For two periods, it looked like the Dallas Stars were going to play out a familiar script - control the play early but be unable to score, have a turnover end up in the back of their net and fall in a critical game in the playoff race.
But an offensive outburst in the third period keyed what might be a key win in the race for the playoffs, as the Stars came from behind to defeat the Chicago Blackhawks 3-1.
The Stars came out strong early, but Hawks goalie Corey Crawford held strong and got some help from the post and some poor aim from the Stars forwards. And as the first period turned into the second, the Blackhawks turned on their lethal transition game and started to dictate the play.
Once again, it was a Stars turnover that led to a goal against as Mark Fistric turned the puck over behind his own net, and the Hawks chopped at a centering feed until Marian Hossa was able to beat Richard Bachman to the left side.
And for the first half of the third period, it looked like that one goal might be enough. But Trevor Daley, who has been playing some really good hockey recently, made a nice move at the right point to buy time and space, and Steve Ott had an equally nice tip to tie the game with a little more than 10 minutes remaining in the period.
From there on, it was all Stars. Michael Ryder stuffed home a pass from Mike Ribeiro on the doorstep about five minutes after Ott's goal to give the Stars a lead, and Loui Eriksson tipped a shot from Ryder a teeny tiny bit under the crossbar a little more than a minute later for the insurance tally. Both goals probably traveled a combined three feet after leaving the stick (heck, I think Eriksson's stick might have still been touching the puck as it crossed the goal line), but the crease-crashing paid off with an uber-important two points.
It was a sorely needed with for the Stars, who hadn't won consecutive games in regulation since the All-Star break.
More on this game after the jump.
- Before we get to any of the good in the third period, we have to address what made the game start well in the first - the play of guys like Ryan Garbutt. The Stars third and fourth lines were all over it early, with Eric Nystrom having several glorious chances to put the team ahead. And even though they never cashed it, it set the right tone for a game that could have been just another stepping stone for the streaking Hawks.
- And speaking of Garbutt, that guy is playing like every game is his one and only chance to make an impression, and I think it's rubbing off on the rest of his teammates. Garbutt hits, he hustles and he is not afraid to take the puck to the net. Sure, he might not have the world's greatest pedigree, but he more than makes up for it with his willingness to do the little things.
- Also worthy of mention was the play of two defensemen on entirely different pairings - Philip Larsen and Trevor Daley. Larsen is still a little rough around the edges, and he can get caught cheating out of position like he did a few times in the first period. But he's got a knack for not making the same mistake twice, and he's taken huge steps forward in adding a physical edge to his game in the last few weeks. And when Daley gets himself going in the offensive zone, he's a wonder. He's got the legs to make space for himself and the hockey sense to know what to do with it. The Stars game tying goal was a deft tip by Ott, but it was all set up by yeoman's work from Daley.
- On the other side of the ledger, Mark Fistric is having a rough go of it. He seems to have inherited Nicklas Grossman's turnover problems. It definitely wasn't all bad tonight from Fistric, but his turnovers have stood out in a very negative way recently.
- This was a pretty typical Stars game in terms of how they played it. Solid first period without a lot of offense, meh second period and really good third while they were trailing. The difference tonight was they didn't take the foot off the gas after they tied the game up.
- Great post-game quote from Gulutzan: "Our leadership group took a stand between the second and third, and we got going." Oh, to be a fly on the wall.
- Sheldon Souray made his return tonight. Other than having negative chemistry with Larsen, there wasn't much to write home about in a positive or negative sense. He didn't make any huge mistakes, and his shot is still as nasty as ever. Marian Hossa was invisible after taking a shot to the arm in the third period.
- The play of backup Richard Bachman might get a little lost in the big third-period comeback, but he was solid for most of the game and sensational when he needed to be, particularly on a few first-period stops. You can't really put the one goal against on his shoulders as he made the first save and then it became a mad scramble in the crease. And he was as solid as ever otherwise. It's great to have a backup who can come in and not look rusty.
- The third period may have been one of the best the Stars have played all season. It was the first regulation loss for the Hawks in the 26 games they've taken a lead into the third.
- And finally, it took a shootout to do it (what else?), but the Phoenix Coyotes beat the Calgary Flames 4-3 on Thursday. That leads the Stars, Flames and Kings all tied with 66 points and the Stars holding the tiebreaker. All three teams have 61 games played. The Stars are five points back of third/seventh (because Phoenix and the Sharks are tied at 71 points) and seven back of the Hawks.