DALLAS – The Stars have been winning games and gaining confidence over the last week, and that magical mojo carried over into Sunday’s matinee against the best team in the NHL.
In a potential preview of a first-round postseason matchup against the Western Conference-leading Vancouver Canucks, the Stars showed what their peskiness is all about by overcoming a two-goal deficit to capture a 3-2 overtime win at American Airlines Center.
Mike Ribeiro sent the game into the extra session with just 52.5 seconds left in regulation, and Loui Eriksson won it with 68 seconds to go in overtime to stretch the Stars winning streak to four games.
The win also put some room between Dallas and both Los Angeles and Colorado in the race for the final playoff spot in the West. The Stars have earned 70 points, putting them two in front of both the Kings and Avalanche, and three ahead of 11th place Calgary.
Dallas also crept up on San Jose, which sat seventh in the conference with 71 points heading into its game Sunday night against Minnesota.
“It was a big game for us,” Ribeiro said. “They’ve been on a long road trip, but we’ve been traveling, too. It’s been a grind, so to come back against a team like that it’s good for us. Guys are doing the right thing, and special teams are clicking. It’s a 20-man game, and everyone’s pushing right now and playing well.”
Against a red-hot Canucks team that came in with the best road record and playing at a surging 12-1-3 clip that catapulted them to the top of the league standings, the Stars looked down and out early on after Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond scored second-period goals to give Vancouver a 2-0 lead.
Undaunted, Dallas scored the next three to snap a six-game losing streak against the Canucks, who entered as the second-highest scoring team in the league, and move to 33-26-4 on the year, and 4-1 in overtime.
“We’re not a team that is going to score five or six goals, so if you limit the other team to two or three goals your chances of winning will increase,” Ribeiro said. “Defensively we’ve been doing a good job. But there’s a lot of games left, and you can’t get satisfied with a few wins here and there. We have to focus on the next thing.”
Eriksson, who nearly tied it with 2:49 left in regulation when his snap shot hit the post, wasn’t to be denied this time around when he deposited the winner in from the inner edge of the right circle. From the left point, Trevor Daley took a few strides into the left circle before finding Eriksson lurching at the back door. The Swede simply swooped the puck in upon receiving the slick pass for his 21st of the season, setting off a wild celebration both on the ice and in the raucous crowd.
“It was a really nice play, and pretty easy to put that in,” Eriksson said. “Trevor made a great pass. We have to keep building on the last couple of games and keep going. Vancouver is a really good team to play against, and I thought we played pretty good. It gives us confidence that we can score at the end of the game, and we stuck with it.”
With Kari Lehtonen off for the extra attacker, Ribeiro set the stage for Eriksson’s heroics by sending the game into the extra session with his 14th of the season. After Steve Ott won a faceoff in the Vancouver zone, Ribeiro floated to the high slot and redirected Alex Goligoski’s feed from the left point past Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo to knot things up at 2.
“Otter won the draw pretty clean, which gave us more time to do something with it,” Ribeiro said. “It was a great heads-up play by Goose. We kind of looked at each other, and it was more of a shot/pass more than anything else. I was just trying to re-deflect it on net, and lucky enough it went in. It gave us that first point, and to be able to win in overtime was big.”
Ribeiro and Eriksson both added an assist on Michael Ryder’s goal in the second period, while Lehtonen finished with 24 saves to earn his fourth win in his last six starts.
“We’re battling for that last playoff spot, and hopefully we can get maybe a little bit higher,” Vernon Fiddler said. “Momentum at this time of the year is very important, and it seems like over the last four games we’ve been building that, and we have to roll with it.”
Luongo made 25 stops for the Canucks (40-16-7), who remained in first place in the West with 87 points. The Canucks dropped to 92-0-4 in their last 96 games when leading after two periods.
“They’re a very good team,” coach Glen Gulutzan said. “We stuck with it for 60 minutes and we showed some resolve. It’s a big win for our hockey club going down the stretch. Once teams start playing for each other and nobody else, then you’ve got a dangerous hockey club.”
After a scoreless first period, the Canucks struck first to take a 1-0 lead just 56 seconds into the second period. After failing on a 2-on-1 break 15 seconds earlier, the Canucks went off on a 3-on-2 rush, with Kesler finishing things off with a wrist shot from the left circle that Lehtonen was able to get a glove on before the puck snuck in.
It was Kesler’s 19th goal of the season.
“That was a little too loose for us, and they capitalized on it,” defenseman Stephane Robidas said. “You can’t give Vancouver chances like that. You have to play tight defensively, and can’t give them odd-man rushes and freebies.”
Raymond then staked the Canucks to a 2-0 lead with his eighth of the year with 6:49 left in the second when his sharp angle shot near the left boards squirted through Lehtonen.
But Ryder cut the deficit in half with his team-leading 25th of the season with just 1:56 to go in the second. With the Stars on the power play, Ribeiro sent a neat cross-ice pass from the right boards to Ryder, who drilled a one-timer in from the off-wing at the top of the left circle to make it 2-1 heading into the third period.
The goal was Ryder’s seventh in the last 12 games.
“We made a couple of mistakes on their second and third goal,” Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. “They don’t give you much, and made a nice play in overtime. We had the game where we wanted it, but unfortunately we lost it.”
The Stars conclude their three-game homestand when they host the Eastern Conference Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday night (6:30 p.m., NBC Sports Network). The Penguins are led by Evgeni Malkin, who was on top of the league with 77 points heading into Sunday’s action while ranking second in goals with 36.
-- Jamie Benn missed his sixth straight game because of a leg laceration, but Philip Larsen was able to play after taking a shot to the face in the third period of Dallas’ win over Minnesota on Friday. Adam Pardy was the other scratch.
-- Sheldon Souray, who picked up an assist on Ribeiro’s game-tying goal, played in his 700th career NHL game.
-- Ribeiro extended his points streak to seven games (3-7-10)
-- Daley has assists in four straight games.
-- The Stars improved to 6-0-1 against Canadian-based teams this season.
-- The Stars have won four straight for the first time since a four-game winning stretch bridging October and November.
-- Lehtonen improved to 2-5-0 in seven career starts against the Canucks, and overall has allowed just three goals over his last three starts.
-- Luongo came in having won his last eight starts against the Stars.
-- It was the first win on home ice against the Canucks since a 2-1 victory on November 16, 2009.
-- Dallas is 4-22-0 when trailing after two periods.
-- These two teams will meet three more times over the next five weeks.
-- The Stars improved to 18-12-2 at home.
1 - 0 VAN
2 - 0 VAN
2 - 1 VAN
2 - 2 Tie