DALLAS – It hadn’t been the type of start to a season-long seven-game homestand the Stars had been hoping for, but they took a big step towards righting things by gaining a crucial victory over the defending Stanley Cup champs.
Kari Lehtonen made 23 saves to record his second shutout of the season -- and second in four games -- and Jamie Benn and Brenden Morrow contributed a goal and assist each to lift the Stars to a solid 5-0 win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday night at American Airlines Center.
Dallas (38-25-8) improved to 2-2-1 on the homestand, snapped a two-game losing streak, and moved into sixth place in the Western Conference standings with 84 points. The Stars also avenged Tuesday’s loss to San Jose in which they blew a two-goal lead in order to leapfrog over the Blackhawks in the log-jammed West.
“Other than a few undisciplined penalties, I thought we played a real strong game,” Morrow said. “We worked hard, turned pucks over, and drove the net.”
The Stars set the tone early when they blocked nearly 10 shots in the first period, while Lehtonen turned aside the other 11 that got through the masses. They then put the clamps on a 3-0 edge after two periods by not surrendering a shot until midway through the third.
“It was a big game with one of the teams we’re battling with, so it was great to get lots of scoring from our guys and not too many bad chances against us,” Lehtonen said. “I think the first period was pretty even, but after that I think we took over. That was nice to see, especially against a great team like Chicago.”
To cap the impressive night off, Dallas also killed all four of the surging Blackhawks power-play opportunities.
Chicago (38-25-8) entered having won nine of its last 12 to climb back into the playoff race, but were undone by a Dallas team that played without offensive star Loui Eriksson, who’s out with an upper-body injury after taking a shot to the head from San Jose’s Douglass Murray in a mid-ice collision Tuesday.
“The team played extremely well,” said Ott, who played after absorbing a Dany Heatley elbow to the head Tuesday that garnered Heatley a two-game suspension. “We all had a lot of energy tonight…must have been that day off we had yesterday that brought back all that energy. I feel pretty good, but you only have five or 10 minutes to get the smiles on before you have to get back to work. The point race is so tight right now that you can’t have too many highs or too many lows.”
About the only area where the Stars struggled was their power play, which went 0 for 4 to extend a 2 for 23 drought. But that didn’t matter, especially with the effort put forth during the other parts of the inspired contest.
“It was a very strong game from start to finish,” Richards said. “There were a lot of good things, and we never really had to put a lot of stress on ourselves or anything extraordinary. We caught them on a few things that you normally don’t, and if you don’t take advantage of them they can hang around the game, and then you never know what can happen.”
Corey Crawford started in goal for Chicago and allowed three goals on just 10 shots before giving way to former Stars netminder Marty Turco early in the second period. Turco finished with 15 saves.
“We’re really pleased with the way everybody pinched in and played defensively,” coach Marc Crawford said. “We needed to have big performances from our defense, our penalty killing, and our goaltender, and we got all of those things. We didn’t give them a great deal.”
Williams scored his second of the season to stretch Dallas’ lead to 4-0 early in the third period. At the Chicago blue line along the left boards he knocked down with his right hand Turco’s outlet pass, then corralled the loose puck at the top of the left circle and shot it in into an empty net.
Segal then made it 5-0 with his fifth with just over eight minutes left in the third, swatting a rebound past Turco from in tight.
Up by a goal after 20 minutes, Benn potted his 21st of the season just 61 seconds into the second for a 2-0 Stars lead. On a 2-on-1 rush, he one-timed Ribeiro’s nifty saucer pass from the left circle for his eighth goal in the past nine games.
Morrow then notched his team-leading 27th of the season, and chased Crawford in the process, just 2:34 later to give the Stars a 3-0 advantage. In the right circle the Stars’ captain ripped in a one-timer that was set up by Benn’s pretty cross-ice pass from the left circle.
“It was good transition, and we got some speed coming through the neutral zone,” Morrow said about the two quick tallies that helped bust the game open. “It ended up that we got some pretty good looks at their net.”
Ott staked the Stars out to a 1-0 lead with 2:23 left in the first period with his 11th of the season. In the Dallas zone, Richards was able to find Ott streaking up the middle of the ice, and chipped the puck up to the gritty forward with a slick backhand feed. Ott went in alone on Crawford from the blue line, and beat the Chicago goalie with a snap shot.
The Stars continue their season-long seven-game homestand on Saturday night at American Airlines Center against the Philadelphia Flyers (7 p.m., TXA-21). The Flyers entered Thursday’s action as the top team in the Eastern Conference with 93 points. Philadelphia beat Dallas 3-1 in the only other meeting between the two teams back in February in Philly.
“From here on out over the next 11 games, every time we win one it’ll be the biggest one,” Richards said. “It’s good for our locker room because this is a little bit how it feels like when you’re in a (playoff) series. You lose a couple of heartbreakers, but you’re still in it and you have to forget it and get back on the horse and win a big one.”