There are wins in a season that can define you as a team. Tonight might be one of those for the Dallas Stars.
They started the game off a little rocky, then found their groove for the majority of the game. They found a way to overcome a deficit late in the game. They did all of the little things right, and proved to themselves that as long as they work the system and play their game they'll get results.
Dallas came out of the gate playing a little unevenly. An early hooking penalty on Ray Whitney did not allow the Stars to get into a groove, forcing them to have to kill off a penalty early. They were on their heels a bit after the penalty even, but Jamie Benn would snap home a laser of a shot and score on Dallas' first shot of the game.
Uneven play continued as less than a minute later the Stars would break down in front of their goaltender and allow Reilly Smith to make a nice pass over to Torey Krug to tie it up. They would then continue their penalty box parade, forcing Kari Lehtonen to have to come up with some big saves to keep his team in the game.
As the first period continued, Dallas seemed to find their stride. They started to look better in their skating and their passing, and they'd finish the first period tied -- a good thing when you're on the road.
This was the best period of hockey Dallas has played this season. They had more plays that they broke up through sound positioning defensively than many of their previous games combined. (Ok, I didn't do the math on that but I feel like it's true.)
They were able to generate offensive chances -- at one point, they were outshooting Boston 12-4 in the period. They were communicating with their linemates and defensive pairs. They blocked shots. They supported each other on the backcheck. They dug in and won puck battles along the boards. They killed penalties with aplomb.
Boston tried several times to try to draw Dallas into shenanigans after plays, but Dallas wouldn't succumb to it. The fact that Boston even had to try that hard to try to draw Dallas off their game showed that what they were doing was working.
They were out-Bostoning Boston. It was glorious.
But nothing got through Tuuka Rask, and the Stars would come out of the period still tied.
The Stars came out playing much how they had ended the second period. Then, they got the biggest chance they would have in the game to put the win away. A four minute power play was awarded to Dallas after Smith hi-sticked Ryan Garbutt across the face and drawing blood.
And....they couldn't do anything with it. They had a couple of shots -- as well as allowing a few quality chances against for Boston shorthanded -- but they couldn't force anything in. The inability to connect on that long of a power play chance seemed to suck a little bit out of the confidence of the team.
Then Milan Lucic struck to put Boston ahead. Dallas was caught in their own zone again, and Boston would continue applying pressure. As time ticked down, Dallas just looked defeated -- they hadn't been able to generate a goal since the first three minutes of the game, and they looked like they didn't believe they could score to tie it.
Enter in tonight's hero: Vernon Fiddler.
After a breakout pass allowed Fiddler to get in behind Boston's defense, he would be taken down on his way to the net and was awarded a penalty shot. Did you know that he had only had one penalty shot before tonight -- five years ago -- and had converted on that one? Now Fiddler had a chance to get his team the equalizer with just a few minutes left in the game. He roofed it over Rask and the Stars' bench erupted in elation. The game was now tied at 2-2, and they'd end the period that way.
Overtime and Shootout
Dallas applied a lot of pressure in the overtime period, spending a lot of the first half of the five minute extra frame in the offensive zone. Neither team would be able to put it away and the game would go to a shootout. It was only fitting that former Bruins Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverley would score in the shootout to put the Stars over the top of their former team. It was glorious.
A few other observations on tonight's win....
- Stephane Robidas plays with a lot of gumption every night, and tonight was a perfect example of it. He went up against Zdeno Chara and didn't back down (even though nobody would blame him since he's got to be nearly a foot shorter than that tall man...) He had several key defensive plays along the boards against a larger Boston team.
- Speaking of Chara, the other guy that went up against him that impressed me tonight? Valeri Nichushkin. The rookie forward was matched up against Boston's big defenseman several times tonight and he played his stick well to win a few puck battles with Chara.
- The speed of Dallas was on full display tonight, and you could see clearly for stretches tonight the system the Stars want to play night in and night out. Their skating ability really allowed Dallas to open the ice up in the second period and outplay Boston. A full 60 minutes of that kind of game would be a sight to see.
- I really wish Kari Lehtonen didn't have to stand on his head to have to keep the team in the game long enough for them to get going. The big Finn continues to be the MVP of this team.
- The words I screamed after Fiddler scored that penalty shot are not fit to print.
- Seguin got called out by coach Lindy Ruff for his faceoffs after the Senators game. He led the Stars with 67% in the dot tonight.