The Stars have several young defensemen playing key minutes for the Dallas Stars, but perhaps none have had a more up and down season than Niklas Grossman. A large and physical player, Grossman has seemed lost at times and unsure of how to use his size to his advantage. When he was paired with Mark Fistric a few weeks ago, it was hoped that the two would combine to form a tenacious and punishing defensive force for the Dallas Stars.
No one would have thought of Grossman as an offensive hero, yet that is exactly what the Stars needed on Saturday night.
With the Stars and the Wild tied at two and fighting for the extra point in overtime, Grossman became the unlikely hero of the night when his wrist shot from the point found it's way past Nicklas Backstrom. The second goal of the young defenseman's career giving the Stars a very important win and an even more important two point boost in the standings.
"I don't score a lot, so this one feels really good," Grossman said. "It was a big faceoff win, there was good traffic in front, and I was lucky enough to get it through. It honestly feels a little unreal. All the guys coming over and celebrating was a good feeling. This is huge because every point counts and every game is going to be like the playoffs the rest of the way. This has to be the biggest goal I've scored."
While Grossman was certainly the overtime hero, the win was possible only because of yet another dominant performance by the top line of Mike Ribeiro, Steve Ott and Loui Eriksson. Behind the brilliant playmaking of Ribeiro and some deft passes by Eriksson, the line combined for seven points on the night.
Steve Ott scored both regulation goals for the Stars, his first multi-goal game of his career. Both came off deft deflections in front of the net off passes from Eriksson and Ribeiro.
"Anytime you get rewarded with two tap-ins, it means your linemates are doing some great things for you," Ott said. "As long as we keep winning like this and trying to solidify a playoff spot, that's what really matters right now. It's going to be a battle and a grind but the guys are definitely up for it."
The Stars are going to need their top line to continue to have big games down the stretch. With several key players still out due to injury, and no sure timetable set for their return, Steve Ott and Mike Ribeiro will continue to be the Stars most important offensive contributors.
"Play as a team, play disciplined and play tight on the puck," Ribeiro said. "We need to have big power plays, and Marty has to be huge. We need everyone to chip in and give us a chance to win. It was important for us to keep it tight, move the game along and get some points out of it. We'll take those two points and run with them."
But the game wasn't all grins and slaps on the back. After Stars went up 2-0 just 28 seconds into the second period, the Wild built momentum after killing off a double minor penalty and tied the game off goals by Mikko Koivu and Andrew Brunette. The Wild outshot the Stars 20-13 in the second and third periods yet behind another spectacular performance by Marty Turco, the Stars were able to hold on and take the game to overtime.
With the Wild applying heavy pressure in the late second and early third periods, the Stars made several key defensive plays in front of the net to ensure no Wild player got to a loose rebound. It's an area the Stars have struggled in this season, yet it's the little plays around the crease that can make Turco's job much easier to accomplish.
"We did what we needed to do," Turco said. "We had some guys back me up and bail me out. The third period was pretty intense, and both teams played so hard to stay in this tight race. It was a game of momentum. Holding it was important, and you have to create anything you could when you might lose that momentum. We found a way to get the win, and we got a big one tonight. We know what the standings look like and we know what we have to do as a team to get where we need to go."
With the Stars and the Wild both battling positioning in the standings, the game had the intensity and pace of a playoff game. The Dallas Stars' win combined with an Edmonton overtime loss puts the Stars in 7th place in the West and assures them a spot in the top eight for at least one more day. With the playoff race so tight in the West, the Stars should expect every game from here on out to have a similar feel to it each night.
"We knew it's going to be an extremely tight game," Ott said. "When you build momentum it can go either way in a hurry. Right now this is playoffs. It's going to be like this every night. Every single night is a fight for that playoff spot."
Notes on the game:
- Both Jere Lehtinen and Fabian Brunnstrom are close to returning for the Stars, and both will join the team on the upcoming road trip.
- Mike Ribeiro has 14 points (six goals and eight assists) in his last ten games.
- Loui Eriksson's set a career high with three assists in one game.
- The Stars are 6 of 58 (10.3%) on the power play since Brad Richards went on injured reserve with a wrist injury.
- The Stars fourth line of Steve Begin, Krys Barch and Chris Conner continued their strong play. They created several scoring chances and once again collectively led the team in hits.
BW's three stars of the game:
Steve Ott, Dallas: Had two goals, several other chances, some great defensive plays and was the Stars best player on the ice. Showed he is capable of taking over a game offensively and not just be known as an agitator.
Loui Eriksson, Dallas: Three assists tonight, including the primary assist on the game winning goal.
Marty Turco, Dallas: Had another strong performance and made several incredible saves early to keep his team in the game.
Next game: The Dallas Stars kick off a three game road trip with a game against the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday night, 9:00p CST.