The Dallas Stars have been sublime at home for most of this season having gone 11-3-2 before tonight's game, but their performance against the Montreal Canadiens in a 5-2 win was most likely the best effort they've given all season.
It's been easy to say that even during this fantastic December and even with that remarkable home record that the Stars have rarely put together a full 60 minute effort that from opening puck drop to final horn made the game never once seem like it could have been in doubt. Granted they've shown lots of heart in their wins, have displayed flashes of dominating brilliance at times that was an indication that this team is certainly for real, but never really having that beginning-to-end masterpiece that makes fans - not just Stars fans but hockey fans all over - sit up and take notice.
On a night where the Stars played at home in front of a fantastic and lively crowd of 17 thousand plus at the AAC and took over first place in the Western Conference (if only for one night depending how Detroit does tomorrow) this felt like a big time statement game from the Dallas Stars.
Adam Burish got things going with a beautiful hip-high deflection off a Steve Ott pass to start the scoring seven minutes into the game. Jamie Benn then did his thing and scored yet another breakaway shorthanded goal seven minutes after that.
Karlis Skrastins made it 3-0 to start the second period off a crazy goal mouth scramble that he originally started with a nifty rush to and then around the net. Mathieu Darche made it a 3-1 game midway through the period with a bit of a fluke goal that bounced off his leg / stick / shin / some-sort-of-body-part, but the Stars were not to be denied on this night as Brad Richards scored a power play marker about seven minutes later to reclaim the three goal lead.
Loui Eriksson waited much less than that to answer a Habs goal when he scored less than a minute after Brian Gionta made things interesting halfway through the third by putting the score at 4-2.
Throw in some fantastic Kari Lehtonen goaltending, three Stephane Robidas assists and a perfect 4 for 4 penalty kill and you have the makings for an incredible night at AAC.
If you're still not sure if this Dallas Stars team is for real and still waiting for some sort of bottom to fall out, at the risk of throwing any kind of jinx on them I say it's time to believe. First place in the west on December 21st, 2010 - a spot I don't think even the most diehard of Stars fan would have had them in before this season started - tells us so.
(More thoughts and three stars after the jump...)
- Granted the Stars were out-shot in this game 29-17, but they weren't out-chanced offensively and the Stars made sure to make their scoring chances count scoring on four of their first 12 shots.
- Yes it's nice to see the Stars fight back in games where they allow the first goal (or two) but the Stars have won 13 in a row and are now 16-2 when they score first in a game.
- Fantastic game overall by the Stars defensive unit and it's very nice to see Skrastins rewarded for his recently great work (which we at DBD no doubt helped by spreading some good karma his way) with the game winning goal.
- Also collecting points for the Stars tonight: Ott with two assists while James Neal, Matt Niskanen, Eriksson and Mike Ribiero all had single assists. Ribs was probably the most dangerous Star not to score as he had at least four really good looks at the Montreal goal, but was a little trigger shy in terms of getting shots on net.
- Lehtonen stopped 27 of 29 shots. I think it's safe to assume any rust he had from his slight layoff a week ago is now gone. A few saves he made late in the first and early in the second period were clutch and prevented the Habs from climbing back into the game and getting new life.
- On the other side of the ice... I think a night like he had tonight is a prime example of why P.K. Subban has been a healthy scratch quite a few times as of late.
- Stars have a chance to go for their third four game win streak of the season on Thursday against Calgary. If nothing else convinces you that the Stars are legit and will be a fixture near the top of the western conference, you can look to the fact that they are able to put together these nice little runs while keeping the losing streaks minimal.