off the board, when Toews fired a wrist shot off the rush from the right circle.
The Blackhawks controlled most of the period, building a 9-4 edge in shots on goal before finally breaking through on Fernando Pisani’s sixth goal of the year at 9:35. On the rush into the Dallas zone, Pisani crossed the blue line and fired an innocent-looking wrist shot that appeared to knuckle-ball a little bit and deflected off Lehtonen’s glove and in on a play that the Stars’ Finnish netminder would undoubtedly like to have back.
Infused with the momentum, Chicago surged forward and nearly scored again just 21 seconds later after a Trevor Daley turnover led to Sharp speeding into the Stars’ zone on a partial breakaway, but Lehtonen turned aside his wrist shot from the left face-off circle.
The Blackhawks then tied it at 11:43 as Tomas Kopecky found the back of the net. Kane set up the play with a sweet, elevated backhand pass out of the right corner past two Stars to the charging Kopecky, who fired a wrist shot from the slot. Lehtonen made the initial stop, but Kopecky got to the rebound and slid a backhander past Lehtonen just inside the right post.
Chicago almost took the lead just 1:10 after that, when Viktor Stalberg was awarded a penalty shot and came about as close to scoring as it is possible without actually doing it. He sped into the Dallas zone on yet another breakaway, but as he chased from behind, Nicklas Grossman dove and tripped Stalberg up, sending him sliding into the post.
On the ensuing penalty shot, Stalberg made a nifty deke to his backhand before lifting the puck over Lehtonen’s glove, but it ricocheted off the right goalpost, then pinged off the underside of the crossbar and then bounced off the left post and out.
“Going into third periods down a goal or tied, we don’t talk a lot about changing our game or what we’re going to do, we just go out and do it,” Morrow said of the mindset after escaping the second period with a 2-2 tie. “It’s a neat feeling that we don’t have to rah-rah a lot or motivate to go out to win a game. You just kind of expect it now.”
The Stars return to Dallas to face the New York Rangers on Friday night (7:30 pm start, FSSW). After defeating Carolina 2-1 in overtime at home earlier in the night, the Rangers sit seventh in the Eastern Conference.
- Morrow, who began his current hot streak the game after he suffered a broken nose and put on the full face shield, now has eight goals (and two assists) in his last 11 outings.
- Ribeiro extended his scoring streak to four games, a span in which he’s totaled five points (two goals, three assists).
- After notching two assists, Eriksson now has a point in five straight contests and 16 points (four goals, 12 assists) over the last 11 games.
- With his two-point night, Richards now has 12 points (six goals, six assists) over the last 11 games. He also fired two shots on goal, giving him an impressive 21 over the last four outings.
- Daley, who picked up an assist on Ribeiro’s second goal, now has three assists in the last four games after recording just one assist in the previous 11 contests. He also led the squad with 25:06 of ice time.
- Niskanen’s assist gives him three helpers in his last six games, after going the previous 18 without a point.