If the Stars were ever going to pull out of their slump, they needed a game like this.
A simple win wouldn't do the trick. This team needed to prove to themselves that they could battle and grind back into games like they've done all season long, and they did just that tonight in a 4-3 shootout win over the Chicago Blackhawks.
As per usual lately, the Stars got off to a slow start. Only this time things went downhill faster than usual. Two turnovers by Nicklas Grossman in the defensive zone resulted in two quick Blackhawk goals, and a porous penalty kill gave Patrick Sharp the third goal of the night. And the first period wasn't even over yet.
Now, earlier in the season we might've felt a little optimism about a comeback. But lately the Stars haven't shown that same fire that they need to get themselves back in games, and a dismal first period didn't indicate they were about to change that trend.
But a couple of Mark Fistric hits and a brilliant save by Kari Lehtonen seemed to wake the Stars up. Stephane Robidas circled around the net and squeaked a softie by Marty Turco to put the Stars on the board. Then, with less than a minute left in the period, Brad Richards beat Turco over the shoulder on the power play to bring the Stars within one. And Brenden Morrow tied it up only minutes into the final frame in a sequence of events that can only be described as unorganized. Jamie Langenbrunner shanked on a gaping net, Morrow tipped the puck into the air as he was falling down, and the puck rolled off the back of a flailing
Magikarp Marty Turco into the net.
The Stars then withstood a frantic final few minutes and overtime to take it to a shootout, where Morrow, Richards and Mike Ribeiro all scored to give the Stars a hard-earned two points.
My thoughts on the game after the jump...
- First off, let me say that James Neal might be the most depressing player on this team right now. I say that not because he has played poorly, but because his total lack of confidence right now with the puck is just deflating. Even so, we saw a little flash of the old Real Deal in the second period. He made the Stars' first prime scoring chance of the game, and that seemed to light a fire inside of him. He started carrying the puck with authority, driving the net and creating havoc in and around the boards. Even though he couldn't sustain that same drive the rest of the game, it was nice to see a little of the old "bull in a china shop" style of play we're so used to from Nealer even for a little while.
- I think we all can agree the Stars like to get too fancy with the puck sometimes in the offensive zone, and it leads to slow starts and ineffectiveness offensively. We saw that early tonight. But at some point in the second period they decided to just throw pucks on net, and they started seeing results. I know it sounds obvious, but this team works best when they simplify things, and perhaps getting back to that style will spark a run for them.
- I think this game really turned when the Stars established a physical presence, led by Mark Fistric's play. For half of the game the Hawks were left to skate around the rink relatively untouched. Chicago is a fast team, and when they can use that speed without much fear of getting blasted, they'll hurt you. But Fistric's hit on Fernando Pisani really set a tone that the Stars skated to the rest of the game: They got rough, skated harder, and caused more havoc around the net. I think at one point in the third the Stars had outhit the Hawks 28-6 since the second period.
- You know who looked really good on the ice tonight? Tom Wandell. He'd been out for so long that I forgot just how fast he is with the puck, and how effortlessly he carries it through the defenders into the zone. And as always, his positioning was great. Of course, we see that every game. But tonight he even showcased some playmaking abilities. I feel like there's a lot of untapped potential in Wandell.
- Speaking of potential, how about Tomas Vincour? In his second NHL game, he looked great once again. He had a couple of near-scoring chances, and was playing well off the puck again tonight. As a couple of commenters pointed out, he had some good chemistry with Wandell tonight.
- Finally, I think we saw again just how important special teams are to the success of the Stars. Brad Richards scored a power play goal for the first time since December 21st, and after a couple of poor showings the power play started to get some good puck movement going. And the penalty kill improved as the game went on as well.
Defending Big D 3 Stars of the Game:
1. Brenden Morrow, DAL
2. Mark Fistric, DAL
3. Marty Turco, CHI