SAN JOSE – After squandering a two-goal advantage in the third period on Friday in an overtime loss to Anaheim, the Stars weren’t about to let another lead slip away.
Jason Williams snapped a third-period tie, and Jamie Benn had a goal and assist to help lift the Stars to a come-from-behind 3-2 win over the San Jose Sharks at HP Pavilion on Saturday night.
Just 24 hours after the Ducks stormed back to steal a point away from Dallas, the Stars did the same to a Sharks team that came in as one of the hottest in the NHL. San Jose had won eight straight to push its Pacific Division lead to six points, but was undone by a gritty effort by the Stars, who were once again without Brad Richards and Nicklas Grossman as well as veteran forward Jamie Langenbrunner, who sustained and injury in the Ducks game.
The Stars (35-23-7) moved into sixth pace in the Western Conference with 77 points, but it wasn’t easy. After Williams put the Stars up 3-2, the Sharks charged forward to try and net the equalizer. But Kari Lehtonen stood strong between the pipes, and the Stars were able to survive San Jose’s six-attacker blitz when Sharks goalie Antti Niemi was pulled with over a minute to go.
“It was great that we closed out this game,” winger Steve Ott said.
Dallas was also able to kill off Toby Petersen’s penalty incurred with 3:44 left to help it win for the fourth time in the last five games (4-0-1).
“That was nice that we showed ourselves that we could do it,” Lehtonen said. “We probably didn’t have as much energy today as we did yesterday in the first two periods. It becomes a mind game, and you just try to make smart choices. We still believed we could come back, and it was a good team effort and a nice win.”
Loui Eriksson also scored, and Lehtonen finished with 29 saves for the Stars, winners of four of their last five in San Jose. In all four of those victories, Dallas has secured the win after falling behind.
“It’s playoff hockey, and the standings are so ridiculously tight,” Ott said. “It makes it extremely tough, and extremely competitive, but it’s a lot of fun.”
Down by a goal after two periods, Eriksson tied it at 2-2 with 12:23 left in the third with his 23rd of the year. After Mark Fistric’s shot from the point was blocked in front, Eriksson happily collected the loose puck to shovel it in.
Williams then gave the Stars a 3-2 lead with his first of the year with 7:12 to go in regulation. Picking up the puck on the side of the San Jose net, he went around the cage to try and stuff it in. The puck appeared to go off of Dany Heatley’s stick before sneaking past Niemi.
“It was a big win for the team,” Williams said. “I feel that when I can use my shot it makes it difficult for the goaltender. It’s just going out there and making the most of your opportunity. I got a little more ice time tonight. It’s unfortunate that Jamie’s hurt, but down the stretch you need guys to step up and play big roles, and I thought we got a good effort from everybody. It was a good rebound game from Anaheim last night.”
Niemi made 25 saves in his 21st straight start, while Kyle Wellwood and Patrick Marleau scored for the Sharks (38-22-6).
“I thought the way we played at the end and the way we protected the lead at the end was much better than the other night,” coach Marc Crawford said. “They’re a team that can hurt you with out-number chances, and I thought our guys were really responsible tonight. They backchecked hard and protected the puck. Those are very positive signs.”
With the game tied after the first period, the Sharks took their first lead on Marleau’s team-leading 26th of the season just 82 seconds into the second period. Marleau fed Heatley in the neutral zone then caught up to Heatley to produce a 2-on-1 break into the Dallas zone. Heatley slid the puck to a streaking Marleau in the high slot, and the winger one-timed a shot past Lehtonen to give San Jose a 2-1 edge.
Benn opened the scoring to give the Stars an early 1-0 lead just 79 seconds into the game. While Dallas was short-handed, he accepted a pass at the San Jose blue line from Stephane Robidas to go in alone on Niemi, then promptly put a nice deke on the Sharks goalie before slipping the puck in for his third short-handed goal of the season, and 16th overall.
San Jose got the equalizer with 10:05 left in the first period when Wellwood potted his fourth of the season. Standing in front of Lehtonen, Wellwood was able to tap in Torrey Mitchell’s backhand feed from behind the goal line.
“We had good control with the puck, and showed some poise and patience with it,” Crawford said. “That ended up opening some seams for us and we ended up getting some offensive chances because of it. It was a gutsy, gritty effort. Anytime you’re behind by a goal in an opposition building and you find a way to win, you’re doing something special.”
The Stars conclude their four-game west coast trip on Monday in Los Angeles when the face the Kings (9:30 p.m., FS-SW+). The Kings fell 3-1 to Vancouver on Saturday afternoon.
“We were a little scattered,” Sharks defenseman Jason Demers said. “It was a playoff-type game, and both teams were playing hard.”
-- It was the first of two meetings between the two teams over the next several days. They face off against each other in Dallas on March 15. They’ll wrap up the six-game season series on March 31 in San Jose.
-- Eriksson has four goals in his last five games.
-- The Stars have eight short-handed goals this season. They entered tied for the fifth-highest total in the league.
-- Dallas improved to a league-best 27-3-2 when scoring first, and a league-best 8-18-2 when trailing after two periods.
-- The Stars are 3-0-1 against the Sharks this season.
-- Dallas won its 17th road game (17-14-2). It’s the most road wins since capturing 22 away from home in 2007-08.