Anaheim, Phoenix, San Jose, and Phoenix again. It was a tall order for the Dallas Stars as they pulled out of a January tail spin ahead of the break. What luck could a 10th place team have against that gauntlet after so much had gone wrong?
It's a satisfying narrative after Dallas put the finishing touches on a pair of win over Mike Smith and his stingy Phoenix Coyotes, the latest a 2-1 victory in front of a sellout crowd at the American Airlines Center Saturday night.
Dallas got goals from Ray Whitney and Valeri Nichushkin to go along with a stellar performance in net from Olympian netminder Kari Lehtonen to move ahead of Phoenix thanks to the "ROW" (regulation and overtime wins) tie-breaker, though both boast identical 27-21-10 records on the season having won fewer games than they've lost.
The Stars are now 6-1-2 in their last nine games have surrendered just 12 total goals in that time, including three shutouts and what was very nearly a fourth tonight if not for Radim Vrbata's meaningless power play goal in the waning seconds.
It was a complete team win for Dallas as they played smart hockey throughout, limiting Phoenix's chance quality from start to finish while staying patient when opportunities were sparse for long stretches.
The Stars will hold a playoff spot now through at least February 26th, by virtue of the Olympic break. Back in the mix and an even goal differential- It will be a new start for them in a crazy sprint to the finish in April.
It's goodbye for now to the Stars, but not to content on Defending Big D. We will be posting every day about the Stars' Olympians, the games in general, and all things Dallas Stars in general as the entire spectrum of possibility lay truly before them now with just 24 games to go.
Four whistles in the game's first 30 seconds got things off to a disjointed start, but Ray Whitney was non-plussed as he took a feed from Jordie Benn and was allowed to waft into the slot unmolested and rifle one over Smith's glove hand to give Dallas a 1-0 lead.
Valeri Nichushkin rifled one off the post soon after, and Dallas would go on to dominate possession throughout the frame, out-attempting Phoenix 21-12 on the frame.
A late power play thanks to Martin Hanzal's boarding/cross-checking did everything but score in an impressive display, and Dallas couldn't extend a lead to match their team play.
The middle frame opened with Keith Yandle getting in the spirit of the wrong season of Olympic games- Taking a dive. Awarded for his theatrics with power play time, he bombed one off the post during the ensuing man advantage, but the Stars survived.
Mike Smith then started waving around his over-dramatic glove hand at Tyler Seguin slapshots and whatnot while Dallas continued to carry even strength play. Kari Lehtonen saw only seven shots through half of the hockey game.
Meanwhile Val Nichushkin actually was tripped deep in Phoenix territory, but the officials were not impressed. Yandle could give Nichushkin tips in Sochi, but he isn't going.
Nichushkin was all over the game in the frame, sending a feed to Seguin across the goal mouth that couldn't be corralled, then deferring to Seguin again later, passing up a golden opportunity for a shot.
He was on the scene once again when Trevor Daley, off a nice feed from Jamie Benn, through a puck from the slot that juuuuust ticked off Nichushkin's stick juuuuuust below the cross-bar, and after a lengthy review and conversation the officials awarded the Stars a 2-0 lead.
Wacky officiating would continue to be a theme as during a Dallas Stars power play they failed to call an obvious slash that would have put the Stars up by two men, then took Shawn Horcoff to the box on a marginal tripping call.
Dallas killed the penalty with facility and continued to press the Coyotes as the precious seconds ticked off the clock, and Kari Lehtonen was good down the stretch.
When Shane Doan went off for interference at 9:21 our old friend Mike Ribeiro decided, like girls headed to the bathroom together, that he didn't want to be left out, and got thrown in as well for unsportsmanlike conduct. Dallas, disturbingly, did next to nothing with a full two minutes of 5-on-3 power play time, allowing Phoenix life in the waning moments.
The officials went on doing strange things when they took Sergei Gonchar off the ice for slashing instead of awarding Korpokoski a penalty shot- Of course it was the Stars who started the strange things when they allowed a shorthanded breakaway in the first play.
Lehtonen looked poised to earn the team's fourth shutout in their last nine games, but Radim Vrbata scored on the power play with 14 seconds remaining thanks to a screen, and Kari never saw the puck.
It mattered not, and the Stars would hold on for the 2-1 win.
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- Dallas Stars Penalty Report Card: January 2014 in Individual Minors
- 2014 Winter Olympics: NHL Players Prepare to Head to Sochi, As They Should
- Dallas Stars Daily Links: Martin St. Louis Gets the Olympic Nod, Second Time Around