DALLAS – Since hitting bottom after a five-game skid, the Stars have ramped-up their game nicely. Against the Toronto Maple Leafs, they outworked and outshot their Eastern Conference foe, and did everything but pick up a bonus point for their efforts.
Joffrey Lupul snapped a shot past Kari Lehtonen in the third round of the shootout to give the Maple Leafs a 4-3 win over the Stars on Friday night before a charged-up and sold-out American Airlines Center crowd.
For three periods the Stars went toe-to-toe with the Maple Leafs, who have been an early-season surprise this year. But unlike Wednesday’s dramatic win over Los Angeles when Loui Eriksson tied it late and Steve Ott scored in overtime, the Stars were unable to get two points despite outplaying Toronto in the third period.
Lupul secured the win when his shot went past Lehtonen’s right arm, and Toronto goalie Jonas Gustavsson preserved the victory when he barely kept out Mike Ribeiro’s shot after Ribeiro displayed one of his patented and nifty shootout moves.
Dallas outshot the Maple Leafs by a 14-6 margin over the final 20 minutes of regulation, but could only muster one puck past Gustavsson in the frame. That goal by Radek Dvorak, though, sent the game into overtime and helped give the Stars points in their last three games (2-0-1).
“We worked hard,” Dvorak said. “It’s too bad we came up with just one point, but it shows that we can play the whole 60 minutes. If you want to keep putting points on the board and if you want to play our game, you have to work hard and we did that.”
Eric Nystrom had a pair of goals, Dvorak had a goal and assist, and Jamie Benn had two assists for the Stars (13-8-1), who finished their four-game homestand with a 2-1-1 mark. Lehtonen turned aside 20 of Toronto’s 23 shots, the third straight game in which he faced less than 25 shots.
“That was a lot of fun,” Nystrom said. “It was a great atmosphere in there. It’s fun playing against a team like this. They have a lot of fans in the building, and they have a lot of skill up front. It’s a nice change from the monotony of the schedule.
“When it comes down to a shootout it’s chance, and those you kind of take with a grain of salt. We played really hard tonight, we did a lot of good things, and we have to continue doing that.”
Dion Phaneuf had a goal and assist, and Joey Crabb and Clarke MacArthur also scored for the Maple Leafs (13-8-2), who have won three of their last four. Gustavsson finished with 26 saves to win his third straight.
“I don’t think we started as good as we have in the past, and they had a few too many odd-man rushes early,” coach Glen Gulutzan said. “But as we settled in and got in our rhythm I thought the second was a very good period for us. We made a couple of errors in our structure and it cost us two goals, so we’ve got to reinforce that and clean it up.”
Nystrom’s big night was made possible by a terrific outing by his line. Along with Dvorak and Vernon Fiddler, the triumvirate provided plenty of spark throughout the game, with Nystrom registering a game-high six shots.
“Those guys are pretty easy to play with because they play a predictable style,” Nystrom said. “We’re straight-line guys and we’re not weaving all over the place. We know where the puck’s going to go because we talk about it and we stick to it.”
The line continues to impress Gulutzan, who isn’t shy of throwing the threesome out there in key situations.
“I don’t know what you can say about that line, they bring it every night,” he said. “They have passion, they skate and they work. They’re all in every night and they help us.”
With the game tied after 40 minutes, MacArthur put Toronto up 3-2 with 13:05 left in the third period. MacArthur snuck behind the Dallas defense in tight and redirected Tim Connolly’s pass from the hash marks along the right boards. It was the Maple Leafs’ first shot of the third.
Dvorak then tied it up 3-3 with his second of the year with 7:13 left in regulation. With Dallas bottling up the Maple Leafs in their end, Dvorak hopped onto the ice and skated into the slot before drifting into the right circle. He corralled Ribeiro’s pass from behind the net before wristing a shot into the top-left corner.
“It was on a change and I saw Ribby behind the net and all five guys were focusing on him,” Dvorak said. “He’s a playmaker and you know he’ll always find you, so I got open for him and the puck ended up on my stick. I just tried shooting high and it went in.”
Down by a goal after a period, Nystrom got his second of the game, and seventh of the year, after he capped a pretty tic-tac-toe passing play to tie things up at 2-2 at 4:38 of the second period. From inside the Toronto blue line on the left wing Benn sent a cross-ice pass to Dvorak at the top of the right circle. Dvorak quickly fed Nystrom skating hard to the net, and Nystrom redirected the puck in from the slot.
“Actually during warmups I was wondering how good my legs felt, but we got a couple in and it was amazing how much they felt better,” Nystrom said. “I’m just trying to prove to myself and everybody that I can be a powerful player in this league. My linemates have been awesome, the team’s playing well and I’m happy to be a part of this organization.”
The Stars struck first when Nystrom gave Dallas a 1-0 lead just over 4 minutes into the game. From the high slot, he accepted Michael Ryder’s feed, made a quick move around Toronto’s Phil Kessel, and unleashed a wrist shot into the top corner.
The Maple Leafs tied things up at 1 with just over 9 minutes to go in the first. Phaneuf was barely able to keep a clearing attempt inside the Dallas zone at the right point on the blue line, and wristed a shot toward the goal. Standing in front of Lehtonen, Crabb was able to deflect it in for his fourth of the year.
Toronto took its first lead of the game with 5:07 left in the opening stanza on Phaneuf’s third of the season that made it 2-1. From the right point while the Maple Leafs were on the power play, he unleashed a one-timer that trickled in after Lehtonen was able to get a piece of it.
“They’re a quick team, but I think we didn’t give them much,” Dvorak said. “Everytime we had the puck in their zone, we spent more than one minute in there. I think that was the biggest thing tonight. We did a good job with their speed and playing them tight.”
The Stars will kick off a short two-game road trip on Saturday in Phoenix against the Coyotes (7 p.m., TXA 21). Dallas has won the two previous meetings this season with Phoenix, with both victories coming via a shootout.
-- Captain Brenden Morrow missed his second straight game because of a lower-body injury. He’s expected to miss at least the next couple of games.