It wasn't the prettiest effort in the current six-games point streak, but the Dallas Stars got two goals from their Czechs in the second period and a solid defensive effort overall to pick up a 3-1 victory over the Edmonton Oilers at Rexall Place on Friday.
To call the first period boring would be an insult to the word boring, as the Stars picked up only four shots to the Oilers seven and neither created prolonged offensive zone scrambles.
But led by a strong effort from the fourth line, the Stars began to pick up the intensity in the second period. Ryan Garbutt continued to make a strong impression with several determined forays to the net, and net crashing eventually paid off with a little more than eight minutes gone in the second. Vernon Fiddler, playing in front of his 80-year-old grandmother, controlled the puck behind the net long enough to open up some space and played the puck through the crease, where it went off Eric Nystrom and right to Radek Dvorak, who scored his first road goal of the season.
The Stars doubled their lead four minutes later as Oilers goalie Nikolai Khabibulin was taken out by teammate Corey Potter and the Stars worked it to a wide-open Tomas Vincour at the top of the crease.
While the young Oilers tried to use their speed to create chances, the Stars defense kept them mostly contained and Kari Lehtonen only had to see 20 shots in the game. And Michael Ryder put the game away with an empty netter late in the third for his team-leading 27th goal of the season.
Sure, some running around from the fourth line ended up with the puck in the back of the Stars net with 30 seconds left, but that doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things. The Stars tightened their hold on the eighth playoff spot and picked up a victory they needed to have with so many other teams lurking.
More on this game after the jump.
- I'm not sure what clicked for this team after Valentine's Day, but they've suddenly become one of the hottest teams in the NHL. Dallas has 11 points in the last 6 games and is 6-1-2 in their last nine for 14 of a possible 18 points. That's made a huge impact on their playoff positioning, which I'll get to in a bit.
- Like I mentioned up at the top, this was not a game full of utterly compelling hockey like the game against the Pittsburgh Penguins earlier this week. But for a contest that was at times utterly devoid of passion, it was nice the see the Stars as the team that eventually created the breaks by going to the front of the net.
- Not enough good things can be said about the play of Ryan Garbutt. For a kid who took the long way to the NHL, he's been a revelation on the fourth line because of his willingness to take the puck to the net and his ability to make the simple, smart play. Yeah, he didn't score on Friday and his line was on the ice for the Oilers only tally, but his play was one of the things that appeared to spark the team out of some early doldrums.
- Jamie Benn was held without a shot in 16:33, and his assist on Vincour's goal wasn't his usual play-making brilliance. But boy was he good on the backcheck and in his own zone. He blocked a team-high four shots, not a stat you normally expect from him, and we led a very solid defensive effort against an overmatched Oilers squad.
- Sheldon Souray had a fairly quiet evening in his return to Rexall, though the Oilers faithful let him know they were not all that happy to see him again every time he touched the puck early. But he showed them what they're missing even without any offense. He played just more than 20 minutes with three blocked shots and was the only player that was +2 on the Stars.
- The Stars continue to climb deeper into the pack at the back end of the Western Conference playoff heap. With the two points from Friday, the Stars are now tied with the San Jose Sharks at 73 points, though the Sharks have two games in hand, and they are two points back of the Phoenix Coyotes, who have one game in hand. They are also four points back of sixth-place Chicago but have a game in hand on the Blackhawks.
- The trailing pack isn't going away, but it's definitely getting smaller. With the Minnesota Wild being steamrolled by the Detroit Red Wings and the Anaheim Ducks getting a goal with 46 seconds left to beat the Calgary Flames in blessed regulation, the Stars are now three points up on all the trailers, though the Los Angeles Kings have a game in hand. Minnesota and Anaheim are seven points back with the same number of games played. The Avalanche and L.A. sitting at are at 70 points while Calgary is at 69 points.
- Of course, that lead can evaporate as soon as it appeared if the Stars don't continue to pick up points. They will need a much better effort against a desperate Flames squad on Sunday.