ANAHEIM – With their playoff hopes on life support, the Stars hopped on the shoulders of their gritty captain to get their postseason aspirations back up and beating again.
Brenden Morrow had a goal and two assists, and Mike Ribeiro scored twice to give the Stars an inspired 4-3 win over the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center on Sunday night.
The win helped keep the 10th place Stars two points behind ninth-place Calgary, and moved them to within three points of Chicago for the eighth and final playoff slot in the Western Conference. The Flames have 91 points following their win in Colorado Sunday, but have played two more games than Dallas (39-28-11, 89 points).
The Blackhawks, meanwhile, fell to Tampa Bay on Sunday to keep the Stars postseason push alive.
“It’s desperation time, and we’ve been saying that for a week or two now, but realistically looking at the standings and games played and what we have left, we probably have to run the table,” said Morrow, whose second-period goal gave the Stars a lead that they wouldn’t relinquish. “It’s 60 minutes at a time, and tonight it took 60 minutes. That’s what we have to focus on. We’re in desperation mode.”
Unlike the last two meetings with Anaheim where the Stars were unable to hold on to late one-goal leads in each of the two contests, Dallas clung to this one-goal advantage for the entire third period, thanks in part to some heavy dramatics.
With a couple of minutes left in regulation the Ducks scored what appeared to be the game-tying goal, but it was immediately waved-off when Ducks center Saku Koivu was whistled for goalie interference before Francois Beauchemin’s shot from the point ricocheted in off a stick in front.
The Stars then dodged another bullet with less than a minute to go. With the Ducks on the power play after Jamie Benn was sent off for a slashing penalty with 1:01 left, Bobby Ryan chipped in the puck from in tight, but that tally was also voided because Corey Perry was ruled to use a hand pass to get the puck to Ryan.
Perry’s last-ditch re-direct with three seconds left then went wide.
“We’ve been through it a couple of times against the Ducks, and our guys were very determined to not let it happen,” coach Marc Crawford said about making sure the slim lead was safe this time around. “Full marks to our guys, I’m really proud of how they played.”
Jeff Woywitka added a goal and assist, and Kari Lehtonen, making his 19th straight start, finished with 24 saves to help the Stars snap a six-game winless streak.
Dallas now has four games remaining -- one each against Columbus and Minnesota, and a pair against the Colorado Avalanche. The combined record of those three teams entering Sunday’s action was an unimpressive 100-106-29.
A win in each of those final four contests will certainly help the Stars cause, especially since Chicago would own the tiebreaker over Dallas by having two more non-shootout wins than the Stars.
“Ninety seven points would give us a pretty good shot,” Morrow said. “You’d like to dictate your own fate a little better, but we let a lot of games slip, and we’re looking at those as mistakes we made and deal with the schedule as it happens.”
Ryan Getzlaf, Lubomir Visnovsky, and Perry scored for the Ducks, who are in seventh place in the West with 93 points. Ray Emery made 27 saves, as Anaheim lost its second straight following a 7-1-0 stretch.
“That’s what we needed…we needed a win,” Ribeiro said. “Usually when you get a win you get on a roll. There’s no more ways to lose, you have to find ways to win, and today we did. We got the bounces we needed. Everyone played hard, and that’s what we needed.”
“There’s no quit in our team, and we’re still in the race,” Crawford said. “We have to keep coming out and having performances like this. This was a very deserving game for our team. You make your luck, and tonight we played with the desperation we’ve been striving for. It’s a huge win, and hopefully we can get this to snowball.”
With the game tied after the first 20 minutes, Morrow gave Dallas a 3-2 edge with 12:40 left in the second. After hopping onto the ice, the captain skated to the top of the left circle before unleashing a wicked blast off a nice feed from Jamie Langenbrunner along the left boards for his team-leading 29th of the season.
Ribeiro then scored his second of the game to give the Stars a 4-2 advantage with 4:56 left in the middle frame. Just as Dallas’ 5-on-3 advantage was ending, Brad Richards’ shot was blocked by Beauchemin, but Ribeiro knocked the rebound out of mid-air down to his stick before stuffing it home for his 17th of the year.
But Perry cut the deficit to 4-3 with a short-handed goal with just 1:17 left in the second. He was able to lift a little backhand over Lehtonen from the bottom of the left circle to garner his league-leading 47th of the season.
Getzlaf staked the Ducks to a 1-0 lead with his 19th of the season 7:27 into the opening period. Following a neutral zone turnover, Getzlaf, Ryan and Perry embarked on a 3-on-1 rush. Perry dished the puck to Ryan, who in turn fed Getzlaf with a nifty behind-the-back pass. Getzlaf then easily slipped the puck in from the bottom of the left circle.
Woywitka tied it just under three minutes later with his second of the season. After receiving a pass from Morrow in the neutral zone, Woywitka skated into the Anaheim zone on the left wing before sending a wrist shot that skidded past a surprised Emery.
Ribeiro gave the Stars their first lead of the game with 2:53 remaining in the first. Woywitka sent the puck to the front of the net from the left point, and Morrow corralled the loose puck in the slot before sending a backhand pass to Ribeiro, who jammed the puck in from in tight.
But the lead was short-lived, as Visnovsky notched his 18th just 94 seconds later. After Stephane Robidas stopped Koivu’s attempt just a foot in front of the goal line while Lehtonen was out of the net, Visnovsky picked up a loose puck and wristed one in from a sharp angle in the left circle before Lehtonen was able to recover.
“At this time of the year there’s a lot of things that can happen in a game, and you cannot change your game plan,” Ribeiro said about the see-saw contest. “That’s what we’ve been doing. We had no choice but to come out and get that win, and it was a great team effort. We’re going to push forward.”
The Stars begin the final week of the season when they host Columbus on Tuesday at American Airlines Center (7:30 p.m., FS-SW+) before playing their final home regular season game on Thursday against Colorado (7:30 p.m., FS-SW).