The Dallas Stars ushered in their abbreviated pre-Olympics schedule by salvaging an otherwise disappointing week on Saturday Feb. 1 with a clutch 2-0 victory in Anaheim. The triumph removed some of the sting of home ice losses earlier in the week, 3-2 in overtime to New Jersey on Thursday, Jan. 30 and 4-3 in regulation to Colorado on Monday, Jan. 27.
The much-needed victory moves Dallas to 25-21-9 for 59 points, just four behind slumping Vancouver (losers of three straight games) for the 8th and final playoff spot in the NHL’s Western Conference. The Stars, who also have a game in hand on the Canucks, remains 16 points behind the 3rd place Avalanche for the 3rd and final playoff spot in the Central Division.
Dallas finished its three-game season series against the Pacific Division’s Ducks with four of a possible six points, having won at home and lost at Anaheim earlier in the year.
Backup goalie Dan Ellis came up with a huge performance against the Ducks, stopping all 26 shots that his former teammates launched for his 14th career shutout. Ellis’ first whitewash of the season also snapped the Stars’ five-game winless road streak (0-4-1), and was the first goose egg the Ducks have suffered since March 27, 2013.
“I’ve practiced with (the Ducks),” said Ellis, an Anaheim backup netminder from February 2011 through the end of the 2012-2013 season. “(And) the times I was injured, I had a chance to watch them. You get to understand d some of the things they like to do. You work on things in practice with them in and around the net – point shots and one-timers – and you just try to use that to anticipate a little better.”
Making his first start in nine Dallas games since Jan. 12 vs. the visiting Islanders, Ellis became the first goalie this year to defeat Anaheim twice after stopping Corey Perry’s point-blank shot in the final minutes with an outstretched pad save to even his record at five wins and five losses.
“It was time to get him in,” said coach Lindy Ruff. “(Ellis) did a nice job against them the last time he played them (a 6-3 Stars’ come-from-behind home ice victory on Nov. 26), and (Kari Lehtonen) is feeling tired (because) he’s been playing a lot of hockey. By the look of things, we may have to play (Ellis) more. He gave us a rock solid game. We only had a couple of big breakdowns, and he was there for us.”
Defenseman Trevor Daley notched his 4th goal of the season (and 3rd in his last 10 games) early in the 2nd period when he converted the rebound near the crease after Anaheim goalie Jonas Hiller made a save on a backhander by forward Cody Eakin that was created by the redhead’s electrifying end-to-end rush. Eakin had just returned to the game after missing most of the 1st period when he sustained a bloody cut caused by the puck just :41 after the opening faceoff.
Captain Jamie Benn added his 22nd goal on an empty netter with :29 left in regulation, his 5th goal in as many games. Benn is just two goals and four points behind Stars’ leading scorer Tyler Seguin’s 24 red lights and 54 points.
The Stars played airtight defense throughout the game, and shut down Anaheim’s vaunted power play twice in the 3rd period, including one man disadvantage during which they held the Ducks without a shot on goal.
“We didn’t have any sustained pressure,” Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau said after watching the Stars block 13 of his team’s shots. “Against a team like Dallas, you have to win the board battles. If you don’t win them, their speed is so good, it’s going to be a real tough game for you. They really block out well in their own zone. They didn’t’ give us any second shots, and they were determined for 60 minutes. We couldn’t get in on the forecheck (because) they moved the puck really quickly.”
Earlier in the week, Dallas finished its five-game homestand at 3-1-1 (capturing seven of a possible 10 points) after struggling to handle the Jersey Devils’ defensive style in their 3-2 overtime loss on Thursday. Dallas was outplayed territorially, managing a season-low 16 shots, including four in the opening period against a team that allows the fewest shots (25.4) and goals per game (2.34) in the NHL.
Dallas finished its two-game season series against the Eastern Division’s Devils with one of a possible four points, having lost in regulation earlier in the year at New Jersey.
“We were awful,” said Ruff after the Stars went 0-for-3 with the man advantage had their streak of eight games with a power play goal snapped. “We came out flat. We could have dictated play on the power play in the first. We lost one-on-one battles. We got outskated. You don’t win many games playing like that. The point is good, but I didn’t like the way we played. We had the opportunity to create some momentum and take the lead (during a first period five-on-three advantage) with our special teams, but our special teams let us down.”
“We need all the points we can get,” Ruff added after Dallas finished the five game homestand with two straight losses. “(But) there’s no dancing around this (game). I think as a team, it was unacceptable the way we came out.”
The Stars did benefit from solid goaltending from Lehtonen, who made several key saves among his game total of 21 in the final two periods on point-blank shots that would’ve given Jersey some breathing room. The Devils scored power play goals in each of the first two sessions to take a 2-0 lead.
Jamie Benn halved the lead a minute after the Devils’ second goal by pushing a backhanded through the five hold of Cory Schneider for his 21st marker of the year. Linemate Seguin salvaged the standings point when he wristed the last of several rebound shots past Schneider during a ferocious scrum just 52 seconds before the final horn.
“We just wanted to be firing pucks on goal (and) iIt was pretty much a power play (with the goalie pulled), and (forward Alex) Chiasson made a good play to (get the puck) back over to me,” said Seguin after netting his 3rd goal in the last two games. “(The homestand) was a bit of a roller-coaster. We had some good moments, we had some tough moments. It’s about finding consistency as a group right now.”
The Stars took momentum into the sudden death overtime stanza, but Jamie Benn was forced to take a penalty during the first half minute. Patrick Elias netted the rebound of a shot by former Star Jaromir Jagr to give Jersey the victory.
“We did a good job to battle back (for the regulation tie),” said Stars center Cody Eakin. “That’s not an easy team to play against. They trap real hard and they don’t give up many opportunities inside, (nor do) they don’t give up many shots. We weren’t sharp to start the game. That’s not the way we need to start. We battled for that one point, but we need to be searching for two at this time.”
“We talked about trying to not get pushed outside, trying to get low, and I thought for 10 or 15 minutes in the second period, we put up a good fight, but we couldn’t maintain that level,” Ruff said. “In the third, I thought for a long while if there was a shot on goal (the fans) would give us a standing ovation.
“The fact that we battled and we had guys on their knees in front of the net for that last goal was big, but we are doing a little bit of that dance where we’re taking a step ahead and taking a step back, (winning) three and (losing) a game we should’ve won,” Ruff added.
Three nights before, the Stars lost to Colorado despite their continued dominant play that carried over from a three-game winning streak in which they ahd outscored opponents 14-1. Colorado goalie Semyon Varlamov made 41 saves, including two on Seguin during a 3rd period power play. The Avalanche never trailed despite being outshot 44-21.
Dallas finished its five-game season series against the Central Division’s Avalanche with only three of a possible 10 points, winning once in regulation and losing three in regulation and once more in overtime.
“The first five minutes (were tough),” Ruff said, referring to a period of the game in which the Avs started to build their 2-0 first period lead. “After that, we dominated. Their goalie stole the show. We had five or six point-blank chances in the second to blow the game apart. He was there and he made some great saves.”
“We weren’t ready to play, I don’t think – (we were) just a little sluggish,” said Seguin. “The last few games we came out flying every game, (but tonight Colorado) got the quick first one and the crowd kind of got out of it. But I thought we snapped out of it. I thought we out-skated them tonight (and) out-chanced them.”
Seguin had a hand in all three Dallas goals, and led two different charges back into the game a pair of markers that ended an excruciating 13-game goalless streak. His 22nd of the season on a power play tied the game 2-2 early in the 2nd period and extended Dallas’ streak of power play goals to eight consecutive games. Seguin took a subtle pass from Jamie Benn near the top of the slot, and one-timed the puck between Varlamov and the near goalpost from the bottom of the left faceoff circle.
Seguin’s added his 2nd of the game and 23rd of the season on a wrister off a rush from the neutral zone that he launched from the right faceoff circle, a goal that Varlamov wished he had back that to tie the score, 3-3. “That was my (fault on the) goal,” said Varlamov, who finished the season with a 4-0-0 record against Dallas, allowing nine goals on 147 shots. “I could have moved a little bit, so I was not happy about it. I tried to regroup for myself and get ready for the third period. The third period was huge for us.”
“It felt good (to end the goalless streak),” said Seguin. “It felt like I lost a monkey on my back for sure getting (those goals). I¹ve been thinking about it, but not as much as of late just because we¹re winning games. I¹ve still been giving assists and creating things, but that was definitely a tough one to make.”
Seguin also set up Benn’s 20th of the year late in the 1st period when he slid a pass from the left wing boards to the slot where the team captain fired a wrister over Varlamov’s left shoulder.
Despite outshooting Colorado 13-3 in the 3rd period, the Stars saw the Avs retake the lead for good early in the session when Alex Tanguay’s pass into the slot from the left faceoff circle deflected off a skate and past Lehtonen to make it 4-3. Lehtonen, who had allowed only one goal in 67 shots during the three previous games, finished the game with 17 saves.
“The difference in the game without a doubt was the start of the game and the performance of our goalie,” Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said. “(With our team) having such a good start, they had to play catch-up hockey. In this league, (playing from behind) is very difficult.”
“The puck goes off our (defenseman’s) skate into the net for the game-winning goal,” said Ruff. “That’s tough. In the last 15 minutes, we might have had five or six chances. (Varlamov) answered them all.”
Prior to the Colorado game, Lehtonen was named one of Three Stars of the Week by the National Hockey League for the week ending January 26. Lehtonen went 3-1-0 while pitching two shutouts with a 1.25 goals against average and a .944 save percentage. The 30-year old Helsinki, Finland native now has 25 career goose eggs, including 11 in a Stars uniform. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he is only the third goalie o reach double figures in shutouts along with Marty Turco (40) and Ed Belfour(27) since the Stars relocated to Dallas in 1993.
The Stars also announced that the club has signed forward Ryan Garbutt to a three-year contract extension. Per club policy, terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Stars’ Player of the Week – Dan Ellis
Although he played in only one of his team’s three games last week, backup goalie Dan Ellis came up with an impressive performance in stopping 26 shots and shutting out high-powered host Anaheim, 2-0. The verdict moved Dallas to within four points of a playoff berth, and may earn the Saskatoon, Saskatchewan native more frequent playing time than the 10 starts and 3rd in the last 22 games he has made thus far this season. Ellis, signed as a free agent last summer, is in his 2nd tour of duty with the Stars after having been drafted by Dallas on the 2nd round (60th overall) of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. He won his only NHL start for the franchise in 2003-04 before signing with Nashville and playing for the Preds (49-42-8) from 2006-07 through 2008-09. Nashville dealt him to Montreal with center Dustin Boyd for left wing Sergei Kostitsyn in June 2010. Tampa Bay (13-7-6) signed him a month later, then traded him to the Ducks (9-8-1) for goaltender Curtis McElhinney the following February. Carolina (6-8-2) signed him in January of 2013.