DALLAS - For one night, at least, the Dallas Stars didn’t have to mount a late comeback or fight tooth and nail to the final play in order to pull out a victory.
Thanks to a stunning barrage of three goals within 91 seconds late in the second period, the Stars broke open a close game and ended up cruising to a crucial 4-0 triumph over the Minnesota Wild Friday night at the American Airlines Center.
The win is a big one for the Stars, who are riding a 6-0-2 hot streak that has moved them into sole possession of fourth place in the ultra-tight Western Conference standings with 82 points. While they are still just five points ahead of the Wild, who remain in 11th with 77 after losing on back-to-back nights, Dallas is excited to keep pace with many of the other clubs in the chase that are also winning regularly.
“It’s that time of year and the way the standings are, every point counts,” said defenseman Trevor Daley, whose goal with 4:08 remaining in the second period ignited the decisive Dallas flurry. “You need to get your two points, you need to worry about your own business and then after you do that, you get to go look at the TV and see what some other teams did.”
“We knew they played last night, we knew fatigue was going to set in as it went on,” noted defenseman Nicklas Grossman, who returned from an 11-game absence due to a lower body injury and earned an assist. “So we kind of wanted to come out strong, don’t give them anything, don’t give them any out-numbered chances. Our main focus was to get pucks deep, go to the net, and as the game went on, I think we took over.”
It was the Stars’ third shutout of the season and the first for goaltender Kari Lehtonen since he joined the franchise in a trade just over a year ago. The fact that Lehtonen, who made 14 saves on the night, had lost shutout bids in the last five or six minutes of the third period at least four or five times this season made it even more special.
“It was nice,” said Lehtonen of his first shutout in two years and 15th of his career. “I wasn’t really thinking about it that much any more, because it didn’t seem like it was ever coming, but it was nice. There was not much going on there the whole game, so I need to give a ton of credit to our guys and how well they played. That helped me out there.”
“I thought Kari Lehtonen was strong tonight,” added coach Marc Crawford. “He didn’t have a lot of shots, but they had a good number of chances and he looked very solid in there, and when he plays like that, I really believe that you sense that our guys have a great deal of comfort in front of him and maybe it allows our defense to be a little bit more sure-handed with the puck.”
The red-hot Jamie Benn gave another vintage performance, scoring a goal for the sixth straight game and his second game-winner of that span. Tom Wandell and Mike Ribeiro also found the back of the net for the Stars, while Jamie Langenbrunner added two assists.
After battling back from third period deficits to earn points in each of their three previous games and in four of the six prior contests, the Stars were able to build themselves a nice cushion with the second period eruption.
“We had a great end to the second period and I give our guys a lot of credit because I think they smelled the blood in the water, so to speak, and they really did have a killer instinct at the end of that second period,” Crawford said. “We put together about four or five really good shifts in a row and when we got our chances, they ended up burying them. I thought we were decent through most of the game, but you have to have those moments where you really do grab the game by the throat and our guys did that tonight.”
“I think we keep playing solid team game, not trying to do too much, keep doing the simple things,” Lehtonen said of the Stars’ recent success. “And then we have a couple of players that are on fire, that seems like they can do whatever they want to out there and that’s good for us.”
With a 1-0 lead entering the second period, the Stars exploded for three goals within a 1:31 span to completely take over what had been a tightly-contested playoff-like game to that point.
But first, early in the period, the Stars were fortunate to still have the lead after Matt Cullen launched a scorching wrist shot from the high slot at 1:36 that whizzed past Lehtonen’s glove but clanked high off the goalpost.
Dallas nearly took a two-goal lead at 13:15 when captain Brenden Morrow drilled a point-blank one-timer from the right face-off circle that pinballed off Wild goaltender Jose Theodore’s shoulder and then the crossbar, before bouncing back into the slot.
Then the Stars’ blitz began, first with Daley connecting for his seventh goal of the year at 15:52. Controlling the puck behind the Wild net, Daley skated into the left corner and curled into the circle before attempting a pass into the crease for Langenbrunner. Minnesota’s Kyle Brodziak tried to block the pass, and inadvertently executed a perfect deflection as the puck ricocheted off his stick and over Theodore’s shoulder.
“I just got some speed down the wall and Ribby found me, and I had a few options and just threw it to the net and got a lucky bounce,” Daley said of the play. “I think we sustained that pressure - before that there was that shift where we got caught out there and they had a few chances and Kari stood strong and after that, we rolled from there.”
Dallas made it 3-0 at 17:05 on Wandell’s sixth goal of the season. After some effective cycling of the puck around the right corner amongst each of his linemates, Wandell got the puck on the right half-boards, took a few strides into the circle and fired a deceptive wrist shot that beat Theodore just inside the near-side post.
It took just 18 seconds for the Stars to strike again, as Ribeiro collected his 15th goal off a gift of a giveaway from Cullen, who blindly backhanded a pass from behind the Minnesota net right in front, where a wide open Ribeiro quickly one-timed it past the beleaguered Theodore.
The Stars actually almost made it a four-goal period less than a minute after that when Benn and Steve Ott skated into the Minnesota zone on a 2-on-1 rush, but Theodore managed to turn aside Benn’s wrist shot from the right circle.
With a four-goal lead in the final period against a tired opponent who played the night before, the Stars continued to control the game.
Their best opportunity in the third came while short-handed at 6:45, when Ribeiro led a rush into the Wild zone and fed a pass from the right circle into the crease, where a charging Karlis Skrastins deflected it on goal, but was denied by Theodore.
Dallas limited the Wild’s chances throughout the third, holding them to just three shots on goal to secure the win, and the much-coveted shutout for Lehtonen.
“We played a pretty smart third period, where we didn’t give them many good chances, we stayed above the puck and did the things that locked down the victory,” Crawford said.
“He’s been close a lot of times, so as time went on, you try to help him out a little bit back there,” Grossman said of club focusing on completing the shutout. “I think overall the defense did a good job, the forwards did a good job coming back. He made some big saves at key parts of the game and it was fun to see him get the shutout.”
The Stars wound up short-handed just 24 seconds into the opening period when Benn was whistled for high-sticking, and Lehtonen was called upon to make a couple of big stops early, particularly his stick save on Brodziak’s point-blank one-timer at 1:50.
Dallas went on two power plays of their own, due to Minnesota receiving two too-many-men penalties within the first seven minutes, but the Stars were unable to capitalize.
They began to generate more scoring opportunities after that, though, and almost jumped ahead at 10:56 when Morrow and Adam Burish raced into the Minnesota zone on a 2-on-1 rush. Morrow slid a cross-ice pass into the slot for Burish, who fired a quick wrister that forced Theodore to make a nice stop.
Dallas did break through for the first goal of the night when Benn notched his 19th goal of the season at 12:02. Benn sped into the Wild zone on the rush, cutting around Marek Zidlicky in the right circle before making a nifty forehand-to-backhand move and lifting a lunging backhander over Theodore’s blocker.
“He’s been terrific,” Crawford said of Benn. “The opening goal was very much an individual effort and the backhand to beat Theodore.”
The Wild almost tied it with what could have been a demoralizing goal just before the final buzzer, when Guillaume Latendresse fed the puck from the top of the right circle into the slot for Cullen to re-direct on goal, but Lehtonen came up with the big save.
The epic homestand continues Sunday afternoon when the Los Angeles Kings visit the Metroplex (2:00 pm, FSSW). The Kings defeated Columbus 4-2 earlier in the evening to move into a four-way tie, with 81 points, for spots 5-8 in the West, just one back of Dallas. Yes, it’s that close.
“It’s going to be exciting, they’re always tough games,” said Lehtonen of the Kings, a team the Stars beat 4-3 in overtime on Monday. “We kind of stole one from them last time in LA, so they’re going to come hard, and we just have to keep working and be ready and play our game, and try to get the win.”
- Benn’s goal extended his career-long goal-scoring streak to six games, matches the longest of streak any NHL player this season. He’s the first Star to compile a streak that long since Jere Lehtinen put together a six-game streak back in Dec. 2005. Benn also fired five shots on goal in the game, tying defenseman Alex Goligoski for the game-high.
- Daley’s goal was his second in the last three games and gives him four points (two goals, two assists) in the last five games after registered no points in the previous five.
- Wandell’s goal gives the second-year Swede three goals in the last seven games, after he failed to record a point in his 24 previous games played. His four shots on goal were the second-most he’s totaled all season, behind the five he got Wednesday night against Calgary.
- With a goal in his third straight game, Ribeiro, who also picked up an assist on Daley’s goal, now has 10 points (four goals, six assists) in the last eight contests.
- Jamie Langenbrunner’s multi-point performance gives the three-time Stanley Cup winner a solid eight points (three goals, five assists) in his last 10 games played.
- Loui Eriksson’s assist on Wandell’s goal gives him seven points (four goals, three assists) in the last eight outings.
- Winger Adam Burish left the game after the second period with a lower body injury.
“We did pull him out,” Crawford said. “He’s been playing with a lot of soreness here lately, and I thought the doctors and the trainers all thought, with the 4-0 lead, it was a good opportunity to do that. We’ll see how he is tomorrow.”
- To make room in the lineup for Grossman’s return, blueliner Mark Fistric sat out as a healthy scratch. Forwards Brian Sutherby and Krys Barch were also scratched from the lineup.
- Dallas has now won all three contests against the Wild this season by a combined score of 12-3, while also triumphing in an amazing 14 straight games at home over the Wild, dating back to March 21, 2003.
- The Stars improved upon their league-best record when scoring the game’s first goal, now with a 28-3-2 mark.