MONTREAL – It was one they absolutely needed to have, and the Dallas Stars responded with one of their best performances of the season.
After several games of coming frustratingly-close only to wind up just short at the end, the Stars received outstanding efforts from throughout the lineup and goaltender Kari Lehtonen made 31 saves to shut out the Montreal Canadiens 3-0 Tuesday night at the Bell Centre.
The win was crucial to the Stars’ playoff chances, giving them 64 points on the season, which leaves them 10th in the Western Conference standings, but pulling them to within two points of Los Angeles for the eighth and final playoff spot.
Dallas is still just 2-3-1 in their last six contests overall, but it was good to see the squad seemingly firing on all cylinders. They received goals from three different lines, were strong on special teams, as they had to kill off four Montreal power plays in the second period alone, and of course, got excellent netminding from Lehtonen.
Lehtonen, making his 10th consecutive start, stopped 14 shots in the second period alone and was instrumental to the PK unit’s 4-for-4 success on the night as he recorded his second blanking of the season and 19th of his career.
“It was a big game for us,” said center Mike Ribeiro, who scored a huge goal early in the third period to make it 2-0, in his first visit back to Montreal since he was traded by the Canadiens to Dallas in Sept. 2006. “We threw pucks at the net, kept the game simple. Our special teams, PK did a great job, and our goaltender has to be good and Kari did a great job. It’s just been an exciting day and night, just a great time here for the first time, hopefully it doesn’t take six years to come back.
“Certainly Kari Lehtonen helped (with the penalty killing),” Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said. “And I thought we blocked some key shots and they got some shots through, but we cleaned up a lot of those rebounds and the ones we didn’t, Kari did, so that was a key for us tonight.”
Offensively, rookie Ryan Garbutt scored his first NHL goal to give Dallas a 1-0 first period lead that stood up until early in the third, when Mike Ribeiro and Tom Wandell found the back of the net just 37 seconds apart to finally give the Stars a little cushion.
“It was good, especially the first period, we came out really hard, got that one goal,” said Lehtonen. “The second period, we ran into some penalty troubles and the third period, we came out again great and it was nice to get those two goals and make it a little easier on me.”
Heading into the final period with a tenuous 1-0 lead, the Stars had to finish killing off the fourth power play they gave Montreal, and did so without incident.
Ribeiro then notched his 13th goal of the season at 4:32 to give Dallas some much-needed breathing room. Trevor Daley set up the goal by carrying the puck down the right sideboards, into the corner, and then around the net and out the left side of the crease before slipping a nice cross-crease pass over to a wide-open Ribeiro on the right side for a one-timer into an open net.
“I don’t celebrate like that usually, I was just excited,” said Ribeiro, who waved both arms up and down, as if exhorting the Montreal fans to cheer him, after the goal. “It took me a while to figure out what to do, I just wanted to put my arms up. It was a big goal for us, a big play by Trevor.”
“It was a huge goal and you could see that Ribby was as slick as ever tonight,” said Gulutzan. “He made some real nice plays and played a great two-way game, so we’re really happy for him to come back here in front of family and do that, is a big thing for anyone. It was nice, he got the first star, and that’s a great honor for any guy who grows up in Quebec and Montreal.”
Wandell needed just 37 seconds to increase the Dallas lead to 3-0 with his fourth of the year. The play was set up by Tomas Vincour, who intercepted a pass from Montreal netminder Carey Price to defenseman Alexei Emelin, before sliding a pass over to Wandell just entering the Canadiens’ zone. Wandell carried into the high slot, then launched a wrist shot that beat Price past the glove on one he’d probably love to have back.
The Stars dodged a bullet at 8:22 when Lehtonen made a nice shoulder save on Erik Cole’s wrist shot from the left face-off circle, with the puck then bouncing up off the crossbar and landing in the crease. Lehtonen had to slide across to the right post to make a pad save on David Desharnais’ backhander before the puck was cleared out by Radek Dvorak.
Lehtonen made another big save at 10:48 when Rene Bourque’s backhand pass from behind the net found Louis Leblanc in front for a point-blank one-timer off the pad.
Another impressive stop by Lehtonen to help preserve the white-washing came with 4:06 remaining in regulation, when Lars Eller raced into the high slot for an uncontested wrist shot that was swallowed up by the Finnish netminder.
After the final buzzer, Ribeiro was named the contest’s number one star, and received a nice ovation from the remaining Montreal fans, prompting an animated salute from Ribeiro back to them. Clearly, it was an emotional evening for the Montreal native.
“It was nice,” said Ribeiro, who skated for the Canadiens from 1999-2006, of the reception from his hometown fans. “I didn’t know really what to expect, a lot of players when I played here came back and people used to boo them, so I wasn’t sure for today. But the fans have always been behind me and nice to me. It was kind of nice and surprising and a little emotional for them to cheer me after the first star, so I just had to salute them and say thank you, a little bit of my own way of thanking them. I’m a kid from here, I grew up here and I have a lot of friends, so it was a special day and I’ll keep that puck.”
“It was nice,” said Lehtonen of Ribeiro’s big game. “I don’t know if people know how much it means to him and how much he enjoyed playing here and now coming back and doing very well, it’s all you can ask. It was great.”
The Stars controlled much of the early going, building up a 9-0 advantage in shots on goal through a fast-paced first eight minutes of the opening period, but were unable to truly test Price, who made a few nice stops, including one on Jake Dowell’s deflection of Stephane Robidas’ blast from the right point through a screen at 2:30.
Vincour generated the Stars’ next glorious opportunity at 13:57, when he stripped Emelin of the puck at the Canadiens’ blue line and sped in on a 2-on-1 with Steve Ott. Utilizing Ott as a decoy, Vincour fired a wrist shot from the right circle, but Price denied it with a pad save.
Off the ensuing offensive zone face-off, the Stars controlled the puck, eventually leading to Garbutt’s his first career goal at 14:12. Dowell fed a nifty backhand pass from behind the net to Garbutt in the right circle for a lethal one-timer that beat Price over the shoulder just inside the left post.
“It felt great out there and after I got that goal, it felt like a huge weight lifted off my shoulders, and I started playing the game on my instincts, I guess,” said Garbutt, 26, whose father was in the stands watching. “I’m just doing what the coaches are telling me, just funneling pucks at the net and using my linemates out there. They make it easier for me, just trying to move my feet and put pucks towards the net and things have been going pretty well.”
“I was pretty happy for him,” Gulutzan said of Garbutt. “His father’s here too, so what a great thing for a young player who has worked his way up from the minors, AA to AAA and now to the NHL, to score a goal here, what a thrill and he’s played well for us.”
Montreal nearly tied it just 1:05 later when Scott Gomez fed a pass out of the left corner to Bourque, who drilled a one-timer from the top of the left circle over Lehtonen’s shoulder, but it clanked off the crossbar and sailed out of play.
Overall, the Stars outshot the Canadiens 16-6 in the period, but undoubtedly would have loved to have emerged with more than just a 1-0 lead.
Montreal pushed back a bit in the second period, generating a prime chance on their first power play of the night 2:13 in, when a cross-ice pass from Cole found Tomas Kaberle for a back-door one-timer from the left circle that Lehtonen slid across and got just enough of with his blocker to send it wide.
Lehtonen came up with another big stop at 6:42 when a cross-ice pass from Bourque found Gomez alone in the slot for a one-timer.
Dallas was plagued by penalties throughout the second, having to kill off four in the period, including back-to-back power plays late. Montreal maintained consistent pressure, but Lehtonen stood tall.
The Stars actually had a glorious short-handed scoring opportunity with just 46 seconds left in the period when Ott swept into the Montreal zone and blasted a slap shot from the high slot that whizzed past Price but plinked high off the left post.
“We knew that they’re battling like we are to get into a spot and we need to put together a full 60 minutes,” Gulutzan said. “And those first 10 minutes in a game to set the tone is what you’re really looking for and we’ve concentrated on that here a little of late. I thought we played a full 60, we got into some penalty trouble in the second, but we got some kills and some saves and we found a way to win in the third.”
“I think we rolled four lines tonight and everyone went hard, kept it simple, and as a team, it takes 20 guys, and all 20 guys contributed to this,” Ribeiro added.
The Stars complete their mini two-game road trip with a visit to Chicago for another crucial matchup on Thursday against the Blackhawks (7:30 pm start, FSSW). After defeating the Red Wings at home Tuesday night, the Blackhawks sit sixth with 73 points in the West.
- Ribeiro remains hot, now with eight points (two goals, six assists) in the last eight games.
- Garbutt’s first goal came in his third NHL game following his recall last Friday from AHL Texas, where he’d scored 16 goals and 33 points in 50 games. The 26-year-old rookie also fired a game-high six shots on goal and led Dallas with four hits - all in just 8:37 of ice time.
- Wandell’s goal was his first since Jan. 20, a span in which he’d recorded just one assist in 13 contests.
- Dowell’s assist on Garbutt’s goal was his second assist in the last four games, which followed a stretch of 16 games in which he went pointless.
- With an assist on Wandell’s goal, Vincour snapped a five-game pointless stretch.
- Daley earned his second assist in the last four games, following a 16-game point drought.
- Also collecting an assist on Ribeiro’s goal was blueliner Mark Fistric, who picked up his first point of the season in his 43rd game.
- Toby Petersen, back in the lineup after sitting out the previous four contests, and nine of the last 12, as a healthy scratch, earned an assist on Garbutt’s goal, his first point since a goal on Dec. 16, a span of 13 games played.
- Robidas, another ex-Canadien who grew up in Quebec, led the Stars in ice time with 23:51, while also blocking a team-high four shots.
- Petersen got a chance to step back in when winger Adam Burish was sidelined with a case of the flu.
- Loui Eriksson was in the lineup after his wife Micaela gave birth to their second child, a 7 lb., 1 oz. daughter as yet unnamed, at 9:44 am Monday. Eriksson flew into Montreal early Tuesday via commercial flights and ended up with two shots on goal in 20:41 of ice time, tops among Stars forwards.
- This game marked just the fifth time since the beginning of 2000 that the Stars played in Montreal. By comparison, the Stars have visited San Jose a total of 35 times over that same time span.