ST. LOUIS – Playing without two of their top four point-getters against the best home team in the league, the Stars reverted to some old fashion hard work and hitting to overcome their undermanned offensive attack. The stinginess from the crease on out stymied the red-hot St. Louis Blues for over two periods, but the bubble ultimately burst.
Missing leading scorer Jamie Benn for the first time since he underwent an appendectomy over the weekend, and without Mike Ribeiro once again because of a lower-body injury, the Stars went toe-to-toe with surging St. Louis before T.J. Oshie solved Kari Lehtonen in minute 52 to give the Blues a 1-0 win on Monday night at Scottrade Center and before a national cable TV audience.
The Stars may not have had four regulars, but they hung tough with a Blues team that tied the New York Rangers for the most points (60) in the NHL with their league-leading 19th win at home. Dallas (24-19-1) lost its second straight, and third in the last four games overall.
“We got into position to have some success,” coach Glen Gulutzan said. “We got it into a next goal wins game, but it just wasn’t us that got it. Otherwise, we battled hard.”
Lehtonen was magnificent throughout the gritty game that featured 42 combined hits (19 for Dallas). He finished with 31 saves, and gave the Stars every chance to secure a victory. The problem was on the other end of the ice, where St. Louis’ Jaroslav Halak was equally as tough to penetrate.
Halak made 22 saves for his third shutout of the season, and 19th of his career.
The Stars made one final push with Lehtonen pulled for the extra attacker late in the third, but were unable to generate the equalizer.
“We knew it was going to be a tight game against this team,” Lehtonen said. “Going to the third period we felt pretty good about our game. They just kind of took it to the next level and were able to get the one goal that was enough.”
With Benn out, Gulutzan was forced to juggle his lines. He moved leading goal scorer Michael Ryder next to Vernon Fiddler and Eric Nystrom, and put Steve Ott alongside Adam Burish and Radek Dvorak. The new triumvirates showed instant chemistry, as the Stars were able to combat St. Louis’ quick-strike home attack with a tenacious forecheck coupled with smart puck movement.
“I thought we were pretty good,” Burish said. “Going in, we talked about just playing a simple game, nobody trying to do too much and everybody just trying to pull their end. I think we did that. A 0-0 game is the type of game we wanted to play. We were one shot away. Those are the types of games going forward here with the types of injuries we have and what we’re going through, that’s how we have to play. Overall, I think we can be positive about it.”
After two scoreless periods, the Blues almost snuck one in early in the third when Oshie’s drive from the point went off the end boards and towards the outer edge of the crease. David Backes tried one-handing the puck in, but Toby Petersen was able to kick it out of harm’s way with his left skate before it crossed the goal line.
Nystrom then was robbed on a breakaway when Halak closed his pads to deny a 5-hole wrist shot attempt with 12 minutes to go in regulation. The save proved to be the turning point because with 8:34 remaining in regulation, the Blues broke the deadlock when Oshie was able to outmaneuver Tom Wandell while taking a pass from David Perron.
Skating to towards the net with Wandell trying to cover him, Oshie shook-off Wandell and accepted Perron’s pass on the backhand before bringing it to his forehand to stuff it in past Lehtonen.
“He just held onto the puck, and made it look pretty easy,” Lehtonen said. “It was a nice play by those two guys.”
The Blues outshot the Stars 14-6 in the pivotal final frame.
“I like the work ethic,” Gulutzan said. “We didn’t create a whole ton, but we worked hard. I thought both goalies were very good. Ours was very good. We didn’t test Halak as much. He made a breakaway save that could have been a changer. When goalies make those ones, it makes a big difference.”
“Anytime you play a 0-0 game and you give up one in the third, it stings,” Burish added. “A 5-4 game probably doesn’t hurt as bad as a 1-0 game. These 1-0 games kind of burn you a little bit. They capitalized on a chance, and that was the difference.”
Nystrom nearly broke the goose eggs on the scoreboard with 40 seconds left in second period when he tried jamming home a pass in tight from Trevor Daley after Daley circled around the Blues net. But Halak was able to block the close-range attempt to send the game into the third scoreless.
The win moved the Blues to an eye-popping 21-5-6 under former Stars head coach Ken Hitchcock, who took over after Davis Payne was released in early November.
“When you’re missing a couple of good players, you have to work hard, try to eliminate penalties, and try to score a couple of goals,” Lehtonen said. “Everything else was great but the outcome. We didn’t get the points.”
The Stars return home for a meeting Tuesday night with the Detroit Red Wings at American Airlines Center (7:30 p.m., FS-SW). The Red Wings cruised to a 5-0 win over the Buffalo Sabres Monday night to give them 59 points.
“We have to play this way, we have no other choice,” Gulutzan said. “If we deviate from this, we don’t have Ribs and Benny and that kind of offense to bail you out.”
-- Along with Benn, Adam Pardy was the other scratch. Francis Wathier was inserted into the lineup, and played his first game this season after being recalled from Texas of the AHL on Sunday.
-- Sheldon Souray took a shot off his foot from St. Louis defenseman Roman Polak. Souray missed the final five minutes of the first period before returning in the second.
-- Jake Dowell got into a second-period scrap with Blues center Scott Nichol. Nichol also received an extra minor for roughing in the fracas that gave Dallas its second power play of the game.
-- Loui Eriksson picked up a hooking infraction in the third period that upped his penalty minute total this season to a mere six. His 10 penalty minutes lifetime against the Blues ties a career-high against any team he’s faced in the league. Eriksson has 10 PIMs against both Los Angeles and Anaheim as well.
-- Dallas went 0 for 3 on the power play, and is just 3 for 39 with the man advantage over the past 12 games.
-- The Stars have lost two straight to the Blues after beating them five consecutive times.
-- In 10 lifetime appearances against the Blues, Lehtonen has never allowed more than two goals in a game against them.
-- The Stars fell to 11-11-0 on the road.
1 - 0 STL
Delaying Game - Puck over glass