CALGARY – It was as big a regular season win as the Dallas Stars have had in a looong time.
Receiving outstanding goaltending from Kari Lehtonen and a virtuoso performance from winger Loui Eriksson, the Stars pulled out a pesky 3-2 road victory in a shootout Sunday afternoon at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
Lehtonen made 36 saves, and just four days after getting blitzed on three-of-four shootout attempts in a loss to Pittsburgh last Wednesday, added another two big stops in the tie-breaker competition to clinch the win.
“I thought that between him and Loui Eriksson, they were the two best players for us on the ice,” said Gulutzan of Lehtonen. “I thought he was big in the shootout. We had two great goaltenders playing against each other.”
Eriksson scored a spectacular short-handed goal, added an assist, and then slithered a backhand deke through Flames netminder Miikka Kiprusoff’s pads to give the Stars a 2-0 advantage in the shootout and the extra point in the standings.
Jamie Benn also scored in the shootout for the Stars, while Lehtonen stopped Olli Jokinen and Alex Tanguay. Dallas is now 5-4 on the year in shootouts, and 9-5 in games that extend beyond regulation.
“It’s always nice to get the extra point,” said Eriksson, who is now 5-for-9 this season in shootouts. “Benner had a great move there and got the goal and I tried to do the five-hole move today and it worked today and it was a good one.”
Winning in the second installment of a three-game road trip across Western Canada, the Stars are now 6-0-1 in their last seven games, outscoring opponents 22-11 over that span.
The triumph boosts the Stars to 75 points on the season, lifting them ahead of San Jose and into seventh in the Western Conference, while the Flames, who remain 11th with 70 points, fell to 1-3-3 in their last seven.
“We know how big these points are and today we got two more points, it’s huge for us right now,” said Eriksson. “Calgary’s behind us and we needed a big win today and we got it. It’s big, it’s so tight in the conference and that point can really help us.”
Dallas is now tied with Phoenix for the Pacific Division lead, which brings with it the conference’s third seed, while moving three points up on ninth-place Los Angeles.
“Every point’s important,” said Gulutzan. “You can see the parity out there between the two teams, and it’s going to come down to that last week, so you’ve got to gather what you can.”
Special teams were important to the Stars’ success in this one, as Eriksson scored short-handed while Dallas killed off all three Calgary power plays, and they also got a big power play tally from Michael Ryder that gave them a 2-1 lead late in the second period.
The power play unit, which had been 1-for-12 over the previous seven games, finished the contest 1-for-3 despite not being able to capitalize on a dangerous 4-on-3 advantage in the five-minute overtime period.
“That was nice on specialty teams and that’s been an emphasis for us,” Gulutzan said. “Here down the stretch, these 16 games left, you’ve got to have good specialty teams and (assistant coach) Paul Jerrard’s done a real good job with our PK.”
The Stars peppered Kiprusoff with 40 shots, while fellow Finn Lehtonen sparkled at the other end, starting his fifth straight game and 14th time in the last 15 contests.
“He stood big and made some huge saves,” Gulutzan said of Lehtonen. “And we could have got one on the power play there, it would have been nice, but like most teams, we’re not in this position fighting for a playoff spot without our goaltending.”
Calgary’s Curtis Glencross snapped a scoreless tie at 7:18 of the second period, despite the fact that the Stars had been outshooting the Flames 8-2 and controlling much of the action to that point of the period. The play was set up by a nifty twirling backhand pass from David Moss behind the net, out front to Glencross for a point-blank one-timer past Lehtonen.
With the Flames on their third power play later in the period, it was the Stars who found the back of the net, as Eriksson scored a spectacular shorthanded goal at 14:59 to tie it 1-1, his 22nd of the season.
After Lehtonen stopped a Calgary dump-in behind his net, he fired it up the glass and out of the zone, and Eriksson collected it at center ice. Speeding down the left sideboards with only Tanguay, a forward, back on D, Eriksson made a slick move to slip past Tanguay in the left face-off circle, cut into the slot and whipped a quick backhander past Kiprusoff just inside the left post.
Just after that Flames power play expired, the Flames nearly went back ahead, but Lehtonen made big saves back-to-back on Jarome Iginla and Jokinen with 3:20 remaining in the period.
Lehtonen again came up huge just over a minute later, when Tim Jackman slipped behind Sheldon Souray and in on a breakaway. Jackman made a deke to his backhand, but Lehtonen stayed with it and got his pad on it.
Then the Stars finally got on their first power play opportunity, off a Calgary too-many-men penalty, and needed just 39 seconds to capitalize, with Ryder notching his team-leading 28th goal of the season. Camped out in front, Ryder deflected Eriksson’s wrist shot from the high slot, but Kiprusoff made a nice pad save, but Ryder got the rebound and lifted it over Kiprusoff’s pad.
Entering the final period with a 2-1 lead, the Stars allowed the Flames several scoring chances early on, including a breakaway by Iginla at 5:06, but Lehtonen made a nice pad save on his backhand deke. Seconds later, the loose rebound wound up on the stick of Mike Cammalleri in front for a one-timer, but Lehtonen made the stop with his neck, which buckled him to his knees.
About a minute after that, the Stars went on their second power play of the night, but this time, despite spending the entire two minutes with control in the Calgary zone, they were unable to cash in. Their best chance came on a slap shot from the point by Trevor Daley, which whizzed through a maze of bodies in front before pinging off the left goal post at 6:42.
Shortly after that, the Flames got the equalizer when Iginla picked up his 25th goal of the year at 8:00. Lehtonen stopped Tanguay’s wrist shot from the top of the left circle, but the rebound went to Cammalleri to the left side of the crease, and he slipped a nifty pass between his own legs across the top of the crease to Iginla, who managed to re-direct it just inside the right post.
Lehtonen kept the game tied with a huge save on Jokinen with 5:09 remaining in regulation, after a pass from behind the net by Glencross found him in front for a point-blank one-timer.
The Stars had one more chance to end things in regulation when Alex Goligoski followed up a Dallas rush, received a pass from Eric Nystrom and drilled a one-timer from the high slot with 1:08 left, but Kiprusoff made a nice save.
Lehtonen had a big save 1:22 into overtime, when T.J. Brodie picked up a loose puck, skated into the left circle and fired a wrist shot that he stopped with his mask, marking at least the third time in the contest he’d taken a hit to the mask.
The Stars missed a glorious opportunity to end it at 2:09 of OT after Jamie Benn stole the puck at the Calgary blue line and sped into the zone, firing a wrist shot from the left circle that Kiprusoff stopped. The rebound spit out to the charging Ryder, who had an open net to shoot at, but he was hooked by Cammalleri and shanked the shot wide.
Dallas had several chances on the ensuing 4-on-3 power play to end it, but Kiprusoff denied them, making a flamboyant glove save on Sheldon Souray’s blast from the top of the left circle at 2:39 and then turning aside Ryder’s wrister from the left circle with 42 seconds left, just after the penalty expired.
The Flames had the contest’s first flurry of offense 4:26 into the opening period, as Lehtonen came up with big in-close saves on Cory Sarich, Cammalleri and Iginla in succession during a mad scramble in front.
Lehtonen kept the Flames off the scoreboard again on a Calgary power play when he made a shoulder save on Iginla’s blast from the right face-off circle at 10:40
Some first period bad blood, which initially manifested itself in an ongoing battle between Souray and Jackman, and then, just seconds after Glencross crunched Radek Dvorak with a big hit, boiled over a bit with a good, old-fashioned brawl between Steve Ott and Glencross at 11:46.
“It’s not something we try to do,” Gulutzan said of the early rough stuff. “We noticed certainly that they had a few guys running around being physical early, and Hammer’s playing 20-plus minutes a night for us, we don’t really want him going off, but we had certain guys step up. Otter stepped up against Glencross and Sheldon did too. It’s a playoff atmosphere and we had to make sure we weren’t going to get pushed around all night. We had those guys that did it, and they did a real good job with it.”
After killing off the rest of Vernon Fiddler’s goaltender interference penalty, the Stars generated their first prime scoring chance after a giveaway by Kiprusoff behind his own net to Eriksson at 12:11. Eriksson quickly slid a pass out front to Mike Ribeiro, but Kiprusoff managed to scramble back into the crease just in time to make a glove save on Ribeiro’s wrist shot.
On Calgary’s second power play of the contest, after Stephane Robidas was whistled for shooting the puck out of play from his own zone, it was actually the Stars who had the best opportunity. After Eriksson stripped Mark Giordano of the puck at the Dallas blue line at 14:19, Ribeiro sped into the Flames’ zone on a 2-on-1 rush, opting to feed a saucer pass over to Daley in the slot, but the puck skipped over his stick.
Things won’t get any easier for the Stars, as they complete their three-game tour of Western Canada with a visit to Vancouver on Tuesday night (9 pm start, FSSW) for a rematch with the league-leading Canucks, whom they defeated by 3-2 in overtime at home back on Feb. 26.
“We’ve been playing real well here lately, we’ve been playing with confidence and getting some big wins and we just have to keep doing the simple things,” said Eriksson. “Everyone’s been working real hard for each other.”
- Eriksson’s multi-point contest leaves him with a stellar nine points (four goals, five assists) in the last six games. His short-handed goal was his second of the season and sixth of his career.
- Ryder’s goal extends his scoring streak to six games, during which he’s registered five goals and seven points. Through his last 15 games, Ryder has 10 goals and four assists. His goal was the first of his career against Calgary, leaving just two clubs he’s never found the back of the net against. Ryder’s six shots on goal were second on the club only to Souray’s seven.
- Benn is now 4-for-6 on shootouts this season.
- Ribeiro, who had a season-high eight-game scoring streak snapped in Friday’s 3-1 win in Edmonton, picked up an assist on Ryder’s goal and now has 12 points (three goals, nine assists) in his last 10 contests. He has also earned a point in seven straight games against the Flames, scoring 13 points (six goals, seven assists) in that span.
- Ott earned an assist on Eriksson’s goal, giving him five points (one goal, four assists) in his last six outings, after he collected just one point (a goal) in the previous six.
- Lehtonen even collected an assist, his first of the season after he set a franchise record with six last year.
- Fourth-line center Tom Wandell skated in the 300th regular season game of his NHL career.
- Captain Brenden Morrow sat out his 16th straight contest with an upper body injury, although he is expected to return within the next week or so.
- After nullifying all three Calgary power plays, the Stars’ penalty killing unit is a stellar 29-for-31 over their last 10 contests.
- The win pushes the Stars’ record against Canadian teams to 8-0-1 this season and also gives them a 10-3-0 mark against Northwest Division clubs.
1 - 0 CGY
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 DAL