DETROIT – This wasn’t quite the way the Dallas Stars were looking to end what started out as an outstanding road trip, but facing adversity can provide valuable lessons to learn from.
Just four days after the Stars’ eye-opening 5-2 victory over the Washington Capitals left them occupying first place overall in the entire NHL, their four-game road trip ended with a thud as the Detroit Red Wings scored three third period goals en route to a 5-2 triumph over a depleted Stars club Saturday night at the Joe Louis Arena.
After huge wins in Carolina and Washington by a combined 10-4 margin, the Stars dropped two in a row at Pittsburgh, who took over the league’s top spot, and now Detroit, getting outscored 8-3.
After losing back-to-back games for the first time this season, the Stars fall to 11-5-0 on the season, but still remain second in the Western Conference standings and atop the Pacific Division.
And perhaps just as importantly, they’ve had their own minds expanded a bit regarding some areas they still need to improve upon.
“I thought two nights in a row, we have some work to do,” admitted Stars coach Glen Gulutzan. “Two of the elite teams and I thought we were outplayed both nights in a row and we definitely have some work to do to get to this level. I think the same thing with Pittsburgh last night, they kind of owned us in a few areas, and we’ve learned coming out, especially with Pittsburgh and Detroit, we’ve learned some lessons now. I’ve rather learn them now at 11-5 than at 5-11. Our motto in that room is to get better every day, and that’s what we’re going to try to do. At least we’re measuring ourselves against the best, historically in the league, than the bottom.”
“We got to look at it like, we got to keep getting better, we got to keep finding ways to improve, keep finding ways to make our team better and harder to play against,” said winger Adam Burish, who earned an assist in the game. “At the end of the day, I think this is about as hard a road trip as you’re going to go on. We were 2-2 - that’s okay, I don’t think anybody’s throwing a party over it, but 2-2 is respectable. And we’re going to go back home and we’re going to get better, we’re going to shore up a few things in our game, and keep going.”
Playing without defenseman Alex Goligoski, who suffered a broken thumb in the Stars’ 3-1 loss to Pittsburgh the night before, the Stars were outshot 40-27, but were still tied 2-2 heading into the third period before Detroit turned it up a notch.
It’s the second game in a row that the Stars entered the third period tied and wound up losing. Over those two contests, they were outscored 5-0 in the final periods.
“I think they controlled the puck pretty good down low,” said winger Jamie Benn, who also picked up an assist in the contest. “They’re a good team, you got to give them credit, they play a good team game and put pucks at the net and we didn’t have an answer in the third for it.”
Raycroft, in just his third appearance of the season, looked solid despite the five goals against, making 35 saves. All three of Raycroft’s starts this year have come in the second leg of back-to-backs this season, and all on the road - and he is now 0-3-0 despite some solid showings.
“That’s exactly what his job is,” Gulutzan acknowledged regarding the difficult circumstances he’s utilized Raycroft in. “I talked to Razor at the start of the year and in actuality, he has one of the tougher jobs of anybody here. He gets the tougher games and the back-to-backs usually. I thought for the most part, he was okay tonight. There was just far too much rubber at the net for him to deal with, and if you look at the goals, what’s he supposed to do, really?”
“He played a great game back there,” added Benn, who also delivered four hits and was 11-7 in the face-off circle. “I think we gave up too many shots as a team, I think it’s definitely something we can clean up, but he held us in there.”
Entering the final period tied 2-2, it didn’t take long for the Red Wings to take the lead again, just 3:47 before Johan Franzen scored his fifth goal in the last four games. Valtteri Filppula set him up by taking the puck out of the left corner, stick-handling around Stephane Robidas low in the left face-off circle and bouncing a pass across the top of the crease. Franzen was able to corral the puck, elude the harassment of Mike Ribeiro, and slip it between Raycroft and the right post from a nearly impossible angle.
In what may well have been the turning point of the game, Dallas came agonizingly close to tying it up again on a mad scramble in front at 8:54, but could not finish. Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard made a nice save on Robidas’ blast from the left point, and the rebound popped out to Benn at the lip of the crease. His point-blank shot towards a half-empty net hit the face of Wings defenseman Ian White, who slid across the crease.
The puck bounced back out front to Eriksson, but with a lot of net to shoot at, his wrist shot was knocked down by Howard, from his stomach, reaching up with his blocker. Michael Ryder also had a whack at the loose puck as a mass of humanity flooded the crease, but ultimately, it ended up smothered under the injured White.
On the next shift, the Red Wings swung the momentum back their way, when Jiri Hudler slashed Tom Wandell’s hand at center ice, stealing the puck from him and leading Detroit on a 2-on-1 rush the other way. Hudler carried the puck into the left face-off circle before feeding a pass in front to Darren Helm, who knifed a backhander over Raycroft’s pad to make it 4-2 at 9:19.
“It could have been a different game,” said Gulutzan of the way the game turned on that 25-second sequence. “I thought there was a high-stick there, one minute before the goal that, had it got called, can change the game. We got called on a high stick in the third period last night that I thought changed the complexion of the Pittsburgh game, I thought that could have changed ours, but no one saw it. All in all, they had the edge, and if you asked who should have got the two points, the answer is Detroit, so we’ll re-fuel and get another chance at them later.”
Detroit then poured more salt on the wound just 1:13 later when Brad Stuart made it 5-2 on a blazing slap shot from the right point that sailed past a screen in front and over Raycroft’s shoulder. The play came immediately after Filppula beat Benn on a face-off deep in the Dallas zone.
The Stars didn’t give up, though, and had two glorious opportunities to close the gap again, but were denied by fabulous saves by Howard. At 12:01, Eric Nystrom sped into the Detroit zone and fed a nice pass across to Vernon Fiddler driving the net for a re-direct in front, but Howard slid across and made a sparkling stop.
Then with 3:31 left in regulation, Nystrom led another rush into the Wings’ zone, this time on a 2-on-1 with Fiddler. As he reached the high slot, Nystrom opted to shoot, launching a scorching wrist shot that Howard snagged with his glove, thereby ending Nystrom’s bid to extend his four-game goal-scoring streak.
A little frustration undoubtedly fueled Benn’s fight with Jakub Kindl with just 14 seconds remaining, a bout that Benn won decisively.
“I guess we’ll take it,” Benn said of the .500 record on the road trip, “but we want to win every game and it didn’t happen this road trip, but two out of four is all right, I guess.”
For the second straight night, the Stars ended up back on their heels early, primarily because of a slashing penalty to Ribeiro just 55 seconds into the opening period. Dallas did kill it off, but needed an outstanding pad save from Raycroft on Hudler’s point-blank wrist shot at 1:40. The rebound of Hudler’s shot bounced out to the left of the crease, where Filppula was facing an open net, but Eriksson dove across and blocked the resulting shot with his stick.
Through the first six minutes, the Wings held an 8-1 advantage in shots on goal, but it was the Stars who found the scoresheet first, as Eriksson notched his team-leading ninth goal of the season at 7:09 on a power play. Just two seconds before Nicklas Lidstrom’s interference penalty expired, Howard stopped Trevor Daley’s wrist shot from the top of the right face-off circle, but the rebound ricocheted out to Eriksson at the left side of the crease. Eriksson paused a moment to settle the puck, then popped it over Howard’s pad and in for a 1-0 Dallas lead.
Dallas nearly made it a two-goal lead at 8:52 when Wandell’s slick, no-look pass from behind the net found Jake Dowell alone in front, but Howard made an outstanding pad save on his one-timer.
The Stars had evened the shots on goal at 8-8 by the 13-minute mark, but the Wings began pressuring them again after that. Raycroft was forced to make back-to-back tough saves on Pavel Datsyuk’s slap shot from the right circle at 14:40 and again on Lidstrom’s blast from the top of the left circle seconds later.
Riding the momentum, Detroit tied it 1-1 with 2:43 remaining on Niklas Kronwall’s fourth goal of the season, coming on a booming one-timer from the top of the left circle that whizzed through a screen and just inside the left goalpost.
Overall, the Stars were outshot 15-11 for the period, and headed into the second tied 1-1.
It took the Red Wings until 3:08 of the second period to jump ahead 2-1 on White’s rocket of a slap shot from the right point that sailed over the glove of a screened Raycroft.
Dallas nearly got that one back less than a minute later, but Howard made a sparkling pad save on Burish’s deflection in front of Sheldon Souray’s wrister from the left point.
The Stars had another power play after that, but were unable to convert and actually nearly surrendered a short-handed goal at 7:39 when Datsyuk took off on a 2-on-1 rush with Helm. With just Robidas defending, Datsyuk carried into the right face-off circle before sliding a pass across to Helm, but Helm’s re-direct went wide.
Despite not capitalizing on their power play, the Stars did get the equalizer when Morrow notched his third goal of the season at 12:11. Ribeiro set up the play as he retrieved a puck behind the Detroit net and fed a pass out to Morrow, who drilled a one-timer from low in the left circle that somehow squeezed between Howard and the left post.
The Red Wings made a push late in the period, generating several chances, but were unable to get one past Raycroft, whose best saves came on Zetterberg’s point-blank one-timer in front and the subsequent rebound with 42 seconds remaining.
Having completed their four-game road trip with a still-acceptable 2-2-0 record, the Stars finally return back to the Metroplex to prepare for the Florida Panthers’ visit on Tuesday night (7:30 pm start, FSSW) for the only time this season.
“First, you’ve got to give them credit, those are two good hockey teams, two teams that will probably be right at the top,” Burish said of the two defeats. “And the second thing is, it’s just a couple of details in our game. We can probably shore up some face-off plays, we can probably shore up our neutral zone, that was the message after the game. And we’ll get better at that, it’s not something that’s a problem or a red flag, it’s just something we have to work on. We got to watch some video, go over it in practice and get better at it. It’s two little things that over the course of a game can have a big impact and we saw that last game. It’s nothing to be alarmed about.”
- Morrow’s goal was his first since Oct. 15, a span of 10 games, during which he recorded four assists.
- Eriksson, whose five-game scoring streak ended in Pittsburgh Friday night, now has 10 points (four goals, six assists) over the last seven games.
- Daley’s assist on Eriksson’s goal was the 100th assist of his career and his second in the last three games. He also led the club with three blocked shots.
- Benn picked up an assist on Eriksson’s goal, giving him 12 points (three goals, nine assists) over the last eight games. He also topped the Stars with four shots on goal.
- Burish’s assist on Morrow’s goal leaves him with three points (one goal, two assists) in the last three games after notching just two points in the previous seven.
- In addition to Goligoski’s absence, the Stars were also missing gritty forward Steve Ott for the fifth straight game with a lower body injury, while forward Krys Barch and defenseman Philip Larsen, who was recalled from AHL Texas earlier in the day, sat out as healthy scratches.
- One positive for the Stars was their special teams play. The power play unit finished 1-for-2 on the night, leaving them with an excellent 6-for-18 success rate (not counting two goals scored just as penalties expired) over the last four games.
- As for the penalty killing, which had surrendered seven goals on 23 opportunities over the previous four outings, it successfully nullified all four Detroit advantages.