DALLAS – The Dallas Stars are certainly displaying impressive resilience and character lately.
Still missing five regular contributors, including number one goaltender Kari Lehtonen, the Stars rallied with two goals in the final 5:34 to defeat the Ottawa Senators 3-2 Thursday night at the American Airlines Center.
Besides the late comeback, led by third liners Radek Dvorak, who scored the equalizer with 5:34 left in regulation and assisted on Eric Nystrom’s game-winner with 2:20 to go, Dallas received another outstanding performance in goal by Lehtonen’s backup, Andrew Raycroft, who made 33 saves, including 17 in the third period.
“We’ve been talking about that and preaching that for the whole year, that we have a 60-minute game for a reason,” said forward Steve Ott, who also scored. “Tonight, obviously, it took us the full 60, but we got the job done with a huge Nystrom goal.”
The triumph was the second in a row for the depleted Stars and gives them an impressive 4-1-1 mark in their last six contests. Now with a 15-9-1 season record, Dallas moves ahead of Phoenix into first place in the Pacific Division.
For Raycroft, who made consecutive starts for the first time since Dec. 2010, it was nice to get into the rhythm of knowing he’d be the man and it sure showed on the ice.
“It was a big win, it feels good,” said Raycroft, who improved his record in games not played on back-to-back nights to 9-2-0 over the last two seasons. “It’s nice to play back-to-back games, it’s probably been a full year since that’s happened. For me, I just feel more and more comfortable, just little details like having the puck behind the net, reading plays and it just feels like you just have a little more time the more you play. It’s nice, and you just keep working hard.”
“He’s been great,” added Ott regarding Raycroft. “He’s backed up for a long time, but he’s also been a phenomenal starter in this league at a young age. We have a lot of faith in Razor, he works extremely hard in practice. We knew he was ready to step in if anything happened to Lehts, it’s a shame because Kari’s such a good goaltender, but he’ll be back, but in the meantime, we have lots of faith in Razor and he’ll continue to do a good job.”
Ott’s first period goal came on the power play, which finally awoke from its recent slumber, as the PP unit scored for the first time in nine games, snapping an 0-for-22 skid.
“The power play’s been ugly for a long time now and it’s tough, we’ve all been beating ourselves over it,” said Ott. “We want to have success on the power play, because it does win you games and it loses you games.”
“We looked today at the top five power plays in the league,” said Dallas coach Glen Gulutzan. “And we looked at every goal that they scored this year, and maybe outside of Vancouver, the rest of the teams are just shooting and rolling and getting net presence, creating secondary chances and that’s just something we have to hold on to.”
Tied 1-1 heading into the final period, the Stars had a chance to snap the tie just 15 seconds in when Jamie Benn sped into the Ottawa zone off the rush and fired a point-blank wrist shot from the left face-off circle, but Senators netminder Craig Anderson made the blocker save.
Another big opportunity came at 1:35 when Mike Ribeiro fed Ott low in the right face-off circle, but despite facing a half-empty net, Otter’s one-timer from a somewhat sharp angle hit the side of the net.
Ottawa went ahead 2-1 at 11:42 when Milan Michalek connected for his 15th goal of the season. On the rush into the Stars’ zone, captain Daniel Alfredsson fired a wrist shot from the right face-off circle that Raycroft knocked aside with his blocker, but the rebound ended up in the left circle, where Michalek caught the puck in mid-air, quickly set it down on the ice and drilled a snap shot that beat Raycroft inside the left post.
The Stars answered less than three minutes later as Dvorak tied it back up at 14:26 with his third of the season. It was Ribeiro who made the play, though, as he stick-handled into the Ottawa zone, evading several Senators with some slick moves before working his way down the left sideboards before feeding a pass in front, where Dvorak re-directed it home.
“That was a huge goal,” said Nystrom of Dvorak’s equalizer. “Ribby made a great play, he was weaving and bobbing all over the place and Devo just went to the front, he’s been playing so well lately for us. That’s a huge goal for us, it got us back into the game after a tough goal against.”
“I thought that it was an extremely nice play by Ribeiro to tie it,” said Gulutzan. “With Devo sitting in front, to find that stick, I thought it was a highly-skilled play.”
It took the Stars another 3:14 to surge ahead, as Nystrom struck for his ninth goal of the year at 17:40. After about a full minute of sustained pressure in the Ottawa zone, the third line combined for the winner as Nystrom edged out from behind the net into the low right circle before firing a quick wrist shot just inside the far post.
“That was some shift,” Nystrom said of his sixth career game-winning goal and first this season. “We got in there, we got possession, me, Devo and Fidds there, we were just making short little plays and kind of grinding them down. We kind of got them running and just had a seeing-eye shot that just found the far corner. That felt really good.”
“Just the work of that Fiddler-Dvorak-Nystrom line, they just work and work and work,” Gulutzan said. “I’m sure glad they scored because I don’t know if they would have had any energy to backcheck if they had not, so it was a real character play by them to score there.”
The Senators pulled Anderson for an extra attacker with 1:10 on the clock and Raycroft came up with a nice save thought a screen on Erik Karlsson’s slap shot from the left point with 57 seconds left.
Raycroft had to come up with another huge stop just before the final buzzer, as he got his glove on Karlsson’s wrister from the right point, and then snagged the loose rebound chance by Alfredsson.
“We wish we didn’t have to make those saves,” said Gulutzan of that final sequence. “We’re going to try to clean up a couple of things on our coverage, but I think the most important thing we got from those saves was confidence. He gave it to us in Colorado, a big save with a second left tonight and all that does for our group is lift it a little higher as we move forward, and lift him a little higher.”
“Games are 60 minutes. We might not have necessarily had our best legs early in the game, but we kept on getting better and better,” said Nystrom. “And yeah, they scored one, but there was still plenty of time left, and then we popped a couple of late ones, and that’s the character on this team, we’re never going to give up until the buzzer goes.”
The power play unit didn’t get off to the best start, as the Stars did not have much of an impact on their first one after Erik Condra was whistled for hooking at 4:58. Then, seconds after Condra stepped back on the ice, Ottawa’s Jared Cowen leveled Philip Larsen along the boards at center ice and stole the puck, feeding it into the middle for Condra, who sped into the Dallas zone and fired a perfectly-placed wrist shot that beat Raycroft over the glove just under the crossbar at 7:07.
The second Stars’ power play went much smoother, as Ott notched his fifth goal of the season at 9:38, just 30 seconds after Nick Foligno took a seat in the penalty box. Toby Petersen set up the play with a wrist shot from the left point, and Ott, stationed in front, turned his stick blade over to deflect it past Anderson and make it 1-1.
“Petey made a great shot, I got a stick on it, and it was finally nice to get back on the right side of the power play,” Ott said.
“It was a pretty tricky play there, a wrist shot with guys in front, and lo and behold, it goes in,” quipped Gulutzan.
Raycroft made a nice save at 12:09 to keep the game tied, when he slid across the crease just in time to stop Nikita Filatov’s wrap-around attempt at the right post.
The Stars dodged a bullet with 4:30 remaining in the period and killing off a Senators power play when Alfredsson’s booming slap shot from the left point whizzed past Raycroft’s ear and clanked off the crossbar, ricocheting out of play.
Dallas had a golden opportunity to surge ahead midway through the second period when Benn and Loui Eriksson sped into the Ottawa zone on a 2-on-1 rush. Benn wound up with the puck in the slot and fired a high wrist shot, but Anderson made a nice blocker save.
The second period featured a season-low of eight combined shots on goal, with each team managing just four.
The Stars’ mini-homestand continues (and concludes) Saturday night at the American Airlines Center against the New York Islanders (7:30 pm start, TXA-21). The Islanders, last in the Eastern Conference standings, have won two in a row on the road, but play in Chicago Friday night before arriving in Dallas the next day for their fourth straight road contest.
- Dvorak’s two-point night gives him six points (three goals, three assists) in the last six games.
- Nystrom, with his fourth goal in the last four games, is one goal behind Eriksson for the team lead and is closing in on his career-high season total of 11, set in 2009-10 with Calgary in 82 games.
- Ott’s goal was his third in the last six games. His four hits tied with Nystrom for the club lead.
- Stephane Robidas earned an assist on Ott’s goal, his third assist in the last five contests following a seven-game point drought.
- Winger Tomas Vincour notched his first point of the season with an assist on Dvorak’s goal, even though he didn’t even get a plus for being on the ice, because he’d already changed and was sitting on the bench by the time the puck entered the net.
- Benn led the Stars with five shots on goal.
- The win gives Dallas an 8-1-1 record in one-goal games, for an .850 winning percentage, tops in the entire NHL.
1 - 0 OTT
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 OTT
2 - 2 Tie
3 - 2 DAL