DALLAS – As far as retribution is concerned, consider it meted out the way it should be, on the scoreboard and not in the alley.
With much pre-game hype centering around the possibility the Dallas Stars might seek some eye-for-an-eye payback for the beating they absorbed last season from the Boston Bruins, the Stars kept their focus on the ice and put together one of their most complete performances of the season.
Behind a goal and two assists from Trevor Daley and with two goals coming off the power play unit, the Stars took down the defending Stanley Cup champions 4-2 Saturday night during their annual home New Year’s Eve contest in front of a raucous sellout crowd of 18,532 at the American Airlines Center.
The win snapped a two-game losing streak for the Stars, improving their record to 21-15-1 on the season and moving them past San Jose and Los Angeles into first place in the Pacific Division. It was especially significant that it came against the red-hot Bruins, who had won seven in a row by a combined score of 32-8 and were riding a ridiculous 21-2-1 streak coming into the evening.
Not only that, but Boston came into the game leading the entire NHL in goals per game, boasting the league’s best defense and owning the third-best penalty killing unit that had allowed just one goal in their previous 40 shorthanded situations.
And when you consider Dallas lost 4-1 to the team with the NHL’s worst record, Columbus, here Thursday night, this win is even more impressive.
“It was a good rebound game for us,” said winger Jamie Benn, who contributed two assists and was named the game’s second star. “I thought we played all right against Columbus but didn’t get the two points, and we came out with a good team effort tonight, it took everyone, and it’s a big two points.”
“What a team they are, they’re big, strong, can play, what a strong team and you can see why they won the Stanley Cup last year,” added Stars coach Glen Gulutzan. “It means a lot to our club (to beat them) because here is a team that is (21-2-1 in their last 24 games), pounding away at the rest of the league and we give a committed effort and get a win. I thought we were solid 5-on-5 as well, we didn’t give up a whole lot.”
As for the physical aspect of the game, it seemed like the Bruins were trying to draw the Stars into a chippy, rough-and-tumble game like last season’s disastrous 6-3 Dallas loss, and this time the Stars resisted their overtures and Boston wound up handing them six power plays.
That the Stars scored twice, including one crucial 5-on-3 goal just 3:21 into the first period by Loui Eriksson, against such a prominent PK unit, gave Dallas an even bigger lift.
“I think they were a little bit frustrated in that second,” Gulutzan said of the Bruins. “They took a lot of penalties, they weren’t getting the bounces, and I think they felt they weren’t getting the calls, but for our team, we stayed the course, we didn’t get involved too much in it and we were team-tough when we needed to be and we stayed away from most of it. I thought that’s the way our game plan was drawn up and we did a good job following it.”
“That’s part of their game,” Benn said. “They’re the ‘Big, Bad Bruins’ for a reason and I think we did a good job of staying disciplined tonight and capitalizing on our power play chances and it got us the win.”
It was a big boost to get such a performance from the PP unit, which entered the day 0-for-11 over the previous four games and 2-for-20 over the previous six.
“Our PP did a good job tonight, we managed to get that back on track and hopefully that turns a page for us on the power play,” said winger Michael Ryder, whose power play goal in the final minute of the first period put Dallas up 3-1. “I just think we kept it a little simpler, we took chances when we had them, we moved pucks fast, we made them move and that’s what you have to do in order to have success - and shoot, and I think we did that. We got two goals and hopefully it’s a step forward.”
Dallas also got two goals from the fourth line, as Tom Wandell delivered a goal and an assist, while Adam Burish added a key assist and Jake Dowell engaged in the game’s only fight.
“Real big,” Gulutzan said of the fourth line’s contributions. “I thought Tommy Wandell, his game is really rounding out and I thought Bur gave us quality ice time, not only PK but taking face-offs and he made a nice play there (on Wandell’s goal), and so did Dowell, that fourth line created some energy and got the crowd into it and they played hard. Those guys are hard-working guys and they can play up in the lineup and they did a great job for us. ”
Almost lost in all the euphoria was the solid performance of goaltender Kari Lehtonen, who made 18 saves in his second straight start after missing 12 contests with a groin injury.
Things could have gone much differently had the Stars not been handed a golden opportunity early to jump on top when Boston’s Dennis Seidenberg shot the puck out of play from his own zone just 2:15 into the opening period. Coupled with Chris Kelly’s hooking penalty seven seconds earlier, the result was a Dallas 5-on-3 power play for a full 1:53.
Loui Eriksson needed 1:06 to snap the Stars’ power play drought and put them up 1-0 when he received a nice cross-ice pass from Alex Goligoski and launched a lethal wrist shot over Boston uber-goalie Tim Thomas’ glove at 3:21.
Boston evened it up at 11:39 while the clubs were skating 4-on-4, when Tyler Seguin parked in front of Lehtonen and slickly executed a mid-air deflection of David Krejci’s long wrist shot, re-directing the puck down and just inside the left post.
Seguin almost got another one four minutes later when his wrist shot from the right circle clanked off the right post.
Dallas went up 2-1 on Daley’s fourth of the year with 3:01 left in the period on a fluky bounce, the type of bounces that have been going against the Stars lately. On the rush into the Bruins’ zone, Daley fired a wrist shot from the right face-off circle that Thomas stopped with his blocker, but the puck popped directly up in the air, hit Thomas in the back and trickled over the line.
The Stars struck again on the power play with 39.6 seconds on the clock, capitalizing on a Zdeno Chara interference penalty that was expertly drawn by captain Brenden Morrow in front. Ryder, stationed in the right circle, received a fabulous seeing-eye pass out of the left corner from Benn. In one motion, the former Bruin cut into the slot, deking to his backhand while evading Boston’s Rich Peverley, and slipped it around Thomas for his team-leading 15th goal of the season.
“Definitely, it’s very nice to score against them,” Ryder admitted, “but I’m just happy to get the win and show that we can compete against the top teams in the league.”
Overall, it was as good a period as the Stars have played this season, getting two on the power play, outshooting the league’s best team 12-5 and emerging with a two-goal lead.
With back-to-back power plays midway through the second period (including a three-second 5-on-3), the Stars had another chance to make Boston pay for frustrated retaliatory penalties. They nearly did so at 9:34 when Benn deflected Goligoski’s point shot with his back to the net while in front, but Thomas made a nice save.
Those advantages ended when Ryder was whistled for tripping, and Lehtonen had to come up with a big save of his own at 11:25, getting enough of Seguin’s slap shot from the top of the left circle to send it just wide of the right post.
The long-awaited first fight of the night took place at 15:22 when Dowell dropped the gloves with the initiator of last season’s fisticuffs, Gregory Campbell.
Dallas upped its lead to 4-1 with 59.2 seconds remaining in the second when Wandell notched his second of the year. Following a Boston turnover in the neutral zone, Burish led an odd-man rush into the Bruins’ zone, feeding a perfect pass from the right circle to the charging Wandell at the far post for the tap-in.
The defending champs came out buzzing early in the final period and got one back just 1:08 in when Milan Lucic hammered a one-timer from the point that beat a screened Lehtonen over the blocker.
The Stars almost restored the three-goal lead at 8:59 when Ryder broke into the Boston zone on a partial breakaway, but Thomas, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner as the NHL’s top goaltender, made a nice save on his wrister from the slot.
As time wound down, the Stars played solid defense and did not really allow the Bruins any prime scoring chances. Boston pulled Thomas for an extra attacker with 1:38 remaining in regulation and their best opportunity after that came when Lehtonen made a nice stop 37 seconds later on Joe Corvo’s point-blank shot in front.
“We got a little antsy early in the third, gave up a quick one, but got our game back quickly,” Gulutzan said. “For us moving forward, we’ve got to look up. We can’t look down and sideways or we’ll trip and fall, I keep telling the guys, our measuring stick and what makes us better is the teams above us and those are the guys we want to catch and games like this just makes our team better.”
The Stars are off for a couple of days before welcoming the hated Red Wings to town on Tuesday night (7:00 pm start, NBC Sports – formerly Versus).
Perhaps the only negative to come out of the game was that young defenseman Philip Larsen left the contest late in the second period due to injury.
“Lars is iffy here (for the next game),” Gulutzan said. “He had his bell rung a little bit, we can’t say yet what’s going on. He wanted to play, but it’s just pre-cautionary a little bit, but we’ll see. I think he’s going to be fine over the next couple of days, but Doc didn’t want to put him in that situation.”
- Daley’s three-point night gives him five points (one goal, four assists) in the last four games. He led the Stars with five shots on goal and in ice time, logging a game-high 26:37.
- Ryder’s goal was his sixth in the last seven games.
- Wandell snapped an eight-game point drought with his second multi-point effort of the season.
- Eriksson’s goal gives him nine points (three goals, six assists) in the last eight outings.
- Benn’s two assists leave him with 10 points (two goals, eight assists) in the last eight games.
- Mike Ribeiro played in his 700th career NHL regular season contest.
- The Stars outhit Boston by a whopping 36-15 margin, with blueliner Mark Fistric delivering a game-high six.
- Dallas improved its record to 9-4-2 on New Year’s Eve since relocating from Minnesota in 1993.