DALLAS - It wasn’t the prettiest work of art, but the Dallas Stars will take the two points.
After losing five straight games at home, the Stars did not play up to the level they’ve been accustomed to lately, especially on the road, but after a video review determined that James Neal’s shot really did enter the net, Dallas was able to pull out a gutsy 3-2 victory over the plucky Edmonton Oilers Tuesday night at the American Airlines Center.
The win leaves the Stars 4-0-1 overall in their last five, a span in which they are outscoring their opponents 17-8, and snaps a puzzling 0-3-2 stretch at home even though they’ve won seven straight on the road.
Still leading the Pacific Division and sitting third in the Western Conference, the Stars are now 18-6-5 over their last 29 games, the NHL’s third-best record over that span.
And despite the fact they were facing the Oilers, who are mired in last place in the West by a considerable margin, Dallas was outshot 41-20 and nearly let this one slip away. A 2-0 third period lead evaporated in less than two minutes, but the Stars persevered and needed 21st century technology to finally emerge with the triumph, when Neal registered the game-winner at 8:51 of the final period.
“It is two points and two very important points for us,” coach Marc Crawford said. “I think over the last six (home) games, we’ve played better and not gotten the two points and at the end of the day, there’s nothing like winning. You win maybe not as well as you would like, but it’s so important to get the points when they’re there and available to be had. Their comeback to make it 2-2, that’s the first time in a while our team has been tested like that. We’ve been behind and come back in games, but never where we had a lead and gave it up and had to come up with a surge, and we did. It was a super shot by James and thank God we do have video review because it was so difficult to see if it was in.”
“We put a lot of emphasis on coming home and having a big win tonight and changing the five in a row that we lost at home,” said Neal, who notched his second game-winning goal of the season. “We were playing so well on the road, it was such a downer to not be able to win at home in front of our own fans. I know we put the work in tonight and got the big two points. You build up so much momentum on the road and you come home and get a little too comfortable and we wanted to get rid of that. We were able to come up with a big one and find two points.”
In goal, Kari Lehtonen was back in net after taking a rest in Sunday night’s win in Minnesota, and he was spectacular, making 39 saves and earning the game’s first star.
“Kari was really good,” Crawford said. “I thought that we knew that the Oilers had terrific team speed and they showed it all night. They ended up generating chances a lot to the outside with their speed, they got real quality shots and a couple of rebounds. They hit a couple of posts, which was fortunate, but I thought Kari was big and he kept them at bay for the times that they did get rebounds. You need your goaltender to be your best player some nights and tonight he was.”
“Huge again, he gives you so much confidence,” added Morrow, who scored his fifth goal in the last seven games. “We got doubled up in shots again, that’s not going to win too many hockey games, we know that. It wasn’t the way we drew it up tonight, we got two big points, we got some work to do. We can’t give up 40-50 shots every night and expect to win.”
The contest was also noteworthy because it was the first home game for Jamie Langenbrunner since returning to the franchise after almost nine years in New Jersey. He played a spirited contest, getting into a rare fight and logging 14:25 of ice time while alternating with Benn between Mike Ribeiro’s line and Steve Ott’s line.
“It felt good. This place holds a special place in my heart, it’s fun to be back here,” Langenbrunner said. “It was great to get the two points. We bounced around a little bit, we were trying to get a little bit of a spark somewhere. We were obviously a little sluggish there, but I think coach pushed the right buttons. I’m excited to be back.”
Carrying a 2-0 lead into the final period, the Stars had to kill off an early Oilers power play, getting some help from Lehtonen’s big save at 2:15 on Tom Gilbert’s one-timer from the top of the left circle.
Edmonton goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin made a big save at 4:42 when he denied Loui Eriksson’s slap shot from the high slot and then quickly smothered the rebound.
The Oilers then roared back to tie the score with two goals in a 1:48 span, starting with J.F. Jacques’s second of the year at 5:50. Steve MacIntyre, camped in front, executed a nifty deflection of Ladislav Smid’s wrist shot from the left point that Lehtonen stopped, but Jacques managed to chip the rebound over Lehtonen’s glove and in.
Another rebound led to Edmonton’s second goal, as Lehtonen made a nice pad save on Ryan Jones’ wrist shot from the top of the right face-off circle, but the rebound spit out into the slot. Eriksson was there and attempted to clear the zone, but it deflected off Liam Reddox and right to the slot, where Jones fired another wrister past Lehtonen at 7:38.
It took the Stars just 1:13 to respond, as Neal’s 16th of the season put Dallas back on top 3-2. As he carried into the Edmonton zone off the rush, Neal unleashed a lethal wrist shot from the right face-off circle that beat Khabibulin over the glove just under the crossbar. It ricocheted so quickly off the back bar of the net and ended up down the ice in the Dallas zone, that it was initially ruled ‘no goal’ on the ice by the officials and play continued for another 18 seconds before the next whistle. It was only then, upon video review, that it was conclusively determined that Neal’s shot had indeed entered the net and the clock was rolled back to the 8:51 mark.
“I got hit right away, so I wasn’t sure if it went in,” Neal admitted. “I got the shot off as quick as I could and tried to go up in a hurry. That was a weird one, eh? It kind of went around the bar and shot out. I wasn’t sure what happened. Guys on the bench were asking me what I saw, and I wasn’t sure. But as soon as I saw the replay, I knew it was in. It was good to get a change of momentum because they were pushing on us there.”
“That’s his game,” Crawford said of Neal. “His game is to be a shooter and to go to the net and to use his quick release and his powerful shot. His wrist shot is the one that probably he utilizes the best and maybe gets the best scoring chances from that shot, so it was nice to see that go in. It was a good play on the rush.”
The Oilers made another late push for the equalizer, but Lehtonen came up with a big glove save on rookie Taylor Hall’s high wrist shot from the left circle with 6:57 remaining in regulation.
Lehtonen also thwarted in-close chances by Hall and Linus Omark with 1:47 to go.
Edmonton pulled Khabibulin for an extra attacker after that, but never came close to finding the back of the net, while both Steve Ott and Langenbrunner barely missed the empty nets.
Some emotions bubbled over just before the final buzzer when Morrow squared off with Kurtis Foster, even voluntarily pulling off his face shield protecting his broken nose before slugging Foster and buckling his knees.
“Just emotions of the game, I guess, caught up to us both,” Morrow shrugged.
The Oilers controlled the play for much of the first half of the opening period, as they held a 7-2 edge in shots on goal through the first 11 minutes or so. Lehtonen kept the Stars in it, though, with his best stop coming during a Dallas power play at 5:45 when he turned aside Jones’ wrist shot from the slot.
Jones had an even better opportunity with 6:42 left in the period when he stripped the puck from Trevor Daley at the Dallas blue line and sped in on a breakaway, but Lehtonen made a strong save on Jones’ in-close backhand attempt.
Lehtonen’s excellence allowed the Stars to get their legs under them and they jumped out to a 1-0 lead with 5:28 remaining on Morrow’s 18th goal of the season. Skating behind the Edmonton net, Mike Ribeiro fed a pass out front to Morrow in the slot, and the Dallas captain drilled a one-timer past a screened Khabibulin.
“It must be the shield, I don’t know,” joked Morrow regarding his recent hot streak. “I’m trying to do same things all the time, but maybe not getting stuck right in front of the net, finding some seams and Ribby’s making some good plays. I’m releasing the puck quicker instead of getting it, holding onto it and taking a look where I’m going to shoot it. I’m getting it and firing it and I’ve gotten lucky with some.”
Edmonton nearly tied it just 1:23 later when Hall, the number one overall selection in last June’s draft, raced into the Dallas zone on the rush and unleashed a wrist shot from the slot that Lehtonen made a nice pad save on. Reddox pounced on the rebound in front and jammed it past Lehtonen, but it bounced off the right goalpost .
Despite being outshot 12-6 in the first period, the Stars carried a 1-0 lead into the second.
It appeared as if the Oilers evened it up at 6:18 when Foster launched a scorching wrist shot from the right point that sailed past a screen in front and beat Lehtonen just inside the left post. But the play was immediately deemed ‘no goal’ by the referee, ruling that Omark interfered with Lehtonen in the crease.
Ott earned the Stars a power play just before the midway point of the period after leveling Foster in the corner. Jacques jumped in and hit Ott, clearly challenging him to fight, but Otter declined, drawing a roughing penalty from Jacques.
On the ensuing power play, the Stars generated several chances, but were unable to solve Khabibulin, who made a nice blocker save through a screen on Brad Richards’ wrist shot from the point and on Neal’s wrist shot from the right circle.
Several shifts after he switched with Langenbrunner and moved back to the third line, Benn notched his 12th goal of the season at 14:35. Ott made a nice spin move low in the right circle to feed a charging Benn in the slot, and Benn whipped a quick wrister past Khabibulin’s blocker to put Dallas up 2-0.
“The Benn-Ott-Burish goal was as nice a goal as you’re going to see,” Crawford said. “Advance the puck, control the puck, find an opening and then make a great finish.”
Langenbrunner endeared himself even more to the home fans, as if that was possible, after he crushed Omark with a huge check in the same corner that Ott nailed Foster in earlier with 3:05 left in the period. Then Foster himself jumped in and challenged Langenbrunner, and the two dropped the gloves in a bout that was more wrestling than trading punches.
“I guess you’re not allowed to hit anyone in this league any more,” Langenbrunner said. “You throw a check and they come after you. But that’s what we wanted to do, be physical on their guys - they have some pretty good speed there, we did a pretty decent job of that.”
The Stars thought they extended their lead to three with 2:35 left in the second. After Khabibulin stopped Benn’s wrist shot from the slot, the rebound spit out into the left circle, where Ott buried a one-timer just as Adam Burish screened Khabibulin. The goal was immediately waved off, with the officials actually whistling Burish for a goaltender interference penalty even though replays clearly showed him barely grazing Khabibulin and clearly not interfering with his ability to stop the puck.
“I liked the one they called on them, I didn’t like the one they called on us,” Crawford said of the disallowed goals. “By the book, I guess it was probably right, but that’s maybe more a question for them, they could tell you what the criteria is.”
Edmonton applied considerable pressure over the course of the subsequent power play, but Lehtonen and some tenacious penalty killing kept them off the board. Lehtonen’s best stop came just after the penalty expired, sliding out above the crease to make a big pad save on Smid’s blast from the point.
The Stars finally get a chance to rest up for a few days, enjoying their first three-day break in the schedule since early November before suiting up at home again Saturday night against Lehtonen’s old club, the Atlanta Thrashers (7 pm start, TXA-21).
“They’re not all going to be the type of games that you look back and put on a highlight reel, but the two points are so important right now,” Crawford re-emphasized. “I think for our guys, we’ll probably play better our next home game, just getting that monkey off our back.”
- The red-hot Morrow now has a stellar eight points (five goals, three assists) in his last six games and nine goals in the 16 games since he had his nose broken by an errant puck.
- After scoring twice Sunday night in Minnesota, Benn now has three goals in the last two games and 11 points (five goals, six assists) in his last 12 outings.
- Neal now has three goals in the last five games after recording just one assist in the previous 10 contests. He also had four shots on goal and six hits on the night, just one behind the team-leading seven hits delivered by Ott and defenseman Mark Fistric.
- With his assist on Neal’s goal, Eriksson extended his scoring streak to eight games (one goal, nine assists), which ties his career high and continues his career-high assist streak to eight as well.
- Ribeiro also kept a point streak alive, pushing his to seven games, during which he’s accumulated eight points (three goals, five assists).
- With an assist, Richards now has 14 points (six goals, eight assists) in the last 13 contests. He also led the Stars with five shots on goal and was an incredible 15-1 on face-offs for the evening.
- The win leaves the Stars 20-2-1 when scoring first, which stands as the best record in the league.
- Dallas also leads the NHL in one-goal wins, compiling a 15-3-5 record in games decided by a single goal.
- The Stars are now 12-0-1 when leading after two periods.
- The triumph leaves the Stars with a 7-0-1 record in their last eight home games against the Oilers and a 9-2-2 mark overall in the last three seasons.
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