DALLAS – Despite allowing more shots than they would like, the Dallas Stars are happy with garnering points any which way they can early on.
Loui Eriksson sent the game into overtime on a goal with 27.1 seconds left in regulation, Mike Ribeiro notched the shootout winner, and Kari Lehtonen finished with 39 saves to give the Dallas Stars a come-from-behind 2-1 win over the Phoenix Coyotes on Monday at American Airlines Center.
The win was Dallas’ second straight at home, and helped eliminate the sting of a 5-2 defeat in Chicago on Saturday.
“It’s a big win,” Lehtonen said. “We didn’t play our best game, but we kept fighting and ended up coming back. It wasn’t pretty, but it’s a win and we’ll take it.”
In a game where the Stars seemed stuck in neutral for most of the night, Lehtonen bailed everyone out with spectacular play throughout. But when the Stars desperately needed some offense, they turned to their goal scoring and playmaking stalwarts in Eriksson and Ribeiro.
With the extra attacker on late in the game, Steve Ott pushed the puck to Sheldon Souray at the left point, and Souray unloaded a blast that Eriksson was able to get a piece of in front to tie the game at 1-1.
Then in the third round of the shootout, after Eriksson had already scored in the first round, Ribeiro once again used a dazzling move to secure the bonus point for the Stars. Skating into the slot, he turned to his right to go in sideways on Coyotes goalie Mike Smith before pulling the puck from his backhand to his forehand and flicking it in over Smith’s right shoulder.
It was vintage Ribeiro, who never seems to disappoint in the breakaway contest.
“He makes us look like fools in practice, so I wasn’t surprised he scored,” Lehtonen said.
But Ribeiro’s heroics wouldn’t have been if not for the play of Lehtonen, who improved to 2-0 on the year. In a smooth and efficient manner, he turned aside puck after puck from a Coyotes team that was still smarting from a 6-3 loss to San Jose in their opener.
“We didn’t have the greatest start, but it’s not how you start it’s how you finish,” forward Vernon Fiddler said after beating his former team. “We found a way and got a big goal at the end. We got two points, and you never know when that extra point is going to be huge for you, so it’s good to take it now.”
Lehtonen also got help from his penalty-killing unit, which was able to erase Brenden Morrow’s questionable high-sticking call just 25 seconds into overtime by keeping the Coyotes from penetrating inside the perimeter.
“They’re 60-minute games for a reason, and tonight we stuck to the way we wanted to play,” defenseman Alex Goligoski said. “Two points…we’ll take them.”
Through three games, the Stars have given up an average of 36 shots per contest, and have only scored five goals. That combination will need to improve, but with Lehtonen playing the way he is, currently it’s not hurting too much.
“He’s playing so well,” Fiddler said. “I’ve played against him a few times, and I knew he had a lot of skill, but not that much.”
“He’s the reason why we have two points tonight,” coach Glen Gulutzan said about his netminder. “At the end of the day, you can’t have this every night, because it won’t go.”
Dallas’ power play could use some jet fuel, though, as the Stars were unable to convert on seven man-advantage opportunities while putting just six shots on net.
“We did a good job on the PK, and I thought Kari was very good, but the rest of our game needs some work,” Gulutzan said. “Our power play was atrocious. We have to re-visit it, and we have to re-visit our work ethic on the power play because we don’t win any battles.”
Radim Vrbata scored, and Smith finished with 24 saves for the Coyotes, who lost their first two games of the season for the first time since the start of the 2005-06 campaign.
“It’s probably a game we deserved a better fate, but if we play like that we’ll get our amount of wins,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippet said. “I thought we competed really well, it’s too bad we didn’t get the two points.”
Vrbata broke the scoreless tie with a power-play goal with just over 14 minutes left in regulation to give Phoenix a 1-0 edge. After the Stars were called for their second too many men on the ice penalty of the game, Vrbata rammed home a rebound from a shot from the point from Shane Doan that was deflected by Martin Hanzal before popping out to Vrbata, who was staring at a gaping net.
Lehtonen kept the Coyotes at bay during a scoreless first period with several nice stops, including a nifty glove save on Raffi Torres’ snap shot from the lower slot. He also was helped when Doan’s attempt hit the post with 6 1/2 minutes left in the opening frame.
The Stars will get a couple of days off now before hosting the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night at American Airlines Center (7:30 pm. FS-SW). The Blues lost their season opener against Nashville before rebounding with a 5-2 win against Calgary on Monday afternoon.