DENVER – The Andrew Raycroft show opened in the Rocky Mountains on Monday night, and it received nothing but rave reviews.
Raycroft, playing his first game since taking over the lead role for Kari Lehtonen after he hurt his groin over the weekend, finished with 35 saves to lead the Stars to a hard-earned 3-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center.
Raycroft was simply spectacular in making only his fifth start of the season, and the Stars did just enough offensively to snap a two-game winless streak to move to 14-9-1 on the season.
“I felt great, and I have felt great,” Raycroft said. “I’ve felt good in practice every day and I feel like I’m doing the right things. Tonight our guys played great, especially in the third. It’s nice to get a win, and just as important, nice to get all the guys believing in me and know that I can get wins for them. It’s always a lot more fun to win.”
Michael Ryder capped the scoring with an empty-net goal with 27.7 seconds left in regulation -- his second goal of the period -- and Eric Nystrom also scored for the Stars, who beat Colorado for the second time this month to end a four-game road slide.
But it was Raycroft who shrugged off the pressure of becoming the main man by spitting out each puck that came his way, especially during a second-period Colorado outburst in which the Avalanche fired 16 shots his way.
Raycroft blocked everything from a who’s who list of young Avalanche stars in that middle frame. From Matt Duchene’s wrister from the left circle on a 2-on-1 break and Paul Stastny’s in tight wrist shot off a wild carom off the end boards, to robbing Ryan O’Reilly’s backhand nudge from in tight with an amazing left pad save, Raycroft answered every challenge.
“That’s why we got him,” coach Glen Gulutzan said. “He’s been a starter in the league and he can help us win games, and that’s what he did. He made the first saves and we did a good job around the net. Then he made some really big saves, and that gives the bench a little pick-up. That was the difference. It’s nice for us to have our guys have confidence in him, and it’s good for his confidence going forward. We thought he played tremendous.”
It was the hard-luck Raycroft’s first win in his last eight decisions over 12 appearances -- including eight starts -- dating back to a victory at Minnesota in January.
“It seems like whenever he’s in there, we never play our best games,” Ryder said. “You need two goalies during the season to help you win, and he’s been there for us and supporting us even though he hasn’t played as much as Kari. But we need him now, and tonight we really showed him that we really wanted to play for him, and we proved it with the way we played.”
Although Vernon Fiddler was able to play after he was banged-up in the Phoenix game, the Stars were without Trevor Daley for the first time after he injured his back against the Coyotes. And despite allowing nearly 40 shots, the Stars played relatively mistake-free hockey for most of the 60 minutes while taking 35 shots.
“We have to play with jump and play physical, and I thought our defensive game was pretty solid,” Gulutzan said.
Ryder gave the Stars breathing room with his eighth of the season with 5:24 left in the third period to make it 2-0. From inside the Dallas blue line and along the right boards, Loui Eriksson sent a long pass to Ryder skating hard down the middle of the ice. Ryder received the puck just outside the Colorado blue line, got behind defenseman Jan Hejda, and snapped a wicked shot in from the slot.
“I saw Loui get the puck so I just kind of busted it and caught their defense a little off-guard,” Ryder said. “I just tried to get a quick shot off and I beat him high glove.”
But Colorado answered on a goal by Kevin Porter just under 2 minutes later when he closed the gap to 2-1 with his first goal of the season by banging home a rebound off a shot from David Jones.
The Avalanche pulled goalie Semyon Varlamov with about 90 seconds to go, and Ryder subsequently iced it when he stole the puck away from rookie defenseman Stefan Elliot just outside the Colorado blue line along the right boards, then deposited the puck into the net from the right circle.
“It was a big win for us, and a battle right to the end,” Ryder said. “We found a way to win. It’s huge for Rayzor to get that, and we’re happy for him to get that win. It was a big road game for us.”
Varlamov ended with 32 saves for the Avalanche (10-13-1), who’ve lost three of their last four.
“The biggest thing with that win is with everything that has happened it’s given the team the sense that, ‘Hey, we play a certain way we can have success,’” Gulutzan said. “By the middle of the second we started to get going a little bit better. It takes a lot to win in this building.”
Nystrom staked the Stars to a 1-0 lead with 4:04 remaining in the first period. Fiddler’s shot from the high slot was stopped by Varlamov, but Nystrom rammed home the rebound after charging through and splitting Avalanche defensemen Ryan Wilson and Elliot. It was Nystrom’s eighth goal of the season, and third in the last three games.
“It was nice to get a lead on the road because we haven’t been able to do that, really get out to that lead lately,” Raycroft said. “It’s a big deal on the road.”
The Stars return home for a two-game set with Eastern Conference foes Ottawa and the New York Islanders starting on Thursday night against the Senators at American Airlines Center (7:30 p.m., FS-SW). Ottawa (11-10-2) was 3-1-1 in its last five heading into its game Tuesday at Winnipeg.