With local media and fans alike throwing around terms like "must win" in relation to this one, the Stars came out strong, striking just 14 seconds in when Trevor Daley took advantage of an Edmonton coverage lapse and found Erik Cole alone in front.
They'd build a 3-1 win in the first ten minutes of the game, eventually adding tallies from Cody Eakin, Ryan Garbutt, Jamie Benn and Trevor Daley while relying on Kari Lehtonen for stretches to hold the lead while defensive miscues continued.
Tyler Seguin returned to the score sheet after a five-game absence with an assist on Jamie Benn's power play goal, but it was the continued pressure of that line all first-period long that gave the Stars the boost they needed to build the lead and momentum.
A power play goal, at last, was a welcome addition as well (on just one opportunity)- As were contributions from what may be considered the Stars' "second line" in Cody Eakin, Ryan Garbutt and Antoine Rossel, who stayed out of the sin bin in this one.
At 49 points and with three games in hand they're still in spitting distance of the 8th place Minnesota Wild, losers tonight though owners of 55 in the piggy bank. And even after all that pain and misery the Stars sit exactly where they were in relation to the Phoenix Coyotes on New Years Eve- Just two points back.
It wasn't always pretty, but they got the monkey off their back. And just in time. The schedule (Minnesota, Bruins, Penguins, etc...) gets uglier from here.
The shaking of the head began in earnest this evening, but it was in disbelief at the Oilers this time, last in the league in defense, who exhibited a complete breakdown in record time as Trevor Daley corralled the puck in the slot and found a wide open Erik Cole for a 1-0 lead just 14 seconds in.
The Stars then obliged immediately the other way, repeatedly, until Justin Schultz got completely lost behind Jamie Benn and Alex Goligoski and finished a wide open pass on his backhand to knot it at one.
Not to be outdone, the Oilers then let Ray Whitney walk in to their zone, carry the puck behind the net, then proceed to watch him repeatedly try to stuff the puck through before it squirted out in front and Ryan Garbutt, also spottily defended, helped it across the line.
A power play goal 37 seconds into the chance then made it 3-1 Dallas in just half a period as Jamie Benn beat Bryzgalov from the left circle. A half-period remained and the Oilers nearly made good use of it repeatedly.
Picking up where they left off the Oilers lost Cody Eakin behind them (a common theme tonight) and a terrific pass from Antoine Roussel and an empty net made for a 4-1 Stars lead.
A 4-1 lead with nearly 40 minutes of hockey is a dangerous thing, and the "score effects" took their toll as Edmonton out-shot Dallas 15-9 in a frame that included end-to-end action, due in part to sloppy coverage at either end.
Jamie Benn took an interference penalty after a turnover at the mid-way point and the Oilers' Sam Gagner pulled them within one on the power play with half of a game remaining.
Those "score effects" continued into the third as, naturally, the trailing team is going to push and the leading team has a rather unfortunate tendency to take their feet off the collective gas pedal and rely on defending, not wanting to make the big mistake.
Usually in the course of not wanting to make mistakes, however, hockey team do. Football teams do. Luckily the Stars have Kari Lehtonen, who made his first of many big saves in the third with his helmet.
Even with the Oilers pushing the Stars did not allow many shots, and kept it clean staying out of the penalty box, which was key. Edmonton has so much skill- Inviting it to a showcase on the power play would have been less than ideal.
The action escalated with an extra attacker following a timeout with 3:00 to play and Antoine Roussel nearly scored the empty-netter "taco goal" those present so craved, literally and figuratively, but Trevor Daley delivered a minute later to seal it 5-2.
The Stars needed to show those that showed up a good time tonight, because there weren't many, and those only peripherally aware of their work lately know that it's been quite poor. So they need those that came to want to come back. Then again, it's the Oilers. On a Tuesday. So...
Every time I write before a game with the Oilers I type their line combinations. I type every name. I don't copy and paste them. And when I am done I stare at it and I go "Huh. So... How are they so bad?" During a game you watch Eberle and Hall and RNH do the things they do and you can't help but wonder the same.
This wound up looking like a game between two pretty bad teams- But styles make fights, so poor defensive teams end up looking like a skilled end-to-end game.
Jamie Benn can't take that penalty. He turns the puck over, gets upset with himself about it and then reaches out in what looked like an act of frustration. He does a lot of good "captainy" things. That's not one of them.
Val Nichushkin is, supposedly, semi-injured and/or banged up, and also playing the most hockey he ever has. Alex Chiasson is... not really showing particularly well right now, to say the least. It's unrealistic to expect the two of them to click for long, or together, given their status as young rookies in this league. But, boy, if you could get one of them going a little bit here before the Olympics... that would be swell.
Kari Lehtonen was good tonight. As he was in New Jersey. As he was at MSG. Tonight they got him the support he needed.
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