May the 'stache be with you.
Once more, the Dallas Stars showed their heart and resiliency as they orchestrated yet another dramatic third period come-from-behind win, scoring two goals in the final six minutes to defeat the Ottawa Senators. It was a fitting end for a team that overall played well against a hot team, yet were obviously missing some very key parts and just couldn't seem to get their game going collectively.
What's even more amazing is that for around 45 minutes, this game was just about the most boring hockey game I've seen in a decade. This wasn't about the Stars 'grinding' it out, this was about two teams incapable of creating offense through two periods of play, despite what the 1-1 score might have told you. The second period alone was the sports equivalent of Ambien, with each team managing just four shots apiece in the middle frame.
Yet the Stars and Senators finally found their legs, combining for three goals and 37 shots in the third period alone. The final 15 minutes might have appeared to have been two completely different teams, especially as the Stars turned on the pressure after allowing the go-ahead goals despite some great play in the third. We've seen it all season, that this team knows it takes a full 60-minute effort sometimes and the Stars are more than willing to let you know.
"Gully has been preaching that all year - we have a 60 minute game for a reason," said Steve Ott, who scored the Stars first power play goal in 22 attempts. "Tonight it took us the full 60, but we got the job done."
More on the power play after the game and of course -- Eric Nystrom.
Before we get to the Eric Nystrom legend, a few thoughts on the special teams of the Dallas Stars.
A lot of focus has been on the power play over the past few weeks and for good reason. The Stars have not only been incapable of scoring on the power play but playing with the extra man has actually seemed to suck away momentum from the Stars. The lack of execution of any sort on with the man advantage has been a source of great frustration and it's apparent the players are over-thinking instead of simplifying.
Coach Glen Gulutzan spoke after the game about the power play, saying that the Stars need to just move the puck and get it on net instead of looking for the perfect play. That approach is what worked in the first period when Toby Petersen found space from the point and Ott tipped a perfect shot past Craig Anderson.
"We looked at the top five power plays in the league and every goal they scored and, maybe outside of Vancouver, the teams are shooting and rolling and shooting and getting net presence to create secondary chances," Gulutzan said after the game.
What's amazing is that while that approach certainly worked in the first period, the Stars failed to follow through later in the game. In three power play opportunities, the Stars managed just two shots on goal. It's something that is going to have to change -- and fast.
Conversely, what has been amazing is the turnaround in the penalties the Stars have been taking -- specifically the amount. While the Stars at one point had the most lopsided special teams ratio in the NHL, over the past five games the Stars have actually had the man advantage three more times than their opponent. The Stars are allowing just 2.4 power plays per game in that span, an amazing number compared to earlier in the season. It's obviously a result of the Stars making a focus of being disciplined and not mouthing off to the officials during the game.
"Yeah, it's a big step for us,'' Gulutzan said. "We've talked about in this room that we want to clean up not only the way we're perceived, but we want to make sure that we're playing a more disciplined game, and we're taking steps, if you look at over the last five games, to do that. And that won't go away until we're a disciplined team."
Of course, the story of the game is Eric Nystrom, who scored the game-winning goal in the final minutes -- his 9th goal of the season since coming to Dallas. For a player that was a throwaway by the Minnesota Wild and who would have never made it to Dallas if it weren't for Sean Avery, Nystrom is quickly becoming not just a legendary fan favorite but a big reason why the Stars have been successful despite the injuries.
"We may not necessarily have had our best legs early on, but we were getting better and better," said Nystrom. "They scored one but there was still plenty of time left and we popped a couple of late ones. That's the character we have on our team. We are never going to give up until that final buzzer goes. We've won games like this and this is just another example of it."
Nystrom has solidified himself on the third line, along with Vernon Fiddler and Radek Dvorak, as a dangerous line that can devastate defenses with their tenacity and ability to cycle the puck. Such was the case on the winning goal, when Fiddler, Dvorak and Nystrom played keep away from the Senators for the better part of a minute in the offensive zone, before Nystrom worked it past Erik Karlsson and stepped in front and ripped a shot under Craig Anderson's arm.
"That was some shift. We got in there, we got possession. We were working close together and making short little plays, kind of grinding them down," said Nystrom. "We had a couple of chances, got them running and had a seeing-eye shot that just found the low corner. It feels pretty good."
Before this game there were calls that with the second line struggling to score goals that perhaps Nystrom should be moved to play with Ribeiro and that perhaps he should be seeing more and more minutes. The tricky part about that thought is that Nystrom and his line are enjoying incredible success in the role they have now and they are doing great things for this team at a dire time in the season. Why would the Stars want to change that formula?
Taking Nystrom away from that third line takes away the depth that the Stars have so desperately attempted to create. All three players are new additions to the team this season and showcase just how balanced a team can be when they have a third line that can not only put pressure on the defense but actually create production as well.
Before Nystrom came to the team Dvorak and Fiddler were two of the more consistent players for the Stars -- Nystrom has been able to add a dynamic that had not existed and suddenly the three are incredibly dangerous to the opposition.
"Just the work of that Fiddler-Dvorak-Nystrom line - they just worked and worked and worked," Gulutzan said of his third line. "I am just glad they scored because I don't know if they would have had the energy to backcheck had they not. They put in a lot of effort to get that. It was a huge sign of character from that group."
Now, there may be something to the thought that perhaps Nystrom should get power play time. He's got the hot hand right now and while there's a very good chance he won't sustain this pace all season there's no denying that he's found something offensively in Dallas. Each of his goals are of the hard work and skill variety and none have been a fluke -- Nystrom is creating his chances and cashing in on them.
Nystrom now has nearly a 24% shot percentage this season and while he's flashed signs of offense before, no player can maintain that level of goal scoring. Yet there is no denying that a player that was basically given away by Minnesota has become an integral part of the future for the Stars and has instantly become a cult hero in Dallas.
Even if the goals weren't there, Nystrom would have been an incredible addition. His tenacity along the boards, his attention to detail defensively and his energy for 60 minutes embodies everything that Gulutzan is preaching to his team. Nystrom has always been a hard-working player but he's found another level in Dallas and the Stars are cashing in on it.
Nystrom said after the game that he's going to keep his now trademark handlebar mustache and why not? It only adds to his legendary status here in Dallas and is yet another reason why the fans love him. Even without the goals he'd be one heck of a player for this team -- the scoring is just icing on the cake.
A very big cake.