This was a game that never should have gone to overtime, but Loui Eriksson was determined not to let two very important points get away from the Dallas Stars. After the Tampa Bay Lightning twice in a 53 second span in the third period to surprisingly tie the game at 3-3, Tom Wandell swept an Eriksson pass under Mike Smith to get the win. Eriksson had several chances in overtime to score, including a sizzling shot that Smith knocked away, before his perfect pass to Wandell secured a win in a game that looked like it was going to completely fall apart in the final five minutes.
The Stars took advantage of a slew of Lightning penalties in the second period, scoring twice on back to back 5-on-3 power plays to overcome an early 1-0 deficit. After Steve Ott drew another penalty in the third period, Brenden Morrow seemingly put the game away at 3-1.
Yet the penalties started to even themselves out and after Steven Stamkos scored late in a power play, Jeff Halpern somehow slipped the puck past Alex Auld to tie the game less than a minute later. Suddenly a game that looked to be over was suddenly in danger of being lost, as the Lightning found new life and put the pressure on in the final minutes. The Stars survived another late penalty kill, this time with Mike Modano in the box, and Wandell got the win in overtime.
It was a big win for a team that laid an egg the night before in Phoenix, but the Stars should not feel anywhere close to happy about the win. Still, it's good to get the two points as the Stars get a day off before traveling to Detroit on Monday night.
Game highlight and more thoughts on the game after the jump.
- Marc Crawford made a very move for this game and it's one I'll be interested to see if he sticks with this in the future. Tom Wandell was moved up to the third line center between Steve Ott and Jere Lehtinen, while Mike Modano played with Toby Petersen and Fabian Brunnstrom. This isn't so much about 'demoting' Modano as it is about Tom Wandell forcing his way into a more important role with the Stars. A lot of the focus this season has been on Jamie Benn and James Neal, but Tom Wandell has also emerged as an extremely solid two-way center who is on the ice during critical parts of the game. Modano still had plenty of time on the power play tonight, but Wandell had more even strength TOI (12:40) and Modano didn't even play on the penalty kill. Perhaps the even strength approach was just for this game, as Crawford semed intent on putting Wandell on Steven Stamkos as often as possible. This is most likely Mike Modano's final season with the Stars; perhaps we've seen his replacement as the checking line center already step up.
- Brad Richards had yet another multi-point night and now has 12 points in his last seven games. He is fourth overall in points and is second in the NHL in assists behind Joe Thornton. He only has seven goals on the season yet it seems each night he's just inches away from scoring himself a few times. If Richards can get a few goals to go along with his massive amounts of assists, and if he is somehow able to continue this torrid pace, there's a good chance that the Dallas Stars have a player that is in the running for the Art Ross at the end of the season. There's still a very long way to go, but the fact that this is a possibility almost single-handily validates the trade in 2008.
- Faceoffs. Every game we talk about them. Against the Lightning, the Stars went into the third period winning 70% of the faceoffs and were absolutely dominating in the circle. Yet at the end of the game they had won just 48%, right near their season average. In a third period where the game nearly became a complete disaster, it's not hard to see where the breakdowns started.
- Steve Ott needs to be careful. That's all I'm going to say.
- It was mentioned a few times but when the Stars had a 6-1 advantage on power plays, you knew the refs would be looking to even up the chances for the Lightning. The call on Nicklas Grossman was ridiculous; apparently when a diminutive forward skates under a giant defenseman and hence into his stick with the top of his helmet, it's high sticking. And the call on Modano was borderline at best; his stick was on his hip and Lecavalier just 'fell'. At the point in the game, tied 3-3 with just a few minutes remaining it's insane that the refs would let something like that put a team on a man advantage at the end of the game. Of course, a few of those power plays for the Stars came on questionable calls anyway (such as the non-call on Ott). But hey, that's the new NHL for ya.
- Speaking of power plays, the Stars' power play is rolling right now. At one point this season a game completely fell apart when the Stars were unable to score on a lengthy 5-on-3; tonight the Stars scored twice with the two-man advantage and once more on the power play in the third period. Mike Heika touched on this earlier this season; the Stars do a great job of drawing penalties but they have to find a way to make teams pay for them. Teams will play the Stars tight and be willing to take penalties if they aren't scared of the power play. Against Phoenix, the Stars failed to score on multiple chances in the first period and soon found themselves down 1-0. Tonight the Stars didn't make the same mistake two nights in a row.
- Stephane Robidas is having perhaps the best season of his career, but Nicklas Grossman has emerged as an extremely good defenseman. He's playing better than all but Robidas and has become a force around the net. He made several great plays on Stamkos and has shown the mobility to be able to stick with the NHL's toughest offensive players. While it would be nice if he could develop some offense as well, the Stars will be perfectly content with his development into a lock-down option on defense.
- While Alex Auld did allow a soft goal by Jeff Halpern, he was also the reason the Stars even had a chance to be in the game. The Lightning had just five shots on goal in the first period but all five were prime scoring chances. When Tampa Bay put the heat on to open up the second period, he stood tall and kept the game from getting out of hand. While you'd prefer your goaltender not allow two goals in the final minutes of a 3-1 game, he was exactly what you need your backup to be: solid.
- Finally, Matt Niskanen needs a break.
DBD's Three Stars:
Tom Wandell, Dallas: Game-winning goal and shut down one of the hottest offensive players in the NHL (Stamkos' goal came when Wandell was not on the ice).
Brad Richards, Dallas: Another two assists, and he deserves to be a star since he's been snubbed nearly every other game.
Stephane Robidas, Dallas: Another big goal, and tied for the team lead with six shots on goal.