Perhaps all the Dallas Stars really needed was to play a game in Detroit. After all, if the Stars were going to end this nosedive in February it might as well happen at Joe Louis Arena against a very good Detroit Red Wings team. The team we saw on the ice last night doesn't come close to resembling the mess we've seen for most of the past month and Stars fans finally have good reason to feel that collapse that seemed would never stop has finally come to an end.
The Stars have won once already this month, grinding to a shootout win against Chicago at home, but this game and this victory felt much more different. The Stars showcased an energy and a desperation that we haven't seen in a very long time and it was apparent just how much energy this team feeds off one another when things are going well.
"It was a big game for us," said center Mike Ribeiro. "It didn't matter who we played against. We knew that we played good games here and they maybe took us a little bit lightly at the beginning of the game - and we took it to them."
If there is one thing we have learned over the past month is that there is no one single player that makes the entire difference on the Stars, but it's how they work as a team that really matters. The Stars won as a team against Detroit, and certainly fed off the return of Adam Burish and Krys Barch from injury.
"It was a real solid effort for us," coach Marc Crawford said. "We had good spirit in the group. I think the return of Burish and Barch helped bring up the enthusiasm of our guys. We were sharp tonight. We did a lot of good things, and played with the proper amount of aggression up front. It was such a desperate win for us, and now it puts us back in a playoff position. We have to keep rolling out performances like this."
The change in this team started on Tuesday night with the return of Jamie Benn, when the entire team seemed to get a boost from the young center. Against the Red Wings, the return of Adam Burish and Krys Barch set the team over the edge and it was incredible to see the difference in desperation and energy from last week to last night. While it's impossible to statistically breakdown what Burish means to the team (other than blocked shots) it was apparent that his hard work and dedication to playing hard carried over to the rest of the team.
Of course, we wouldn't be talking about this win if it weren't for what could be the best performance by Kari Lehtonen since becoming a Dallas Star.
Lehtonen finished the game with 38 saves on 39 shots, and came just over three minutes away from his first shutout of the season. There were a number of "highlight" worthy saves throughout the game but more than anything, Lehtonen was as perfect as he could be with his positioning all night long. The Red Wings fight to get traffic in front of the net and Lehtonen never allowed space for tipped shots or deflections to find their way through.
"He had to make several saves throughout the game," said Crawford. "He was sharp throughout. It's unfortunate he lost the shutout late."
Lehtonen made 16 saves in the third period when the Red Wings fought the hardest, attempting to recover from a 3-0 deficit after two periods. Lehtonen was instrumental in the Stars killing off five of the first six power plays for Detroit, about the only times in the game where the Red Wings offense ever showed some life. The Stars were fortunate, however, when an apparent goal was waived off in the second period when Tomas Holmstrom was called for incidental goaltender interference. The referees were perhaps a bit generous to the Stars.
"We did give up one there," said Lehtonen. "The referee was my friend there. It was fortunate there. It was just good to have things rolling when things are going good, and we haven't had that in a while."
For the first time in nearly a month the Stars received the break they hadn't been getting in all those losses. When the Stars were still fighting to hold onto a two-goal lead -- the worst lead in hockey -- it was Krys Barch of all people that helped extend the lead for the Stars.
After the fourth line was caught on the ice for well over a minute, unable to clear the zone and barely surviving a brutal Red Wings cycle that led to multiple chances, Jason Williams was able to get the puck to Barch and clear the zone. Instead of just dumping the puck and heading for a change, Barch decided to take the puck to the net along with a hard charging Jamie Benn. What happened next was nothing short of brilliant.
"I was a buck-thirty into my shift and my shifts usually run 30 seconds,'' Barch said. ``I was looking for an oxygen tank. Everything just happened subconsciously. I think I always dump the puck at the blue line. It was a lucky bounce, ended up on my stick, got a second opportunity and it found the back of the net."
"That goal by Barchy, a slow-motion goal, was a big one for us," Ribeiro said. "I thought he was skating backwards there for a minute. We'll take those goals."
The way the Stars reacted, you would have thought Barch just scored a Cup-winning goal. That score was the icing on the cake of a great night for the team all around. Not just being able to finally win a game and win convincingly, but to win a game by walking into Joe Louis and completely outplaying the Detroit Red Wings.
"It was such a desperate win for us," said Crawford. "It puts us back in a playoff position, and we've got to keep rolling out performances like this."
Alex Goligoski, playing in his second game with the Stars, looked more comfortable out on the ice. While he didn't have as many stand-out passes like he did against New Jersey, he also didn't appear to be trying too hard and just let the game come to him naturally once more. He spoke after the game about wanting to jump on the Red Wings early and force them out of the comfort zone, something the Stars did effectively for most of the game.
"It's a great win. Other than their power play and some moments there in the third period they didn't have much in the game," said Goligoski. "In the two games I've been here they've been some good team efforts for sure. We wanted to keep them on the walls, they have a lot of swing in their game and like to control the puck.
"We wanted to make their defensemen make decisions with the puck instead of the forwards coming up the ice with speed. We had a real good start...that was huge. That carried on the whole game."
What was important was that the Stars realize that one game does not suddenly mean all the hard work is finished. Beating the Red Wings is a great accomplishment considering what we've seen the past month or so from the Stars, but this win means nothing unless the Stars continue to win and get back into the fight for a playoff spot.
"It's one thing right now beating an Edmonton Oilers team, but coming into Detroit and stealing a game out of here against a team that's second in our conference is a big confidence builder for us," said Barch. "We're starting to turn the ship in the right direction, and we're starting to get some smiles in the room, too."
The smiles are great, but what matters most is how they build upon this win. Kari Lehtonen knows that everything is suddenly not golden again, especially considering what happened after the win against Chicago.
"It's big, but I think we've felt good before," Lehtonen said. "We won against Chicago, then came out flat the next four games. We have to be smarter, keep doing what we're doing, and just go from there."