Stars Right the Ship at the Right Time

Give the Dallas Stars some credit. They turn things around just when it looks like their ship is listing. Despite losing a pair of games in unimpressive fashion to begin the week, the Stars turned things in their favor with a tough road victory in Winnipeg to finish the week on a winning note.

Tyler Seguin and linemate Jamie Benn exploded for two goals each on Saturday, Dec. 14 to power Dallas past the host Jets, 6-4. Seguin assisted on both of Benn’s goals, his second 2 goal, 2 assist performance in Winnipeg this season (the other helped Dallas win 4-1 on Oct. 11 at MTS Centre).

And Benn ended an agonizing 11-game goalless stretch dating to Nov. 14, while defenseman Sergei Gonchar notched a career-high four assist game in this, his 19th NHL campaign.
Benn’s 9th goal of the season and Seguin’s 17th of the campaign in a 1:03 span late in the 2nd period gave the Stars the lead for good, 5-3. Both markers came on what had been a struggling power play unit – the man advantage created when Jets forward Anthony Peluso was whistled for a major boarding after he hit Stars’ defenseman Alex Goligoski from behind.

“We’ve been getting so many (power play) chances and haven’t been getting bounces,” Seguin said after Dallas went 2-for-5 with the man advantage. “We know that the top teams in the Western Conference have great special teams, so we’ve been trying to figure that out.”

Dallas, which improved to 15-11-5 on the season and snapped a two-game losing streak, fought off a tough Winnipeg squad that had rallied from three one-goal deficits.

Game highlights included rookie forward Valeri Nichushkin lighting the lamp for his 5th of the year and 3rd in his last six games, while rookie forward Colton Sceviour added his first NHL marker. Goaltender Kari Lehtonen, who’d suffered a lower- body injury in the previous game in Winnipeg that caused him to miss the next five games, made 34 saves and improved his record to 12-7-5.

The triumph was also important because both teams have struggled against Central Division foes this season. Dallas is now 3-6-3 against those teams, while the Jets are 3-11-3. The Stars also finished the match ranked 8th in the NHL for goals scored per game (2.81).

The victory also removed some of the bad taste from a 3-1 loss in Nashville on Thursday, Dec. 12. Despite forward Erik Cole’s 1st period goal, his 5th of the year that gave Dallas a 1-0 lead, the Stars found themselves shorthanded after being whistled for two penalties in a 7-second span. The Predators capitalized on the man advantage with a pair of power play goals just 28 seconds apart during the final minute to take a 2-1 lead.

“We lost the game in a two-minute span,” said Stars’ Coach Lindy Ruff said. “We were playing a good period and had a lead but for me it’s a mental mistake we can’t make as a team. You can kill off one, but you get down 5-on-3, it’s pretty tough.”

The Predators added a goal midway through the 2nd period, and backup goalie Carter Hutton made 34 saves to preserve the victory. Lehtonen made 30 stops in the Stars’ net.

The Stars opened the week in a forgettable style. Their 6-2 one-sided loss to Chicago on Tuesday, Dec. 10 in the Blackhawks’ third and last visit to the American Airline Center was their first regular defeat in their last seven games. The defending Stanley Cup champs faced little resistance when setting up in the Dallas defensive zone or firing long passes through center ice.

“That was a good old-fashioned (butt) kicking. You can’t hide that,’’ said Ruff after Antoine Roussel netted both Stars goals, the first making the score 5-1 near the end of the 2nd period. “We just got flat outworked. There wasn’t much to like, and it was a group effort.’’

Lehtonen surrendered four goals on 19 shots and was pulled after Chicago made it 4-0 in the 2nd period. Ruff said his team was “hanging our goalie out to dry. When it hit four and things weren’t looking good…..I just felt the need to give Kari some rest when we could give him some rest (in favor of backup Dan Ellis).’’

The Stars’ power play went 0-for-5, leaving them at 1-for-47 (2%) on home ice with the man advantage. Ruff praised Roussel’s gutsy play, saying “he’s the one bright spot. He isn’t afraid to get into dirty places and he got rewarded for being in the right place (near the net on both of his goals). I admire the way he plays the game.”

Dallas was held to just four shots on goal in the 1st period and managed 29 for the game on rookie goalie Antti Raanta, who started in place of Corey Crawford (groin injury). Only 12,542 fans showed up for the game on a brutally cold night.

The Stars were in a much better frame of mind three days before the Hawks’ arrival when they dominated the visiting Flyers, 5-1 on Saturday afternoon, Dec. 7 in front of a crowd announced at 8,567. Those hearty souls who braved sub-freezing temperatures and debilitating icy roads saw Seguin score a natural hat trick – three straight goals in the second period against a team that did not practice on Thursday or Friday due to a lack of power at their practice facility caused by the wintery tempest.

After Sequin tied the score 1-1 early in the 2nd period, he touched off a three goals in 1:02 uprising later in the stanza with two of his own to complete the hat trick and set up Nichushkin’s tally that made it 4-1 to close the period’s scoring against Flyers goalie Steve Mason. Center Cody Eakin made it 5-1 in the final period against backup Philly netminder Ray Emery. It was the Stars’ first victory over Philly – which it did not face last year and past played on Dec. 21, 2011, a 4-1 Flyer triumph – in six games dating back to 2008. Goalie Dan Ellis made 27 saves to earn his 3rd victory of the season.

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