DALLAS - It didn’t turn out the way they would have liked, but the Dallas Stars did manage to earn one point in the standings and the importance of that cannot be understated.
After surrendering a 2-1 third period lead, the Stars wound up allowing a power play goal to Radim Vrbata in overtime and the Phoenix Coyotes came away with a 3-2 OT triumph Wednesday night at the American Airlines Center.
Back home after a two-game Eastern road trip and three days off, the Stars lost their fourth straight contest and fell to just 1-5-1 in their last seven contests, a span in which they’ve been outscored 31-15.
But the point they earned for the OT loss was a big one, keeping the Stars atop the Pacific Division by the slimmest of margins. They are tied with San Jose with 66 points and own the tie-breaker to keep them in front. By winning their third consecutive game, the Coyotes moved to within one point of the Stars and Sharks.
In a tight race, every point matters.
“We lost on a power play goal in overtime,” Stars coach Marc Crawford said. “They made a good play, you can’t begrudge them that. You’d like to kill everything off, but we end up probably having to focus on positives tonight. We did get a point that we desperately needed. I thought we got some good efforts tonight.”
“It was a tight game. It seems a lot of those are like that against Phoenix and we’re going to be in a lot of those down the stretch,” added center Brad Richards, who scored a goal and an assist. “Some of those are going to go our way and we’ll have some like tonight where we battled hard - a couple of mistakes here and there, they capitalized, and we had our opportunities and we didn’t. We’re not going to hang our heads here, we’re going to keep going.”
Steve Ott scored the other goal for Dallas, which once again was missing five players due to injuries.
In goal, Kari Lehtonen was outstanding, making 32 saves while the Stars were outshot 35-18 on the night, including 14-4 in the third period and OT.
The fact that Vrbata’s goal, 1:13 into the five-minute overtime period, was one of two power play goals given up by the Stars was one area of concern, while Dallas did not capitalize on the one PP chance they had.
“Special teams again was the difference tonight,” said captain Brenden Morrow, who earned an assist. “It was hard-fought, chances both ways, both goalies played well, Kari made some big saves again. A 4-on-3, that’s a lot of ice out there and they’ve got some skilled guys, they move the puck really well and we just got the 2-1 lead and maybe sat back on it a bit.”
“They scored a couple of power play goals, so we’ve got to try to limit the number of penalties we take,” Crawford said. “We only had one opportunity on the power play and when you lose that battle, that’s one you don’t like to lose. That’s one we pride ourselves on, that we don’t give other teams more opportunities on most nights to get on the power play. And tonight, we lost that battle and it ended up being a crucial battle in the game.”
Entering the final period ahead 2-1 despite being outshot 21-14, the Stars wound up surrendering the tying goal at 5:37. Mikkel Boedker led the rush up ice into the Dallas zone before dropping a pass back to Ray Whitney in the high slot. Whitney cut into the left face-off circle before feeding a nice backhand pass over to the right of the crease, where Boedker fired a wrist shot over Lehtonen’s lunging glove for his first goal of the season.
Dallas got into some trouble late when Jamie Langenbrunner was whistled for tripping with just 18 seconds left in regulation, putting the Coyotes on the power play. Phoenix had one last chance to end it before the buzzer, when Shane Doan stepped out from behind the Dallas net and had two opportunities to jam one past Lehtonen, but the Finnish netminder held his ground.
“It’s a penalty,” Crawford said, not contesting the call on Langenbrunner. “I’m sure Jamie didn’t think it was a penalty, but we turned the puck over there and he put his stick out. Referees will usually call that.”
In overtime, where the teams usually skate 4-on-4, the 4-on-3 power play is a more dangerous one than usual, and Phoenix peppered Lehtonen, who made outstanding saves on Whitney and Vrbata within the first minute.
Vrbata then connected at 1:13, side-stepping sliding defenseman Karlis Skrastins and firing a deceptive wrist shot from the slot that beat Lehtonen past the glove.
“When the puck got to me, I saw one of their defensemen sliding in front of me so I toe-dragged it a little, got free and put it on net,” Vrbata said. “Luckily it went in.”
The Coyotes got off to the better start, taking the game’s first three shots and outshooting Dallas 5-2 through the first half of the opening period. Lehtonen’s best save came on a point-blank re-direct by Keith Yandle after a cross-ice pass from Vrbata at 9:54.
Dallas then began to push back and ended up snapping the scoreless tie at 10:48 on Ott’s 10th goal of the season. Richards made the play by retrieving the puck behind the Phoenix net and slipping a no-look backhand pass back out front to Ott, who whipped a high wrister over Bryzgalov’s glove.
The Coyotes began pressing again later in the period and wound up tying the contest on a power play with 1:38 left. Seconds after a flubbed clearing attempt by Langenbrunner was kept in the Dallas zone, Lehtonen stopped Lee Stempniak’s wrist shot from the top of the left face-off circle, but the rebound spit out to a wide open Michal Rozsival off to the right side of the crease, and the Coyotes blueliner fired it home.
Even at 1-1 heading into the second period despite getting outshot 14-7 in the first, the Stars regained the lead at 5:56. After the Stars killed off Nicklas Grossman’s slashing penalty, he stepped out of the penalty box, received a pass from Richards and raced into the Phoenix zone on a partial breakaway. With Rozsival closing in on him, Grossman reached the crease and attempted to pull the puck to his backhand when he was knocked into Bryzgalov. As the bodies fell in the crease, Richards retrieved the puck on the and fired a sharp-angle wrist shot into the stomach of Bryzgalov, who was lying across the goal line, half in the net. It was called a goal by the officials on the ice and after a lengthy video review, was deemed to have crossed the goal line.
Former Stars coach Dave Tippett, now behind the Phoenix bench, felt it should not have been allowed.
“It could have been no goal two ways,” Tippett said. “I’ve been looking at the clips and the referee behind the net said he saw it conclusively in, but I don’t see that in the replays. Those are hard plays for the referees. And the other one is, you’re supposed to allow the goaltender to make a save and their player ended up on top of our goaltender, it should have been no goal.”
The goal marked the 700th point of Richards’ career.
“He’s been huge all year for us in that department, he sets it up real well and he’s got an underrated shot, too,” Morrow said of Richards. “Not a lot of people realize he can get it away that quick. All year, he’s scored those big ones for us, setting big ones up, quarterbacking the power play. He’s a pretty young guy to have 700 already, he got up there pretty quick.”
Riding the momentum after that goal, the Stars continued to press and almost extended the lead at 12:29 when Richards unleashed a wrist shot from the point that found its way through a maze of bodies, but was stopped by Bryzgalov. Seconds later, James Neal blasted a one-timer from the top of the right face-off circle that beat Bryzgalov but clanked off the left goalpost.
The Stars continue their three-game homestand Friday night when the defending Stanley Cup champions, and former Stars goaltender Marty Turco, visit the American Airlines Center (7:30 pm, FSSW) for the first time this season. But the focus for the Stars will be on regaining their edge in the Western Conference standings, which seem to get tighter every day.
“We’ve been following it all along,” Richards said of the standings. “Teams are going to go through these times where it’s going to be a little tougher to get points, but that was a big point we got tonight, it keeps us right there at the top of the division. We’re not going anywhere. It’s another big game Friday. We’re going to keep building on positives. I think overall, we got to be a little more desperate in certain areas, offensively and defensively, but we’ll be fine.”
- Ott’s goal, his 10th of the year, marked the fourth straight season he’s reached double digits and came after he registered just one assist in the previous nine contests. His four shots on goal tied Richards for the team lead on the night.
- Richards’ multi-point game gives him four points (two goals, two assists) in the last four outings, and leaves him with 60 points on the season, sixth overall in the NHL. He has 13 points (four goals, nine assists) over his last 12 contests and became the 201st player in league history to hit the 700-point mark.
- Morrow, who earned an assist on Richards’ goal, remains red-hot, having compiled 10 goals and 15 points over the last 16 games. He also topped the squad by dishing out six hits.
- With his assist on Ott’s goal, Loui Eriksson now has recorded four points (one goal, three assists) over the last four contests after going pointless in the previous three.
- Center Tom Wandell returned to the lineup after missing the last four contests with a shoulder injury.
- Tomas Vincour, who was recalled from AHL Texas Sunday, became the third Star in the last three weeks to make his NHL debut, and certainly had an impact. In 10:29 of ice time, Vincour skated primarily on the third line alongside Ott and Wandell, and recorded one shot on goal, five hits and two blocked shots. “I thought the line of Vincour, Wandell and Ott were very good,” Crawford said. “That was pretty uplifting for our guys, it takes some pressure off those (top scoring lines).”