DALLAS – It took the perfect execution of a previously-drawn up play for the Dallas Stars to break the spell that the Los Angeles Kings have held over them all year.
For the third time this season, the Stars outshot the Kings and with a face-off in the neutral zone with 26 seconds remaining in regulation, it looked like they would fall to another defeat against their Pacific Division rival.
But then everything fell into place.
Loui Eriksson notched the tying goal with 20.3 seconds to go and then Steve Ott scored the game-winner at 2:56 of overtime as the Stars pulled out a dramatic 3-2 victory Wednesday night at the American Airlines Center.
The big win boosted the Stars to their second straight win following a five-game losing streak, improving their season record to 13-8-0 as they leap-frogged both LA and San Jose to jump back on top of the Pacific Division.
Dallas, which outshot Los Angeles 38-24 on the night, rallied from a 2-0 final period deficit, as Benn scored 2:07 into the third and then assisted on Eriksson’s equalizer to send the contest into OT.
“I thought our first two periods were pretty good,” said Stars coach Glen Gulutzan. “We made two mistakes and they scored twice. And they had some chances on the power play and the stuff that you’re going to get from a normal game against a really good hockey club. I thought we did really good and two mistakes, two goals, but games are 60 minutes for a reason. That was our message after the second, and our guys stuck with it for 60 minutes and that’s what happens. It was a good victory for us.”
“We stuck with it. I thought the game-plan coming in was pretty well taken care of throughout the whole 60 minutes,” said Ott, who notched the game-winner for the second straight contest. “The unfortunate part was we were down 2-0 so we had to come back out of a little bit of a hole, but we stuck with it the whole 60. I think we out-chanced them a lot tonight and I think the final result was probably the proper result.”
It was Ott who won the crucial face-off after an offsides call left them with a neutral zone draw and prompted Gulutzan to call a timeout to discuss their options at the Dallas bench with 26 seconds left in regulation.
Gulutzan credited associate coach Willie Desjardins with diagramming the tying goal.
“Willie drew up the play there, we talked about just going forward on the draw and jumping them as quick as you could,” said Gulutzan. “And when you’ve got guys like Bennie out there and Loui that can make plays, they read off it pretty good. Willie takes pride in having our 6-on-5 prepared for us every game.”
And for once, the play unfolded exactly as they intended it to. Ott beat LA’s Mike Richards on the draw, pushed it into the Kings’ zone and it wound up on the stick of Benn, who was suddenly in a 2-on-1 rush. Benn fed a pass across the slot to Eriksson, who chipped a point-blank wrist shot over the pad of Los Angeles goaltender Jonathan Quick.
“You can draw it up 100 times, I don’t think it ever works for some reason and tonight it worked,” said Ott, who beat LA’s Mike Richards on the draw. “That was the plan. We overloaded that side, we put three guys, (Michael) Ryder, Loui and Bennie, I shot the puck over there, it hit a guy (Willie Mitchell), it hit Rydes, it hit Bennie, all of a sudden 2-on-1 and Loui’s got a tap-in. It drew up like it was on that little white board if you were lucky enough to have a camera on it, and it got us to where we have two points.”
“Sometimes you get lucky,” added Desjardins. “You draw up lots of plays and some work and some don’t. We got a break on it, but our guys executed. If you don’t execute, you don’t get it. Benn made a real good pass and Loui buried it. The play is not a very big part, it’s just executing. Otter had to do what he did on the draw.”
Ott’s game-winner in overtime was set up by a gutsy play from center Mike Ribeiro, who was carrying the puck out of the Dallas zone when he was leveled by LA defenseman Jack Johnson. As Ribeiro sprawled out on the ice, Stephane Robidas collected the puck and sped up ice on a 2-on-1, sliding a pass over to Ott, whose in-close wrist shot ricocheted off Quick’s blocker and in.
“That’s what it takes to win hockey games,” Benn said of Ribeiro’s sacrificing his body to make the play. “I think any player on our team would take that hit to score that overtime goal and he was the guy to do it. It’s just taking a hit to make a play.”
“He took a real good one for the team,” said Gulutzan. “They say you got to take a hit to make a play, but not only that, he was great defensively that shift, too, as they had a little bit of pressure before that, then he took a big hit. I don’t know if he knew we scored, but he tells me already that he’s fine. He’s a tough, tough customer.”
It was a big win for the Stars, especially because it would have been entirely natural for them to get frustrated as time ticked away in the third period, that here they were again outplaying the Kings and about to go down for the third time.
“We’re just happy to get the win,” said Robidas, whose assist snapped a seven-game pointless streak. “I think we stuck with the program, we tied it up late, but we kept playing the same way. We didn’t start cheating the game, the frustration didn’t start creeping into our game even though we had a lot of chances that didn’t go in. When you do the right things and play the right way, a lot of times you’re going to end up on top. The more you do the right things, the better the results are going to be, and I think that’s why we came out on top tonight.”
Besides the deficit, the Stars, who were already missing key components Alex Goligoski and Adam Burish because of long-term ailments, also overcame the absence of captain Brenden Morrow due to a lower body injury.
Goaltender Kari Lehtonen also had a hand in the triumph, quietly putting forth another strong performance with 22 saves.
Trailing 2-0 entering the final period, the Stars pulled to within one just 2:07 in when a gritty effort from Eric Nystrom led to Benn’s sixth goal of the season. After controlling the puck along the boards in the LA zone for a good 10 seconds, Nystrom turned a slid a pass into the right face-off circle where Benn, who had just come on the ice for Vernon Fiddler, fired it on goal. Quick made the initial save but the rebound popped right back to Benn, who weaved his way through several Kings, cut across the top of the crease as Quick went down and fired it over him.
The Kings nearly got that one back at 4:49 on a power play when Anze Kopitar boomed a one-timer from the right face-off circle that Lehtonen made a nice shoulder save on.
The Stars truly dodged a bullet 1:40 after that when Jarret Stoll’s slap shot from the right circle deflected off Mark Fistric and rolled right to a wide open Kyle Clifford in the slot. Facing a gaping net, Clifford drilled a point-blank slap shot off the left goalpost.
Dallas pushed back a bit after that and almost got the equalizer at 8:18 when Eriksson’s wrist shot from the left circle was deflected in front by Benn, but Quick made the stop.
Another prime opportunity for Dallas came with 2:25 remaining in regulation when Benn fired a wrist shot from the right circle that Quick stopped but juggled before the rebound fell in the crease and Ryder pinballed it off the right post and into the crease, but the play was blown dead, a quick whistle from the referee who apparently lost track of the puck.
Seconds later Dallas went on the power play when Ethan Moreau was called for slashing at 17:39. The power play wasn’t going too smoothly, even after Gulutzan pulled Lehtonen for an extra attacker, and things looked bleak when the Stars went offsides with 26 seconds to go...
“It’s sticking with the structure, just continue to stick with the program that we have,” said Ott of what keyed the comeback. “When we keep that structure, we’re a hard-working team that, nine times out of 10, it pays off for us, so if we continue to stick to that plan, we’re going to be in games. We might not win every game, but we’ll be in every game and have a chance to win every game.”
Dallas jumped out to a quick start, and actually received the game’s first power play, when Stoll was whistled for hooking 2:50 into the opening period, but it was the Kings with the best scoring chance. After LA cleared their zone, Richards outskated everyone to the loose puck inside the Dallas zone and went in on a breakaway against Lehtonen. Richards attempted a deke to his backhand, but Lehtonen made a pad save.
Just after the Dallas power play expired, Ribeiro drilled a one-timer from the left face-off circle that beat Quick past the glove but clanked off the right goalpost.
After the Kings built up a 6-1 lead in shots on goal through the first six-plus minutes, but the Stars began to pick it up after that and ended the period with a 9-8 edge.
Dallas had another close call with 1:56 remaining in the period when Ribeiro launched a high wrist shot from the left circle that pinged off the crossbar - but it wouldn’t have counted had it gone in, because as Ribeiro took the shot, Ott bumped into Quick and was called for goaltender interference.
The Stars’ penalty kill unit successfully nullified the power play and headed into the second period tied 0-0.
The first opportunity of the second period was set up by a nifty backhand pass by Benn from behind the net out to Eriksson alone in front, but Quick made a nice pad save at 3:18.
Los Angeles then struck twice within 36 seconds to swing the momentum back their way, starting with Richards’ sixth goal in his last five games and 10th of the season at 4:53. Kings captain Dustin Brown fed a pass out of the right corner to a wide open Richards in the slot, and his wrist shot squeezed through Lehtonen’s pads and trickled just over the goal line.
An unfortunate giveaway led directly to the Kings’ next goal, as Radek Dvorak’s clear attempt from in front of the Dallas net landed right on the stick of an uncontested Kevin Westgarth, who wired a high wrist shot from the slot over Lehtonen’s glove and in for a 2-0 LA lead.
The Kings almost got another one on a power play just over three minutes later, but a screened Lehtonen came up with a huge save on Drew Doughty’s slap shot from the point at 8:38 and then an even better stop on Brown’s point-blank rebound chance.
The Stars continue their Thanksgiving week home-stand when they host the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday night (7:30 pm start, FSSW). The Maple Leafs, who crushed Tampa Bay 7-1 on Tuesday night, boast the NHL’s top scorer in Phil Kessel, who has scored 16 goals and 30 points in Toronto’s 22 games.
“They’re playing really well, they’re a young and up-and-coming team,” Ott said of the Leafs. “It’s not getting any easier here, the parity in this league is so tight and we’re going to see that again Friday. For us, that same mentality - it doesn’t matter who we play, we got to play that exact same way.”
- Besides scoring the game-winning goal for the second consecutive contest, Ott also led the Stars with four hits.
- Benn’s two-point night snapped a four-game point drought and his goal was his first in six outings. Benn, who fired a game-high six shots on goal, now leads the club with 21 points on the season.
- Ribeiro’s heroic assist on the game-winner gives him points in each of the last three contests (one goal, two assists) after recording just one assist in the previous five outings.
- Nystrom’s assist was his second in the last two contests.
1 - 0 LAK
2 - 0 LAK
2 - 1 LAK
2 - 2 Tie
3 - 2 DAL
Interference on goalkeeper