DALLAS - The Dallas Stars just don’t have an answer for the Vancouver Canucks’ special teams.
With two goals on the power play and a short-handed tally that crushed a Dallas comeback bid, the Canucks moved into sole possession of first overall in the NHL by defeating the Stars 4-1 Tuesday night at the American Airlines Center.
In the first game back from the All-Star break for both clubs, the Canucks recorded their third straight victory and moved into sole possession of first place overall in the NHL.
The loss dropped Dallas to 1-3-0 in their last four outings overall and snapped a five-game points streak (4-0-1) on home ice, although the Stars still boast a 8-3-1 mark since New Year’s Day.
The win marked the third time in the last 33 days that the Canucks dominated the Pacific Division-leading Stars, winning all three contests by a combined score of 15-3. During those three, the Vancouver power play has done most of the damage, converting on a ridiculous 8-of-15 attempts.
At the same time, the Stars have connected on just 1-of-13 power play chances during the season series, including an 0-for-5 performance in this one.
“It’s a game where you can’t show too much respect to the great players that make great plays on their team,” noted Stars coach Marc Crawford. “But at the same time, we’ve got to take responsibility on ourselves for not producing in those special teams areas. Special teams are so important and that was the difference tonight.”
“They’re tests,” acknowledged center Brad Richards of the recent games against Vancouver. “You can’t get too high if you win them, you can’t get too low if you lose. For some reason against Vancouver, our special teams have been terrible this year, it happened again tonight. I don’t know why.”
Loui Eriksson, fresh off a huge two-goal, two-assist performance in Sunday’s All-Star Game, scored the Stars’ only goal in the contest.
Goaltender Kari Lehtonen, who was pulled in each of the first two matchups with the Canucks, played a strong game this time, making 22 saves and probably deserved a better fate.
After surrendering a total of five goals against in the first periods of their first two meetings, it seemed like a positive when the Stars emerged in a scoreless tie after the opening period this time, while also killing off one Vancouver power play. But the fact that they failed to capitalize on three different power play opportunities tempered the optimism a bit for the almost 5,000 fans who braved the uncharacteristically Canadian-style weather to watch.
“We had our opportunities tonight and we got to take responsibility for not jumping on the opportunities that we had,” Crawford said. “The first period looked like a game where two teams were coming off the break. We had three power play chances and really didn’t generate a lot on those three and they got their opportunity and then capitalized on it.”
“We had two power plays before they had one, it was an opportunity to get a lead, but we didn’t do it,” added Richards, who collected an assist. “We had our opportunities, we needed to be sharper.”
Dallas then promptly surrendered two power play goals in the first 3:05 of the second to allow Vancouver to take control of the contest.
The Canucks notched the game’s first goal, on a power play, just 26 seconds into the second period when Mikael Samuelsson wired a scorching wrist shot from the right face-off circle over Lehtonen’s glove, just under the crossbar.
The Canucks made it 2-0 less than three minutes later on yet another power play goal, needing just eight seconds with the man-advantage before Christian Ehrhoff struck for his ninth of the season. With Adam Burish in the box for roughing, Ehrhoff received a cross-ice pass from Daniel Sedin and boomed a slap shot from the right point that sailed through a screen and beat Lehtonen over the glove at 3:05.
“They got a lot of weapons and our biggest thing going into the game was not to give them a lot of power play chances and we took some silly (penalties), myself included,” Burish said. “And that makes it hard to play against them, because when they’re on the power play, if you give them one chance or two chances, they’re going to find a way to make a difference in the game.”
After Crawford called a time out to settle the troops a bit, the Canucks nearly extended their lead to three 1:27 later. After Lehtonen made a sparkling pad save on Samuelsson’s point-blank wrist shot, the puck squeezed behind him into the crease, where it pinballed off Ryan Kesler’s skate and then the goalpost. A mad scramble for it ensued, but ultimately, Lehtonen managed to smother it.
Lehtonen then made a potentially game-changing save when he slid across the crease and made a pad stop on Dan Hamhuis’ back-door one-timer attempt. That save ultimately turned into an assist for Lehtonen because the Stars immediately went the other way on the counter-attack, racing into the Vancouver zone on a 2-on-1 rush. Eriksson opted not to pass over to Brenden Morrow and instead fired a blistering wrist shot from the slot that beat Canucks goaltender Cory Schneider past the blocker for his 18th goal of the season at 6:22.
With the Stars looking to tie it up on another power play late in the period, the Canucks ended up restoring their two-goal lead instead at 14:25, as Kesler scored his 28th goal of the year. After Jannik Hansen stole the puck from Eriksson, Vancouver sped into the Dallas zone on a 2-on-1. Hansen fed a cross-ice pass to Kesler, who re-directed it past the lunging Lehtonen for the eighth short-handed goal the Stars have allowed this year.
“We were in the game there, but the short-handed goal, it’s tough to swallow,” Richards said. “It hit Loui’s stick and just exploded. It wasn’t like we were out of position, we had our position, it just hit his stick and exploded. It’s just one of those things. For some reason, in three games, they’ve gotten those bounces, we haven’t.”
Trailing 3-1 entering the final period, the Stars were back on their heels for the first half of it, as the Canucks surged. Vancouver outshot Dallas 7-1 through the first 11-plus minutes, but thanks to Lehtonen, were unable to build on their lead.
His save on Alex Burrows at 5:39, a point-blank one-timer in front, was spectacular, as was his in-close stop of Daniel Sedin’s shot from the left side of the crease at 11:01.
The Stars nearly pulled to within one at 11:43 when Richards fed a pass out of the right corner to Eriksson in the slot, but Schneider made a nice blocker save on Eriksson’s wrist shot.
Vancouver then ended any hopes of a Dallas comeback with 5:03 remaining in regulation when Burrows slipped behind Trevor Daley, received a pass from Henrik Sedin, cut into the crease and swatted a backhander past Lehtonen.
Dallas heads out on the road for their next two, starting with a visit to Boston Thursday night to face the Bruins (6 pm start, FSSW), who are currently third in the Eastern Conference, before traveling on to Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia on Saturday.
“Those are very good teams, but we can’t let that affect us,” defenseman Stephane Robidas said of the upcoming opponents. “We got to respect them, we’ve got to be ready to go, but we have to play our game, our type of hockey. I think that’s when we’re successful.”
- Eriksson’s goal snapped a three-game point drought, which followed his career-high 10-game point streak.
- With his assist, Richards has now totaled 11 points (three goals, eight assists) in his last nine contests. He also led the Stars with five shots on goal, one more than Eriksson’s four.
- By earning his fourth assist of the season on Eriksson’s goal, Lehtonen tied Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers for the most assists among goaltenders in the league.
- Dallas dominated the Canucks in the face-off circle, winning 64 percent of the draws, 47-27. Even though Vancouver entered the day leading the NHL in face-off percentage, the Stars got big nights at the dot from Steve Ott, who was an incredible 16-3 on draws, and from Burish, who was 9-3.
- After going 0-for-5 on the power play, Dallas is still 8-for-29 over their last seven games.
- The tough 1-for-3 night on the PK unit leaves the Stars just 7-for-14 in that area over the last four contests, after nullifying 23-of-24 in the previous eight.
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