LOS ANGELES – As the Stars headed west to begin a four-game road trip, one would have though that garnering at least a couple of victories to stay in the playoff hunt would have been efficient enough. But not for this gritty team, which capped a highly successful roadie with another sparkling come from behind victory.
Brenden Morrow potted the winner 38 seconds into overtime after Jamie Benn scored a scintillating short-handed goal early in the third period to tie things up in Dallas’ thrilling 4-3 win over the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center on Monday night.
Mike Ribeiro had a goal and two assists, and Trevor Daley also scored for the red-hot Stars, who picked up seven of a possible eight points by going 3-0-1 on the trip to the left coast while improving to 5-0-1 in their last six following a dreadful five-game losing streak.
Alex Goligoski added a pair of assists, and Kari Lehtonen, making his seventh-straight start, finished with 20 saves, with 16 coming in the first 40 minutes.
“The last game of the road trip you sometimes get excited about getting back home, so it was huge for us to get those two points,” Morrow said.
Indeed. The win pushed the Stars (36-23-7) into fifth place in the Western Conference with 79 points, one behind Chicago and three points in back of Pacific Division-leading San Jose.
And with an upcoming seven-game homestand that features six teams that are in the playoff race, the Stars will have the opportunity to create some space between clubs they now find themselves log-jammed with in the West.
“We have room for improvement, but we did what we had to do to get the two points,” Benn said. “We played a simple game and stuck to our game plan. They’re all going to be close and tight games, and we saw that on this road trip.”
It was also Dallas’ ninth win this season when trailing after two, giving them a league-best 9-18-2 mark when they head into the final 20 minutes of play behind.
The Kings took the lead in this one three different times, and at each of those junctures the Stars persevered to net the equalizer.
“This group’s been good about (coming back) all year,” Morrow said. “Last year and in year’s past that may have been something that we weren’t mentally tough enough to overcome.”
The Stars were once again without injured regulars Brad Richards and Nicklas Grossman, and then lost gritty forward Steve Ott, who incurred a major penalty and game misconduct for spearing late in the first period.
But that didn’t matter, as the Stars road the coat-tails of their captain Morrow, playmaking center Ribeiro, and their suddenly dominant second-year pivot Benn, who has turned up his game since the loss of Richards. Benn has scored goals in each of the last four games, including the winner in Phoenix with five seconds to go that started the road trip with a bang.
Ribeiro, meanwhile, set up the winner when he drifted through the right circle while cutting to the middle of the ice before leaving the puck for Morrow, who rifled a shot past Los Angeles goalie Jonathan Bernier.
“Ribby mesmerizes people with the puck,” Morrow said. “It was a pretty slow developing play, and I just chipped it and it found a hole. It was a quick shot, and I don’t think (Bernier) had time to get set.”
“He had the puck on a string,” coach Marc Crawford said about Ribeiro. “He was really determined with the puck, and he logged a lot of ice time for us. He did a terrific job of going into the dangerous areas and penetrating the middle. You have to be brave to go there, and Mike is.”
Justin Williams had a goal and assist, and Willie Mitchell and Kyle Clifford also scored for the Kings (36-25-4), who remain in eighth in the West with 76 points.
Bernier finished with 18 saves.
The game was a see-saw affair, highlighted by a wild third period that featured three goals.
Dallas tied the game at 2-2 early in the third when Daley notched his sixth goal of the season. Accepting a pass in the slot from Ribeiro, Daley cruised into the lower portion of the left circle before depositing a wrist shot past Bernier.
But the Kings answered 44 seconds later and regained the lead with Clifford’s fifth of the year at 2:41 of the third. From the left boards at the Dallas blue line, Clifford skated to the left faceoff dot, and then let a wicked wrist shot goal that went in off the post.
Benn then tied it at 3-3 with his fourth short-handed goal of the season, and 17th overall, at 5:20 of the final frame. The surging center picked off Los Angeles defenseman Drew Doughty’s pass out of mid-air at the left point, then took off on an uncontested breakaway. Pulling the puck to his backhand, Benn deftly slid it along the ice and between Bernier’s pads.
“It was kind of a lucky bounce I guess,” Benn said. “I hit it out of the air and it stuck with me.”
Down by a goal after the first period, the Stars were able to tie the score at 1-1 on Ribeiro’s 13th of the season 6:47 into the second. From the high slot, Adam Burish slid a nifty backhand pass over to Ribeiro, who one-timed the feed in the right circle past Bernier.
The goal came after Dallas was able to kill off five minutes of Los Angeles power-play time to start the second period -- the final three of Ott’s major, and then a goaltender interference infraction called on Morrow.
But the tie was short-lived, as Williams put the Kings up 2-1 just 35 seconds later. Williams sent in a wrist shot from outside the blue line and was able to retrieve the rebound when the first attempt handcuffed Lehtonen a bit. Lehtonen stopped the first and second rebound tries before Williams finally converted on his fourth whack at it.
The Kings struck first when Mitchell made it 1-0 with his third of the season midway through the first period. From the left point, his slap shot got past Lehtonen, who appeared to be screened on the play.
“It doesn’t matter if we’re down one or two goals, we know Kari’s going to make the saves, and we’re going to capitalize on our opportunities,” Benn said. “We did that tonight.”
The Stars open the season-long homestand on Wednesday at American Airlines Center against the Calgary Flames (8 p.m., FS-SW+). The Flames have won two in a row after a 3-2 win Sunday against Nashville, and like the Stars have 79 points. Dallas, though, has a pair of games in hand.