DENVER - It wasn’t easy, but the Dallas Stars took care of business again Friday night.
Now if they could only get some help from around the league, they could still realize their dream of making it back to the playoffs.
With their season hanging in the balance, the Stars received a goal and an assist from Mike Ribeiro and for the second straight night, got the game-winning goal in the third period from captain Brenden Morrow, to defeat the Colorado Avalanche in a nerve-wracking 3-2 decision at the Pepsi Center.
In winning their fourth straight contest, the Stars have one game left in the regular season and remain alive in the Western Conference playoff race, sitting ninth with 95 points.
Unfortunately, all the teams they’re chasing also won tonight, meaning that now the Stars won’t be able to catch Nashville, Phoenix or Anaheim any more. Now the only way they can surpass the eighth-place Blackhawks is for Detroit to win in regulation over the defending Cup champions Sunday. Then, of course, the Stars would have to win their final game Sunday over Minnesota to sneak in.
“It’s just come a little bit more clear for us” said Morrow, who scored for the fourth straight game. “When you look at the big picture, it’s kind of tough to just focus in on one game at a time, but when you get down to three, four, five, and they’re all do-or-die, it makes it a lot easier to take it one at a time. It boils down to one more day. We’re still alive. We got to worry about our game and we’ll look for some help from there.”
“We have one game left, and we have to take care of what we can control, and that’s our games, we can’t really control what happens in the other games,” said Ribeiro, who is one goal shy of his third 20-goal season. “We’ll be ready for our game on Sunday and play to win that game.”
First, though, the Stars had to make sure they held up their end of the bargain in this one and they did that, sweeping both ends of the home-and-home, back-to-back set with the Avalanche, who are now 1-8-0 in their last nine and 3-17-1 in their last 21.
In addition to the Morrow/Ribeiro combination, Loui Eriksson also scored for the Stars, while Kari Lehtonen was strong in goal once again, making 15 saves to collect his 34th win of the year, matching his career-high from 2006-07 with Atlanta.
“We found a way,” Ribeiro said. “We knew they were going to play better than the last game. Coming here, back-to-back games, it’s never easy to come up here, but we battled through, we played hard. Everyone was involved, Kari made the saves at the right time for us and it was a team effort. It’s a good thing that we won, to keep that dream alive and keep believing that we can still get in there.”
“It’s a tough building to play in, not only with the elevation,” Morrow admitted. “They play here 41 times a year and they know what it’s like, and we want to have quick shifts in back-to-back games. When they put the pressure on, you get that much more anxious, I guess, and grip the sticks. We all want to keep our season alive and they were trying to take it from us.”
For the second night in a row, the Stars took a 2-1 lead into the final period and for the second night in a row, Morrow struck within the first minute to push the advantage to two. This time, just 40 seconds in, Morrow was parked at the right post when he received a nice cross-crease pass from Steve Ott and re-directed it into the open side of the net for his team-leading 32nd goal of the season.
The Avalanche answered with Brandon Yip’s second of the night and third in the past two games at the five-minute mark. Jay McClement carried into the Dallas zone and slid a pass back to the oncoming Yip, who rifled a blazing wrist shot from the top of the right face-off circle over Lehtonen’s shoulder.
After Colorado got a surge of momentum following their goal, the Stars weathered the storm and began to push back again, but Avs goaltender Peter Budaj made a nice save at 13:12 when Morrow fed a pass from the top of the right face-off circle into the middle for a re-direction by the net-charging Ott.
Off the resulting offensive zone face-off, the Stars almost struck again when Trevor Daley’s wrist shot from the right point was deflected by Jamie Benn in the slot and pinged off the left post.
Colorado pressed in the final minutes, pulling Budaj for an extra attacker with 1:20 remaining, and blood pressures around the Metroplex spiked as the Avs buzzed around the net, especially with 25 seconds left, when Ryan O’Reilly fed a pass out from behind the net to Matt Duchene in front. Facing a half-open net, Duchene couldn’t corral the pass and it ricocheted off his skate to Milan Hejduk, who jabbed at it, and Lehtonen made a pad save, followed by a mad scramble for the loose puck before Lehtonen smothered it.
“Their team is pressing and they have a guy there that is looking for a hat trick, and it seems like all his shots go in, but it was exciting,” said Lehtonen, who started his 22ndstraight game and made his68th appearance of the season to match his career-high from 2006-07. “Still, I think we made a couple of nice blocks and I was able to make one save there. That’s enough today and that’s good.”
With just 17 seconds remaining, Ribeiro slid out to block a slap shot by Mark Olver and went down in pain, not being able to make it off the ice under his own power, further exemplifying just how committed this team has been to doing whatever they can to get the results they want.
“I was hoping that my center would win the draw so I didn’t have to block that one, but you have to,” said Ribeiro, smiling in Ott’s direction. “You don’t want that puck to go in, and they just had a chance right before that in front of the net and the scramble there. We know that lately, we’d been giving up those goals, so I just stayed in the lane and it hit me in the right spot. I’m sure it’s going to be bruised, but I guess for the last game, I can play with that. If I can walk, I can skate.”
The Stars took the game’s first four shots, but the first one by the Avs was a difficult one that forced Lehtonen to make a strong skate save, when Ryan Stoa deflected Ryan Wilson’s point shot at 6:09.
On the counter-attack at the other end of the ice just 10 seconds later, Dallas nearly got one of their own when Ribeiro feathered a cross-ice pass from the right face-off circle to the charging Benn in front, but Budaj made a nice sliding stop.
Benn, who was flying all over the ice, had another prime opportunity at 9:07 when he skated into the left circle and launched a scorching wrist shot that Budaj just managed to get his shoulder on to deflect it over the glass.
The Stars were leading 8-1 in shots on goal just past the midway point of the period when they broke through for the contest’s first goal, Ribeiro’s 19th of the season at 10:51. Karlis Skrastins intercepted a Colorado clearing attempt along the left sideboards, and then fed a pass into the top of the crease where Ribeiro out-battled Wilson to re-direct it past Budaj.
“I think it was a good play,” Ribeiro said of Skrastins. “He pinched down the wall, the puck stayed there, threw it at the net. It might have touched my stick and then my foot before it went in.”
Dallas ended the period on a power play with a 1-0 lead and owned an 11-2 edge in shots.
The Stars continued to press early in the second, coming close at 4:48 when Morrow’s wrist shot from the top of the right circle deflected off Ott’s skate in front and clanked off the left goalpost.
Eriksson made it 2-0 Dallas when he notched his 27th goal of the season at 6:56. Seconds after a nice play by Alex Goligoski to keep the puck in the Colorado zone, Brad Richards passed it out from behind the net in front to Eriksson, who fired a wrist shot past Budaj.
Off the ensuing face-off at center ice, the puck popped up and hit Ott in the face, sending him down the runway for repairs. Minutes later, he appeared on the bench with a visor attached to his helmet and a huge welt under his left eye.
With a power play and a chance to build their lead to three, the Stars wound up surrendering the 15th short-handed goal against of the season at 13:08. After a mix-up at the Colorado blue line, the Avs raced into the Dallas zone on a 2-on-1 rush, and Yip held onto the puck, unleashing a lethal wrister from the high slot that beat Lehtonen over the blocker.
The Avalanche gained some momentum after that and only a fantastic pad save by Lehtonen on Daniel Winnik’s point-blank re-direct, off a nice cross-ice pass from Duchene, with 2:16 remaining, kept Dallas in the lead.
So now, all eyes will be on the Chicago-Detroit game on Sunday (11:30 am start, NBC), which will determine if the Stars still have a shot when they finish out the 2010-11 regular season schedule Sunday in Minnesota against the Wild (5 pm start, TXA-21).
“We have to make sure we get ready for Sunday, that’s exactly what it’s going to come down to,” noted defenseman Stephane Robidas, who led the Stars with 23:29 of ice time. “The only thing we control is how we prepare and how we play and that’s the only thing we can focus on. It’s frustrating (to need help), but at the same time, that’s why you play 82 games, to get a shot at playing in the playoffs. If we win Sunday, we’ll have 97 points, 42 wins - that’s a pretty good season. I remember when I first came into the league, it was 90, 91 points and you’re in. Now 97 and you might not make it. It is what it is, but there’s nothing we can do.”
- With a goal for the fourth straight game, Morrow matched his career-high of 32 goals from 2007-08. The captain has six points (four goals, two assists) over that span. He also topped the squad with four shots on goal in this one.
- Ribeiro, who led the club with three blocked shots, now has three goals in the last four games and eight points (three goals, five assists) in the last nine contests.
- Eriksson now has goals in three straight games and a four-game point streak (three goals, two assists).
- Richards extended his scoring streak to five games, a span in which he’s totaled six points (two goals, four assists).
- Benn’s assist on Eriksson’s goal gives him seven points in the last eight outings (one goal, six assists).