It was a wild one between the Dallas Stars and San Jose Sharks on Sunday afternoon, but the Stars came out of the right side of things with a stellar 5-4 shootout victory.
Alex Chiasson scored twice, Jamie Benn had two assists and the shootout winner, and Kari Lehtonen made 32 saves in a win that was crucial to the team's morale even if the playoffs still seem so far away.
The Stars trailed 2-0 in the second and 4-2 in the third, but consistently kept battling back and played to the "full 60 minutes" mantra that has been talked about so much as of late but was lacking for most of the season.
The win was Dallas' second in a row, despite the recent trade losses of Jaromir Jagr, Derek Roy and Brenden Morrow, and snapped a seven-game winning streak by a red-hot Sharks team.
Here's how it all went down:
The game started out pretty much as expected. The Sharks used their excellent speed, size and faceoff prowess to control the majority of the play, keeping the puck deep in Dallas' end and aggressively shadowing the Stars' forwards whenever they tried to break out of their own zone.
San Jose opened the game's scoring 8:39 into the period. With the Sharks forechecking aggressively defenceman Aaron Rome picked up the puck out of a scrum behind his own net. Flat-footed, Rome tried to eat the puck to buy himself some time, but had it pickpocketed by San Jose's Logan Couture, who passed it through a couple Stars to Tommy Wingels in the slot for a bang-bang play to make it 1-0 Sharks.
Dallas' best offensive outburst of the first came late in the frame, with former Star Adam Burish sitting in the penalty box. The Stars had extended pressure against the Sharks' penalty killers, including a great chance in front of the net by Erik Cole, but weren't able to cash in.
The game really opened up in the second, leading to a wild, entertaining period that saw a whopping five goals get exchanged between both teams.
Dallas came out of the intermission with a fury, generating quality scoring chances and sustained offensive pressure against the Sharks. Despite a Ray Whitney shot ringing off the post and a Matt Fraser breakaway chance that missed the net, it was San Jose's Brent Burns, however, that got the period's first goal off a great rush down the right wing at 3:06.
San Jose's 2-0 lead didn't last long, though, as Eric Nystrom scored 35 seconds later to cut the score to 2-1, and then Alex Chiasson scored his second goal in as many games 26 seconds after that to tie things up at 2-2. Both goals were the result of great forechecking by the Stars that squeezed some juicy turnovers out of the Sharks defence. Nystrom's tally came off of a beautiful, no-look backhand pass from behind the net by linemate Vern Fiddler, while Chiasson banged home a bouncing puck in the slot that found its way to him thanks to some powerful work by Jamie Benn around San Jose's net.
Despite Dallas being the stronger team throughout the period, leading in shots 16-13, the Sharks were able to restore their two-goal advantage before the twenty minutes was up. The Stars got scrambled up trying to escape their own zone, T.J. Galiardi ended up with the puck in the left faceoff circle and wired a perfect laserbeam of a backhand shot top shelf behind Lehtonen to make it 3-2.
San Jose made it 4-2 on a goal that was abundant with controversy. Lehtonen appeared to have been interfered with by Burish, but still appeared to have made a sprawling save on Marc-Edouard Vlasic's wrap-around. However, the puck was in the net after the play was whistled down, and after an extended review the referees called it a goal, despite a shortage of quality video evidence and there being no initial goal call on the ice.
Things looked grim with the Stars heading into the third period with a 4-2 deficit, but they stuck to their guns and were rewarded by two goals to keep the game alive.
Chiasson scored his second of the night, and third in as many games, off another determined drive to the net, deflecting a Ray Whitney pass by Antti Niemi to cut San Jose's lead to one.
Loui Eriksson tied things up three minutes later, banging home a rebound in the slot after Matt Fraser made a smart decision to put the puck on net and caught Niemi with a high, hard shot.
Both teams exchanged chances in the final minutes but neither were able to capitalize, ending regulation time tied at 4-4 as they headed into overtime and the shootout.
Overtime / Shootout
Dallas controlled the puck for most of the overtime and Eriksson came close to finishing the game there, but his shot rang off the pipe and out.
The game was back and forth throughout regulation and overtime, but the Stars made the finish short and sweet in the shootout. Benn capped off an excellent game by scoring the shootout winner with the patented backhand-forehand shot to the stick side, while Lehtonen blanked all three Sharks shooters to preserve the win.
Other Game Thoughts And Analysis
- Dallas' top line of Benn, Whitney and Chiasson was easily the Stars' best and looked fantastic all game long. The team has tried a seemingly endless series of combinations this season to try and find chemistry for their first line, with mixed results, but this new group seems to be clicking instantly. Benn and Chiasson play the exact same style of hockey and feed off each other well, so it will be interesting to see how much chemistry can develop if these two continue to play together.
- Brandon touched on this in his thoughts from Dallas 3-1 win over Anaheim on Friday, but Dallas once again played an excellent team game, from top to bottom. All four lines and all three D pairings seemed to click and were effective at various points. Even the duo of Aaron Rome and Philip Larsen, who finished a -2, played better than the numbers indicate. I can't point to a single player that had a notably bad game.
- One key word that kept popping into my head during the game: improvement. Throughout the season the Stars often looked like they were spinning their tires from one game to the next, which made the losses so much more painful since this young team was supposed to be getting better. However, the Stars have shown some real signs of improvement in almost all areas since the trade deadline, especially today against the Sharks. This win was better than their last, and is a positive sign as they work towards the end of the regular season.
- The penalty kill was a perfect 3-for-3, and while only having three kills doesn't seem like much, they all came at key points in the game where a Sharks powerplay goal could have been a huge momentum swinger.
- Trevor Daley and Alex Goligoski quietly had excellent games. They weren't particularly noticeable in many instances, but moved the puck with speed and fluidity, made lots of great decisions escaping their zone against a relentless San Jose forecheck, and were fairly free of turnovers.
- The trio of Nystrom, Fiddler and Cole played a prototypical checking line game. They consistently shut down San Jose's forwards, brought Dallas' energy level up every time they stepped onto the ice because of their speed and physicality, and even chipped in an important goal. You really couldn't ask for a better game from a third line.
- Speaking of Cole, while many fans are disappointed by his lack of point scoring since being acquired from Montreal, he does a lot of things right when he's on the ice. Against San Jose he won a lot of puck battles, forced the play deep into the Sharks end thanks to his speed and tenacity, and was effective on the PK. His six hits led the team.
- Despite allowing four goals, Kari was still Kari, and came through when his team needed him the most. He stopped 11 shots in the third, two in overtime, and was perfect in the shootout.
- Even with the playoffs still a long way out of reach (though still possible), this was one of the most wildly entertaining games that the Stars have had this season. Win or lose, this team is still going to be one worth following for their final ten regular season games.