DALLAS - What started out as a total disaster actually turned into a miraculous comeback and a possible turning point in the season for the Dallas Stars.
After falling behind 3-0 barely halfway through the first period against the defending Stanley Cup champions, the Stars dug deep and rallied to tie it and then pulled out a 4-3 shootout victory over the Chicago Blackhawks Friday night at the American Airlines Center.
While much of the pre-game drama focused on the return of former longtime Dallas goaltender Marty Turco to the place he spent eight years as the number one guy in net, in the end the contest turned into a desperate battle for points by two clubs trying to scratch and claw their way into the playoffs.
And perhaps the Stars’ familiarity with their former teammate wound up helping them, as Dallas converted all three of its shootout attempts. Captain Brenden Morrow, who’s not usually part of the shootout lineup, Brad Richards and Mike Ribeiro all beat Turco in the tie-breaker competition, while just one Blackhawk, Jonathan Toews, was able to score on Dallas netminder Kari Lehtonen.
“Marty knows all our shooters, but all our guys know Marty,” Stars coach Marc Crawford said.
Besides the dramatic way it unfolded, the Stars’ win was huge because of how desperate they were for points. It snapped an 0-3-1 slide since the All-Star break and they had been outscored 31-15 in their previous seven games, during which they went 1-5-1 and saw their lead in the Pacific Division dwindle down to zero. The triumph puts them back up by two points on San Jose, who lost earlier in the evening.
“It was huge,” Richards said of the much-needed victory. “We’re going through a little patch here that hasn’t been fun. We’re down 3-0 in a sold out building and it wasn’t too pretty for a bit. We’ve done that a lot this year. People around us have maybe started to doubt but we in here, we keep plugging away. It’s not ideal how we did it tonight. Maybe it’ll get us back going.”
“It’s not very often you’re going to spot a team three goals and you’re able to come back, especially a quality team like Chicago,” Crawford said. “But give our guys a ton of credit, they showed their character. They showed their determination and just will to win. A guy like Kari leads us with saves, makes some saves that he probably shouldn’t and tonight we needed them to do that.”
Besides his stop of Chicago’s leading goal-scorer, Patrick Sharp, in the shootout, Lehtonen made 23 saves during the game, including a spectacular glove save in the first period with Dallas already trailing 3-0 that needed video review to determine it hadn’t crossed the goal line. If that one goes in, the Stars don’t come back.
“It was right there, they might have said it was a goal,” Lehtonen said of the game-turning save. “Instead, it went this way. It was a huge change. I think 4-0 would have been too much for us. That felt good. It was nice to come back. I think we played very well the last two periods.”
During the game, the Stars battled back from their monumental deficit on goals by Stephane Robidas, Richards and Morrow, who tied the contest by swatting a chest-high puck off his old buddy just 47 seconds into the third period.
As for Turco, he played well, making 32 saves in his first visit back to Dallas after signing with Chicago as a free agent last summer.
“It was more of a fun environment for me to come back to, something you look forward to,” said Turco, who received a nice ovation when the center-hung scoreboard showed him with the caption ‘thank you’ during a first period stoppage. “For me, it’s the first time anything like this has happened in my career, and it was great. It was a lot of fun and I enjoyed most of it. It was an intense game, but once I got in the game, I felt pretty comfortable. That’s probably the disappointment, not coming away with the win.”
While Crawford felt the Stars’ intimate knowledge of Turco’s shootout habits had an impact on the result, neither Richards nor Turco himself were convinced.
“I don’t know, Marty’s such a reactional goalie,” Richards said. “I didn’t learn too much from playing with him because he does something different all the time. Fortunately, we scored all three. We hadn’t done that in a while. That was big no matter who was in there.”
“I’ve always been not a predictor of events that are going to happen,” Turco said of his shootout strategy. “If a guy has a great move, you certainly pay attention to it and maybe cheat in positioning your glove or something, but this, you just trust your instincts and I’ve always been like that. Other than Morrow’s, where I knew where he was shooting, the other ones, you get beat, you get beat. It’s a little tougher to swallow this time, not to get two points and the win is disappointing.”
After falling into a 3-0 hole, the Stars began to battle their way back into the game and take over the momentum midway through the second period.
As the period wore on, the Stars began to press more and more and earned themselves a power play on a Bryan Bickell hooking call at 13:32. Dallas maintained possession in the Chicago zone for most of the two minutes, peppering Turco with shots, including Richards’ bomb from the left point that forced the former Stars netminder to make a nice glove save at 14:02.
Even though the Stars did not capitalize on the man-advantage, they still carried the momentum and continued to apply considerable pressure after it expired, finally breaking through with 4:01 left in the period. After picking up the puck along the right sideboards, Robidas curled behind the Chicago net and spun out into the lower left circle before firing a low shot that somehow squeezed between Turco and the left post for his fourth goal of the season.
The Stars continued to press and on another power play in the final minute, managed to pull to within 3-2 with just 4.2 seconds left in the second period. First Richards boomed a one-timer from the top of the right circle that struck Blackhawk defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson in the stomach, sending him to the ice writhing in pain. Chicago’s Jake Dowell tried to clear the puck up the boards and Richards knocked it down and blasted another slap shot from the same spot that sailed past Morrow’s screen in front and found the upper left corner of the net.
Overall, Dallas outshot Chicago 17-8 in the period and pulled themselves to within striking distance, and then completed the miraculous comeback just 47 seconds into the third when Morrow connected for his team-leading 24th goal of the season.
Robidas passed from the right point to Jamie Langenbrunner all alone to the left side of the crease, and with a half-open net facing him, Lags fired it into Turco’s shoulder. The puck bounced high up in the air, and both Morrow and Chicago’s Duncan Keith both swung at the puck and it appeared Morrow’s stick hit it right at crossbar-level, which is the highest he can legally hit it into the net. The puck then bounced down off Turco’s back and rolled in.
There was another lengthy video review, and once again, the call on the ice of a good goal was upheld.
Dallas continued to press after that and had numerous opportunities to put the game away in regulation, but Turco made several outstanding saves. He denied Ribeiro and Loui Eriksson on point-blank opportunities on a power play about eight minutes into the period and made a larcenous sliding, pad-stacking stop on Langenbrunner’s one-timer from the high slot at 9:45.
Chicago nearly went ahead with 8:04 left when Tomas Kopecky beat Lehtonen with a wrist shot from the top of the right circle, but it clanked off the left post.
Turco also made a big save on Steve Ott’s partial breakaway attempt with 4:15 left in the period, while Dallas was short-handed, getting just enough of it with his glove to deflect it over the net.
The Stars had the better of the chances in the five-minute overtime period as well, but Turco made nice saves on Ott’s backhander from the slot with 45 seconds left and another glove snag on Jeff Woywitka’s wrister from the high slot with 8.1 seconds to go.
“That’s what this team has been all year,” defenseman Trevor Daley said. “There’s no quit in our team. It was evident tonight.”
Things did not get off to a good start for the Stars, who found themselves down 2-0 just 4:10 into the game after surrendering two goals within 31 seconds.
The first one came off a giveaway from Stars defenseman Nicklas Grossman, whose pass in his own zone was intercepted by Patrick Kane inside the blue line. Kane stepped into the high slot before unleashing a lethal wrist shot that beat Lehtonen just inside the left post over the blocker at 3:39 for his 18th goal of the season.
The very next shift resulted in another Chicago goal, as Toews stole the puck from Grossman in the right corner, curled behind the Dallas net and fed a pretty backhand pass out into the high slot, where Brent Seabrook drilled a one-timer low to the stick side.
“The mistake affected us,” Crawford said of Grossman’s miscue on the first goal. “Hopefully with the win we’re not going to be fragile any more. If we just play hard, we’ve shown that we’re excellent. In a lot of ways, maybe that’s a better win to have because it did take so much heart and determination.”
The Blackhawks extended their lead to three on their first power play of the night, as Sharp notched his 28th goal of the season at 12:56. With Robidas feeling shame in the penalty box, Toews slid a slick cross-crease pass from the right corner to a wide open Sharp for an easy back-door tap-in.
Dallas got into more penalty trouble later in the period and wound up on a 5-on-3 disadvantage for 49 seconds. Only a spectacular save by Lehtonen prevented the ‘Hawks from taking a 4-0 lead with 4:28 left. After Kane’s cross-ice pass found Seabrook in the right face-off circle, the Chicago defender fired a high wrist shot that appeared ticketed for the open side of the net, but Lehtonen lunged across the crease and snagged it with the glove.
After checking the replay, however, it appeared as if the momentum of the puck nudged Lehtonen’s glove over the goal line, and there was a lengthy video review afterwards that apparently was inconclusive, because the call on the ice of no goal was upheld.
While Chicago coach Joel Quenneville disputed the final ruling, Seabrook himself had no problem with it.
“The picture we saw, it looked like it had to be in,” Quenneville said
“I don’t know, I haven’t seen (the replay),” Seabrook said. “I thought I got good wood on it, he came across and made a great save. It’s a judgment call. If I’m a ref on the ice, I’m going to call it no goal as I see it. He came flying across the ice and made a great save.”
Either way, there’s no denying that the save preserved the game for the Stars.
“That was the difference maker tonight, that save right there,” Daley said. “To go down that much, this team never quits. If we would have been down 4-0, that would have been tough. That’s what that guy has been doing all year for us.”
“It was huge,” Richards said of the stop. “We were reeling. We were treading some water there. It’s 4-0 if that goes in, so it was huge. That 5-on-3 kill in the first got us going. We just started chipping away and we started taking over the game. We weren’t skating in the first. We were watching. You could tell the mice were spinning in our heads. That’s what happens when you lose a few.”
Lehtonen made another outstanding save on a Seabrook wrister from the right circle about 20
seconds later and Dallas managed to kill off the extended power play.
Entering the second period down 3-0 after being outshot 9-5 in the first, Dallas seemed to have a little more life, but had some trouble generating prime scoring chances.
An unfortunate scene unfolded just over a minute later when Mark Fistric leveled Chicago’s Fernando Pisani in front of the Stars’ bench. Fistric turned at the last second and seemed to hit Pisani with his back, but the real damage occurred when Pisani’s head bounced off the dasher at the bench, leaving him motionless on the ice for an alarmingly long time. He was eventually helped off the ice under his own power but did not return.
Bryan Bickell challenged Fistric and the two ended up with matching roughing minors, while Fistric also ended up with an interference minor for the hit, even thought the puck was in their skates.
Not only did the Stars kill off the ensuing Chicago power play, they had the best chance on it, as Daley sped into the Blackhawk zone on a 2-on-1 and fired a scorching wrist shot from the right circle that Turco made a nice stop on. They started to seize the momentum there and never let up.
“Once you get down 3-0, it was almost like you have nothing to lose,” Richards said. “That’s when guys started having fun and skating. Once you start doing that, we took over the game. It’s a good lesson that move your feet first and if you move your feet, things will take care of itself. That way you take all the thinking out of the game. Thinking is overrated in hockey.”
The Stars hope to continue the good vibes when they conclude their three-game homestand Sunday afternoon at the American Airlines Center (2:00 pm, FSSW) against the Columbus Blue Jackets, who are currently 12th in the West, nine points back of the Stars.
“You’ve got to win games on home ice,” Daley said. “Every point that you get is so ultra critical right now with the way the standings are. Especially on home ice, we’ve got to find ways to win.”
- The Stars improved to 5-4 this year in shootouts and 9-6 on games that go beyond regulation.
- Morrow’s goal was his 11th in the last 17 games, a span in which he’s also picked up five assists. His shootout goal was his first attempt of the season and leaves him 3-for-5 in his career.
- Richards briefly tied Morrow for the club lead with 23 goals on the season, but that lasted all of 52 seconds of game clock time before Morrow got number 24. Richards now has 14 points (five goals, nine assists) over his last 13 contests. He is also now 5-for-9 in shootouts this year, and is the only Star to make an attempt in every Dallas shootout. Richards, who logged a whopping 27:41 of ice time, also led the Stars with six shots on goal and was an impressive 10-5 on face-offs.
- Robidas snapped a four-game point drought and collected his first goal in 29 games, dating back to Dec. 4. With his assist on Morrow’s game-tying marker, the game marked Robi’s sixth multi-point game of the season and the Stars have won all six.
- The win improved the Stars’ record in one-goal games to 17-3-6, leaving them just one behind the 18 one-goal triumphs they amassed all of last season.
- With Richards’ power play goal late in the second, the Stars went 1-for-5 with the man-advantage, after going just 1-for-22 over the previous seven outings.