DALLAS – With their two top centers both on a roll, the Dallas Stars appear to be a very dangerous hockey club.
Now if they can just replicate that success on a regular basis.
For the second consecutive game, the Stars received outstanding, gutsy performances from Mike Ribeiro and Jamie Benn, and once again, the result was a hard-fought victory - this time a 4-1 decision over the Edmonton Oilers Saturday afternoon at the American Airlines Center.
Ribeiro and Benn each scored twice, while rookie goaltender Richard Bachman, a late-notice starter, came in and made 25 saves in a strong performance to lead Dallas to its second straight win and third in its last four contests. Loui Eriksson added three assists.
Dallas improves to 23-16-1 on the season, moving into a three-way tie with Colorado and Los Angeles for seventh in the Western Conference standings.
For the Stars, who beat Nashville 4-1 on Thursday, it was their second straight convincing victory, and third in their last four games going back to their outstanding 4-2 decision over the defending Stanley Cup champion Bruins, but that followed a stretch in which they lost three-of-four.
“I thought even tonight over the Nashville game, we were a little bit better defensively and that’s the key for us,” Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said. “I thought defensively, we were a little bit better today over the Nashville game and that’s the way we need to trend, that’s what this team has to do.”
“One game we were playing super well, and not giving the other team much and the next game, we got away from it,” Ribeiro acknowledged regarding the Stars’ recent performance. “It’s playing well defensively, when you do that, it helps offensively - you create turnovers and it’s been a focus. Pass the puck hard, finish your checks, but just outwork the other teams.”
Just as he did Thursday night when he took a puck in the mouth that cost him two teeth and several stitches, Ribeiro left the match briefly in the second period following a knee-on-knee collision, and came back, shaking off the pain from two different sources to score the game-clincher late in the third period and sealing it with an empty netter.
“I don’t like to miss games so I came back,” said Ribeiro, who shed the full-face cage he wore to protect his mouth at some point in the first period. “It’s sore. This morning, my mouth was really sore, I didn’t take anything to help it, I don’t like to take (pain-killers), I just wanted to come play and once you skate and once you’re out there, you don’t feel the pain. I knew that and I’m fine. It’s sore a little bit, but that’s part of the game.”
“He had a knee-on-knee there in the second period and he had a brace and put it on and came back,” Gulutzan said of Ribeiro. “Once I saw him do the spin-around in the corner, I knew he was going to be okay. But yeah, he’s gutting it out for us. A big night for him, and four goals in the last two games, that helps us out tremendously. And not only that, going two ways, and he’s real smart, real smart defensively and he’s committed there and that’s helped us a lot.”
Add in another dominant performance by Benn, who now has an incredible nine points (four goals, five assists) in the last four games, and you have a major recipe for Stars success.
“Just putting in the effort and playing the right way,” shrugged the humble Benn regarding his recent hot streak. “It’s what’s going to win hockey games, and we’re doing that right now. I think, for our team, we just want to put some wins together here and kind of get streaky.”
“Real good night for Bennie, our best guy up front there,” said Gulutzan, who noted that he was trying to get Benn as much ice time as possible. “Double-shifting him in the third there, it just paid dividends, the more you play him, the better he gets. I thought he was really strong tonight, in all aspects of his game tonight, not just the two goals - he was physical, he played well at both ends, it was fun to watch for all of us.”
As for Bachman in goal, it was his first game as the Stars’ true backup, as he was called into action for number one man Kari Lehtonen, who was dealing with a case of the flu. After finding out about 45 minutes prior to the pre-game warm-ups that he was getting the start, Bachman settled in and had a strong game, giving Lehtonen a break after he started four straight following a 12-game absence due to a groin injury.
“I felt good,” said Bachman, who improved his personal record to 6-2-0 since being recalled from AHL Texas back on Nov. 27. “I had some pretty good practices the last few days, and I just try to feel ready and comfortable and confident and try to give the team a chance to win. So it felt good.”
“We were going with Kari today, but he wasn’t feeling good when he got to the rink this morning,” Gulutzan reported. “We have confidence in Bachs and Kari was a little under the weather, he came and talked to us and said he wasn’t feeling great, we’ve had a little bit of the flu going through here. We told him about 45 minutes before the warm-ups and he was ready. It was a good game for him.”
Tied 1-1 heading into the final period, the Stars came out buzzing, swarming the Oilers’ zone early, with their best chance coming at 4:09 when Ribeiro slid a pass out from behind the net to Brenden Morrow, whose one-timer was ticketed for the upper right corner before Edmonton netminder Nikolai Khabibulin got a piece of it with his shoulder.
Dallas surged ahead on Benn’s second of the afternoon and 13th of the season at 7:03. With Benn double-shifting with the fourth line, Tom Wandell fired the puck on net from the left corner. Khabibulin stopped it, but with Adam Burish standing at the edge of the crease, the rebound popped out and Khabibulin managed to make a sparkling pad save on Burish’s close-in shot. The rebound bounced out a little beyond the crease, and Benn charged in, leveled Edmonton defenseman Ladislav Smid and roofed the puck over the prone Khabibulin, just under the crossbar.
“A good job by Burish and Wandell there,” Benn said of the play. “Burish had a good net presence there, and Wandell just put it at the net and I just picked up the rebound. I pretty much just cross-checked him there, and put it in the back of the net.”
The Stars kept pressing, and came oh-so-close to increasing their lead to two at 10:59 when Eriksson and Morrow raced into the Oilers’ zone on a 2-on-1 rush. As Eriksson reached the left face-off circle, he fed a pass across to the charging Morrow, who fired a scorching wrist shot past Khabibulin’s glove but it clanked off the right post.
Ribeiro put the Stars up 3-1 with 6:21 remaining in regulation on a somewhat fluky play. After carrying the puck in on the rush, Ribeiro faked a couple of shots from the right circle, but opted to curl around behind the Oilers’ net before flinging a backhander out front and it pinballed off Edmonton defenseman Colton Teubert, then hit Khabibulin’s pad and dropped in.
“I was actually passing to Brenden in front of the net, but it tipped two guys, then the goalie and went in,” Ribeiro admitted. “So I first thought to throw it to him in front of the net, but a few bounces. Lately I’ve been getting those bounces and for a while, I wasn’t having those bounces come in my game.”
Dallas almost made it 4-1 two minutes later, when Benn and Michael Ryder sped into the zone on another 2-on-1 rush. This time, Benn fed a pass over to Ryder in the right circle, but his scorching wrist shot, which appeared to be heading towards the upper right corner, was snagged by Khabibulin’s glove.
Ribeiro then iced the victory with an empty net goal with 1:14 remaining.
“We put ourselves in a good position there and the focus was to do the right things there in the third, just get pucks deep and we started taking over,” said Benn.
The Oilers had the contest’s first legitimate scoring chance at 6:58 of the opening period when Ales Hemsky cut in on Bachman alone, but the rookie goalie denied his deke attempt and Hemsky slid into the corner, taking out the referee.
Khabibulin made several nice saves in the period, turning aside Morrow’s one-timer from the slot at 7:12 and then getting his blocker on Ryder’s wrist shot from low in the left face-off circle.
On their first power play later in the period, the Stars nearly got one at 14:45 when Morrow squeezed one past Khabibulin at the right post and it bounced through the other side of the crease, past Ribeiro’s attempt to swat it home.
Seconds later, Khabibulin made another strong pad save on Eriksson’s point-blank backhander.
Then, once Sam Gagner exited the penalty box and led a 3-on-1 break into the Stars’ zone, which culminated in Bachman making a fabulous pad save on Shawn Horcoff’s wrister from right circle.
The Oilers were the beneficiaries of a lucky bounce at 17:19 as Taylor Hall was credited with his 14th goal of the year. Bachman stopped Hall’s wrist shot from the left circle, but the rebound bounced out in front, then ricocheted off the skate of Alex Goligoski, up in the air and just over the lunging glove hand of Bachman and dropped into the net.
“I was reaching, I just couldn’t quite get it there,” Bachman said of the play. “After I saw it, I probably could have got up there, but in the heat of the moment, you’re just trying to get anything you can on it. It’s a fluky play and when stuff like that happens, you just forget about it right away. “
Bachman made an outstanding save 1:36 later to keep the Stars within one. After Josh Green stripped Adam Pardy of the puck in the right circle, then cut into the slot before firing an uncontested wrist shot that Bachman swallowed up.
“They came out strong and we had a good idea they were going to do that,” Bachman said of the first period. “I thought the D did a great job of blocking out for me a little bit, and that’s kind of huge, especially when you haven’t played in a few games, just being able to see the shots straight on and feel it a little bit, really gives you confidence going forward in the game.”
The intensity level ratcheted up a notch 6:10 into the second period after Steve Ott leveled Edmonton’s Anton Lander with an high hit to the head, and then seconds later was challenged to a fight by Green.
Moments after a 3-on-1 rush went awry with Eriksson missing a chance at the right post, the Stars maintained possession and wound up tying the game on Benn’s first goal of the afternoon at 14:39. Trevor Daley picked up the puck from Eriksson behind the Edmonton net and fed a quick pass to the lip of the crease, where Benn emtombed a one-timer over Khabibulin’s shoulder.
The Stars get will next head out to Southern California for a two-game mini-road-trip that begins Tuesday night in Anaheim (9:00 pm start, FSSW Plus) against the Ducks, who currently sit last in the Pacific Division and 14th in the Western Conference overall.
- Benn now has four goals in his last three games. He also delivered four hits while firing two shots on goal.
- Ribeiro’s second straight two-goal game gives him seven in the last nine games and 10 overall on the season. He also went 8-3 on face-offs.
- Eriksson’s three-point day leaves him with eight points (two goals, six assists) in the last four games and 16 points (four goals, 12 assists) in his last 11.
- Morrow earned an assist for the second straight game after going pointless in the previous four. He also was +3 and fired a season-high seven shots on goal and delivered four hits to tie Benn for the team lead.
- Wandell picked up an assist to extend his scoring streak to four games, having compiled five points (one goal, four assists) over that span, following zero points in the previous eight contests.
- Daley’s assist gives him five points (one goal, four assists) over the last four games as well. He also had a team-high three blocked shots.