But the luckdragons nearly turned right back around to bite the Stars on Thursday as it took a late power-play goal from Shawn Horcoff to earn the Stars a point in their 3-2 overtime loss at the Air Canada Centre.
The Stars outshot the Leafs 50-24 (look familiar?) and didn't allow the first Toronto shot until 11 minutes into the first period, but it took a third-period comeback for the Stars to finally get a goal past Jonathan Bernier. To make things worse, the Leafs first goal was scored on a play that will likely be far more costly than just two points.
Less than a minute into the second period, James van Riemsdyk used his free arm to hold off and eventually haul down Trevor Daley, who was defending a two-on-two. Daley fell awkwardly with van Riemsdyk on top of him and then slid hard into the end boards in an eerie similar way to Stephane Robidas one week ago. Daley stayed down in the fetal position and the Maple Leafs took advantage of the extra man to find an open Nazem Kadri, who snuck a puck past Kari Lehtonen low on the glove side.
Daley left the game with a "lower-body injury" and did not return. He was putting no weight on his left leg as he was help off the ice.
Should have been a holding call on van Riemsdyk? Probably. It was almost the exact same play as Vernon Fiddler got called for holding on later in the period except the puck was around the feet of both players. But once the referee decided to pass on the hold (and to be fair, they tend to give a lot more leeway to the offensive players on stiffarms), it was probably proper not to whistle the play dead for the injury. A player has to be in immediate danger to earn a stoppage of play, which usually involves a head injury or lots of blood. As bad a position as Daley was in, unless the play moved on top of him, they were probably right to let it go.
The Stars finally broke through and evened things up early in the third period on a great passing play to set up Erik Cole. Valeri Nichushkin took the puck in down the right wall and found Shawn Horcoff heading to the slot. Horcoff feathered a beautiful pass to the far post, where Cole quickly elevated it under the crossbar.
A silly, avoidable penalty by Alex Goligoski led to the Leafs go -ahead goal a few minutes later. Goligoski was called for a cross check as he retaliated against van Riemsdyk in front of the Stars net. The officials chose to take only Goligoski to the box, and the Leafs quickly converted on the power play as Jamie Oleksiak didn't recognize the danger of a Kadri tip quickly enough to get over for his check.
The Stars looked like they had tied the game with a little more than 10 minutes remaining the third, but Horcoff tipped the point shot above the crossbar, a call that was confirmed by video review. But Horcoff wouldn't be denied, tying the game on an extremely similar tip eight minutes later that was reviewed for a high stick but upheld. The goal also marked Kevin Connauton's first NHL point on the primary assist from the point shot.
Dallas dominated much of the overtime and came close when Tyler Seguin burst through three Leafs defenders in on goal. The refs chose not to call any of the medium-grade hooks on the play, and the Leafs quickly turned the puck around and brought it back up ice.
There, Cody Eakin got puck chasing again, running up the point when the man was already covered. That left a 2-on-1 down low, and the unmarked man - Trevor Smith - had an easy tip for the overtime winner.
Thoughts from my sofa
- Courtesy of Bruce LeVine, the last time the Stars were shut out by the Maple Leafs was 1999 by a man who went by CuJo. And this was the note I was writing when Cole scored, so you can thank him later.
- Cole's goal also got Ray Whitney off the hook. A wide open rebound rolled to Whitney very late in the second period and he was unable to get much of anything on he shot, sending it wide. I still contend it was a harder play to make than it seemed live speed, especially because Whitney is a right shot, but he still should have found some way to get it at least on net, if not in. He got the monkey off his back earlier this year, so I believe the proper terminology now is snakebit.
- Also snakebit - one Jamie Benn. You can really see the frustration in his game right now as he tries to bull his way to the net and just slam things through goalies. He's trying so very, very hard and it's probably starting to work against him a bit.
- One day Nichushkin will have a decent conversion rate on all the quality close-in chances he creates. That will be a glorious day.
- Heck, Whitney is going to get a fair amount guff tonight because he missed a few nice chances, but the fact of the matter is no one, outside of Cole and Horcoff, was able to take advantage of their high-grade scoring chances. Other players, like Alex Chiasson, Nichushkin, Benn, Seguin, and even Eakin all had their chances and just couldn't make it happen. It's a frustratingly familiar refrain.
- Seguin, in his first game back after sitting out with concussion-like symptoms, did look a little out of sorts. Not concerningly so, but you could tell he's taken a couple games off.
- The defensemen, save one silly penalty from Goligoski, all played well after Daley went down with the injury. There were some concerning moments from everyone involved, and rookies are going to rookie, after all, but it was a good step-up effort from what is a somewhat frighteningly young defense corps all of a sudden.
- The power play came through at a key moment. Of course, it's the home power play, not the road one, that is the biggest part of the problem, but it is nice to see for the team's confidence. Horcoff was a persistent, excellent screen with a good nose for tipping the puck.
- I've mentioned it before, but Eakin's coverage problems drive me insane. He's a great defensive forward in transition, where he can take advantage of his speed and nose for the puck. But on set-zone coverages, he gets chasing far too often. The breakdown in coverage on the game-winner tonight is pretty bad.
- On one hand, this was a game the Stars could have easily gotten frustrated in and lost. They could have not popped the bubble around Bernier the second time and deflated themselves, particularly when the first Horcoff goal was waived off. They didn't, and that, combined with the five defenseman situation, probably makes this a good point.
- On the other, the Leafs are not a good team, and Dallas dominated the play. Preventable penalties and breakdowns led directly to two of the three goals against. There's a lot not to be happy with as well.
- The road trip tally ends like this - three points out of four possible, the return of the the team's best center in Seguin but the loss of another veteran defenseman in Daley, potentially for the long term. The Stars continue to do just enough to keep up with the pack, but the road ahead of them keeps getting steeper.