The Dallas Stars string of strong play continued for a second week, even if the winning streak did not. Despite a shootout loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday night, the Stars still managed to grab eleven out of a possible twelve points since flying to Montreal on the 20th. It hasn't always been pretty, but it doesn't have to be. It just has to be successful. Lately, it has been.
The week started off with a home date against the first place Vancouver Canucks on Sunday night. Call me a pessimist, but watching this team the last few years, I expected the winning streak to come to an end against one of the NHL's elite squads. With trade rumors swirling that linked Steve Ott to the Canucks, there was an uneasy atmosphere around the arena, and a whole lot of national attention being paid to the Stars favorite pest.
Goals from Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond gave Vancouver a two goal lead midway through the game, but Michael Ryder added to his team leading goal total to bring the Stars within one to start the third period. Late game heroics from the red hot Mike Ribeiro put the game into overtime, where Loui Eriksson scored with just over a minute left to claim the Stars' fourth win a row.
A few days later, on Wednesday, the Stars took on James Neal and the Pittsburgh Penguins in a nationally broadcasted game. The arena was packed with a mix of Stars and Penguins fans, and the atmosphere was lively and contentious. Jamie Benn returned to the lineup after recovering from his "lower body injury" and opened the scoring in the first period for the Stars.
Goals from Steve Sullivan, Sheldon Souray, and Craig Adams turned this into a back and forth affair just waiting to be broken open. When Chris Kunitz scored just a minute after Adams, it looked like the Penguins were going to have the upper hand. Michael Ryder would not concede so easily, however, as his goal would send the game into another overtime session.
When the overtime period wasn't enough to decide a winner, the game went into a shootout. The first shooter chosen by Pittsburgh was none other than former Dallas favorite James Neal. You knew it was a bad omen when Neal skated in on Kari Lehtonen, fired a hard wrister towards the net, and didn't ring it off the post like every shootout attempt he ever took in a Stars sweater.
Instead, he rippled twine and got the ball rolling in what would end up being a shootout victory for the Penguins. Kari Lehtonen wasn't his usual hermetic self in the skills competition, as Chris Kunitz had him sprawling for a backbreaking goal that set the table for Pascal Dupuis's game winning goal. When Michael Ryder ran out of game-saving magic, the game was over and the Stars had to settle for a single point and an end to their surprising streak.
The Stars then traveled to Edmonton, Alberta for Sheldon Souray's homecoming. Coming off one of his better performances in a Stars sweater, Studly Wonderbomb was looking to prove a point against the franchise that did everything within it's power to derail his career. In what would be called a painfully boring an uneventful game, just about the only time the crowd made a noise was to voice their displeasure with Souray. It didn't bother the workmanlike Pesky Stars.
The Stars managed just four shots on goal in a scoreless first period where they only allowed seven of their own. The second period didn't get much more offensive, as Dallas put six more pucks on net for a grand total of ten. That was enough for the Stars' Czech contingent to put the Oilers in what must have been a brutally frustrating two goal hole.
That would be all the offense the Stars would need to win the game, but Michael Ryder added his own exclamation point to the sentence with an empty net tally in the final minutes of the game, to give him a season total of 27. Kari Lehtonen's always spectacular play once again went unrewarded, however. With just thirty seconds left in the game, after the game-sealing empty netter, Dave Gagner's son Sam bit the hand that probably funded his best Christmas presents as a child.
Sam Gagner's fifteenth goal of the season was no more than a consolation prize that came too little and too late to give any comfort to the Edmonton fanbase that once again had to head home after witnessing a Dallas Stars victory. Just like the good ole days. Where the Stars racked up the wins any way they knew how, even if it only took 15 shots on goal to get it.
The Dallas Stars seem to be playing a very familiar brand of hockey right now. The brand that most of us grew up on as fans. It's not always pretty, it's not always popular, but a win is a win. If it's enough to get the Dallas Stars into a playoff spot on the last day of the season, I say keep `em coming.