DALLAS – It wasn’t quite the result the Dallas Stars were looking for, but in the end, another solid effort led to one crucial point in the standings.
After watching a 2-1 third period lead evaporate quickly, the Stars battled back to tie the game at 3-3, securing the one point before eventually falling in a shootout 4-3 to the Pittsburgh Penguins Wednesday night at the American Airlines Center.
The defeat snapped the Stars’ four-game winning streak, but the extra point leaves them with 71 points, good enough to give them sole possession of the eighth and final playoff spot, two points back of San Jose in seventh and one up on Colorado and Los Angeles.
“I just thought it was a really good hockey game,” Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said. “I thought both teams played hard and well. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get the extra point.”
With a large crowd of 17,455 on hand, the intensity of the game ratcheted up in the third period and took on somewhat of a playoff-type atmosphere, with the tension rising in the five-minute overtime period and throughout the shootout, which Pittsburgh won 3-2.
With each team having scored twice after the initial three shooters on each side, Pittsburgh’s Pascal Dupuis fired a quick wrist shot past goaltender Kari Lehtonen’s blocker in the shootout’s fourth round.
On the next attempt, Michael Ryder needed to score to keep it going, but his wrist shot rolled wide of the left post.
“It was good, the building the fans were really into it, you could feel it. It was kind of a back-and-forth game with the score and it was a fun game to be a part of there,” said defenseman Alex Goligoski. “We couldn’t pull it out in the end, but we’ll take our point and move on.”
“It was back and forth. It felt a lot like playoff hockey, very tough, lots of hitting and stuff like that,” added Pittsburgh’s Jordan Staal. “It was exciting hockey, just a back-and-forth game that we were fortunate enough to find a way to win.”
The Stars are now 4-4 on the season in shootouts, while the Penguins, who won their fourth straight contest, are now 8-3 in the gimmicky tie-breaker.
Dallas may have opted not to make a deal on trade deadline day Monday, but they did add an impact player in this game when top center Jamie Benn returned from a six-game absence due to a leg laceration and scored the game’s first goal. He later added a goal in the shootout as well.
“It felt good. It’s tough watching games, I’ve watched a few too many this year and it felt good to get back out there with the guys,” said Benn, who is now 3-for-5 in shootouts this season. “It was a pretty high pace out there, those games are fun and those are the ones you want to be in. It was like a playoff game out there and it’s good to get those games like that.”
“That really helps our team to get him back, we know how good he is, and it’s nice of him to get the first one of the game,” added winger Loui Eriksson, who contributed two assists and also scored in the shootout. “He was playing good and we definitely need him here and it’s a big boost for our team having him back.”
Ryder and defenseman Sheldon Souray scored the other Dallas goals, while Lehtonen, who was named the NHL’s third star of last week, made 26 saves in another solid outing.
“I thought Kari was good,” Gulutzan said. “You look at the goals there in the second and third were both redirects that got through him. The first one was a breakaway and a real nice play, so I thought both goaltenders were solid.”
Overall, though, Dallas seems to have turned the corner, putting together a strong 5-1-2 record over their last eight games and finishing a three-game homestand at 2-0-1 against some very strong opponents.
“You can definitely feel it in the room, the guys are learning how to win and we’re coming together as a group,” Benn said. “They were playing great the last few games before I came back and I thought we were playing pretty good again tonight.”
Souray snapped a 1-1 tie with just 12.2 seconds left in the second period, notching his sixth goal of the season on a 4-on-2 rush. Following the rush into the offensive zone, Souray received a nice drop pass from Eriksson, drifted into the high slot and fired a wrist shot that beat Pens goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury just inside the right post.
“Obviously, Ribby and Loui made a couple of nice drop passes there and Shelly’s not going to miss from there too often, a great shot by him and a good play by those guys,” said Goligoski of the play.
The late goal figured to be a big boost for the Stars, allowing them to enter the final period up 2-1, but it wasn’t, as the Penguins struck twice with 39 seconds to surge ahead 3-2 within the first five minutes of the period.
First, Craig Adams tied it at 3:33 with his fourth of the year. Jordan Staal set up the play, cutting across the high slot and firing a wrist shot that Adams, camped in front, managed to deflect past Lehtonen and in.
Then, 20 seconds after drilling a slap shot off the right goal post, Paul Martin rifled another blast from the right point, but this time, Chris Kunitz got his stick on it in the slot, and the resulting deflection rolled past Lehtonen, pinged off the right post and in at 4:12.
The Stars pushed right back, and just 44 seconds after falling behind, Eriksson stripped Pittsburgh’s Deryk Engelland of the puck at the Dallas blue line and sped in on a breakaway. Eriksson tried a deke to his backhand, but Fleury made a spectacular sprawling save at 4:56.
Eriksson did have a major hand in the Stars’ equalizer less than three minutes after that, as he set up Ryder’s team-leading 26th goal of the season at 7:23. Carrying the puck out of the left corner, Eriksson lifted a perfect saucer pass over the legs of Engelland, who slid to the ice, and the puck landed right on Ryder’s stick on the right side of the crease for a one-timer that burrowed its way through Fleury and in.
“It was a little saucer there, it was pretty good timing by Rydes there to come in to the net,” said Eriksson of the play. “It was a big goal, at least we got one point from it. It would have been nice to get the two points, though.”
Dallas had a prime opportunity to take the lead again after Eric Nystrom induced Evgeni Malkin, the NHL’s leading scorer, to take a roughing penalty in frustration at 8:24. The Stars’ best chance on the power play came at 9:48 when Mike Ribeiro received the puck in the right face-off circle with Fleury already down and without his stick, but his wrist shot was stopped by Fleury’s stacked pads.
As the final minutes ticked away, the intensity of the contest increased, and as the Stars pressed in the final minute, they drew a power play. While on the delayed penalty with 27 seconds remaining, they nearly ended it when Souray rocketed a slap shot from the point that Fleury got a piece of. The puck trickled to a stop on the goal line just outside the left post, where Eriksson nearly succeeded in pulling it out to stuff it, but Fleury dove back and knocked it away with his stick.
With a power play for the first 1:46 of the five-minute overtime period, which is a more dangerous 4-on-3 PP, the Stars were unable to generate much offense.
“We had one pretty good chance, other than that, we couldn’t get much going,” Goligoski said of the last power play. “That’s tough, those ones could be big, that’s two points there, but you’re not going to get them every time.”
Dallas did have the best chance in OT, though, when Souray boomed a slap shot off the rush from the top of the left circle that beat Fleury over the glove but plonked off the top of the right post, with 42 seconds left, setting the stage for the shootout.
Benn wound up taking a tripping penalty just 5:26 into the opening period, on his second shift of the night, but the Stars were able to kill off the resulting Pittsburgh power play.
The Penguins’ second power play came on a somewhat controversial play, when Nystrom leveled Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang and oddly enough was called for roughing at 9:55. Letang was leaning forward after turning away from the boards when Nystrom came barreling in and appeared to hit Letang directly in the chest/jaw area, dropping him immediately and drawing a swarm of angry Penguins. Letang stayed down for about 30 seconds before being helped off the ice and did not return.
“I’m coming in on the forecheck, I am going in to play the man and he is reaching in for the puck,” Nystrom said of the hit. “I didn’t even touch his head, I hit him shoulder-to-shoulder. I had four minor penalties coming into this game, I am not a headhunter. The ref just has to make a call there. He saw the guy reach at the last second and I can’t stop there. I kept my arms down and I didn’t even make contact with his head.”
“He was reaching a little bit. Nys was committed to the hit and he saw him coming,” added Gulutzan regarding the hit. “I don’t think the head was the principal point of contact, so I think it’s going to be a clean hit but that’s for the league to decide. I just hope Letang is all right.”
Despite Pittsburgh having the power play, though, it was the Stars who got the best scoring chance, after Radek Dvorak blocked Malkin’s slap shot from the right point. The puck bounced out to center ice and Dvorak and Vernon Fiddler raced into the Pittsburgh zone on a 2-on-1, with Dvorak slipping a short pass to Fiddler for a backhander in the slot that sailed just over the crossbar at 10:57.
The Stars took a 1-0 lead at 15:25 on Benn’s 18th of the season, when Ott slid a pass from the left side of the crease back to Benn in the slot, and his quick wrist shot somehow found its way through Fleury’s glove and rolled in.
“It was just hard work by my linemates and Otter made a good pass to find me in the slot and I just tried to get it off and it went in,” Benn said.
Pittsburgh tied it up with just 1:07 remaining in the period, when Dupuis’ long pass found Steve Sullivan in full stride at the Dallas blue line. Sullivan raced into the zone, snuck behind Goligoski in the right circle, and cut in alone on Lehtonen, deking to the backhand and lifting it over Lehtonen’s outstretched pad.
Tied 1-1 entering the second period, the Stars quickly found themselves short-handed, but then had a glorious opportunity to snap the tie when Fiddler stripped Sullivan of the puck at the Dallas blue line and raced in on a breakaway just 32 seconds in. As he came in on Fleury, Fiddler made a move to his backhand, but Fleury made a nice glove save.
Later on the same power play, Malkin charged down the slot and lifted a lethal backhander from the right side of the crease that beat Lehtonen but clanked off the crossbar and stayed out, at 2:14.
The Penguins had build up a 9-3 edge in shots on goal over the second period’s first 11 minutes or so, but after a two minute-plus stretch of hemming Pittsburgh in their own zone, the Stars drew a power play and had several scoring chances, including Trevor Daley’s wrist shot from the point that forced a screened Fleury to make a big save at 13:35.
On the subsequent power play, the Stars kept the pressure on and nearly went ahead when Benn’s wrist shot from the right circle was deflected in front by rookie blueliner Philip Larsen, but Fleury made the stop at 15:30.
After completing a three-game mini-homestand with a strong 2-0-1 record, the Stars will now embark on their first Western Canada road trip of the season, beginning with a visit to Edmonton on Friday night (8:30 pm start, FSSW) against the Oilers.
“We’ve got to get some points,” Gulutzan said. “We’ve got to get some points and we’ve got a big game Friday. We’re not looking too far ahead. Game-by-game here.”
“We got a big road trip here, we’re looking forward to that,” said Goligoski of the trip, which includes visits to Vancouver and Calgary as well. “It’s tight, we can’t go on any skids this time of year, you got to consistently play the right way. That’s the way we’re approaching it.”
- Ryder scored in his second straight game and extended his scoring streak to four games, during which he’s recorded five points (three goals, two assists). Ryder also has eight goals and 12 points in his last 13 contests. After his final shootout chance rolled wide, Ryder is now 1-for-6 in the tie-breaker this year.
- Souray, in just his fourth game since missing seven with a lower body injury, picked up a point in his second straight game. His goal was just his second in his last 38 games. He logged a team-high 25:37 of ice time, his second-highest total of the season.
- Eriksson’s multi-point night leaves him with a four-game point streak, in which he’s totaled seven points (three goals, four assists) and gives him an outstanding 13 points (four goals, nine assists) in his last 11 outings. Eriksson is now 4-for-8 in shootouts after scoring on Dallas’ first attempt.
- Ott’s assist on Benn’s goal extended his modest scoring streak to four games, a stretch in which he’s accumulated four points (one goal, three assists). He also led the squad by delivering seven hits.
- Adam Burish also earned an assist on Benn’s goal, giving him two assists in the last three games after notching just three points (two goals, one assist) in his previous 15 contests. It was his 10th assist of the season, marking a new career-high, surpassing the nine he had last year.
- With an assist on Souray’s goal, Ribeiro extended his scoring streak to eight games, the longest by a Star this season, a span in which he’s registered 11 points (three goals, eight assists). His miss in the shootout leaves him 1-for-5 this season.
- Daley picked up an assist on Ryder’s goal, extending his career-long scoring streak to five games (five assists).
- Larsen wound up leading the Stars with five shots on goal.
- The Stars’ penalty killing unit was an impressive 5-for-5 against the NHL’s fifth-best power play. Over the last eight games, Dallas’ PK is a stellar 26-for-28.
- The contest marked the first visit to Dallas by former Stars James Neal and Matt Niskanen, who were traded to the Penguins just over a year ago for Goligoski. Each received nice ovations when they were announced as being among the Penguins’ starters just before the opening face-off. After scoring twice in the first meeting between the clubs, in Pittsburgh on Nov. 11, Neal did not record a point but did score in the shootout.
- Malkin earned an assist to push his scoring streak to six games, a stretch in which he’s scored 10 points (five goals, five assists). He was the only Penguin to miss in the shootout, leaving him a stellar 7-for-10 this season.
Wrist shot -