The Dallas Stars improbable run continues, at least for the moment.
As Mike Heika wrote after the recent win over the Nashville Predators, they don't ask how at the end. They just ask how many. And the Stars lived by the credo Saturday in a 2-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks that extended their winning streak to five games.
The Sharks outpossessed and outshot the Stars for long stretches of the second and third periods, but some early goals gave the Stars the only offense they would need on a night they got some stellar netminding from Richard Bachman.
Don't look now, but the win bumped the Stars into eighth in the Western Conference because they own the tiebreaker over the Detroit Red Wings.
Here's how it happened at the American Airlines Center.
One could hardly come up with a better start for the Stars, who jumped into the lead less than two minutes into the game. The Stars were able to take advantage of Dan Boyle trying to creep up, sending the forwards away in a 2-on-1. Eric Nystrom waited a long beat before beating Antti Niemi off the post. The assist on Nystrom's goal extended Vernon Fiddler's point streak to a career high six games. Alex Chiasson doubled the Stars lead a few minutes later with a beautiful high tip on a Ray Whitney shot on the power play.
On the down side, the Stars were hemmed in their own zone a bit too much, forcing Richard Bachman to come up with a few above-average saves. And Stephane Robidas got in on the act when he was able to keep the Sharks from wrapping around the back of the net to the far post.
While Bachman was not overly busy in the first period, he had to shine in the second as the Sharks started to tilt the territorial advantage distinctly in their territory. His best moments came on a Sharks power play, when he had to make up for a Stars penalty kill that kept trying to clear the puck up the middle.
The Stars did have their moments, including a good look in the backhand for Loui Eriksson on a Stars power play, and they continued to win a lot of the battles along the boards to keep the Sharks offense at least somewhat contained.
The bubble finally burst for the Bachman, and the Stars, on the penalty kill early in the third. Bachman couldn't control the remound of a shot from a tight angle, and Brent Burns beat everybody to the rebound to backhand it home. Stephane Robidas had been in the box for hooking, the first of two penalties in the period for Dallas.
But if felt like the Stars spent much of the rest of the game on the penalty kill. San Jose basically owned the rest of the period from a puck possession standpoint, forcing the Stars to concentrate on simply getting the puck out of their zone rather than mounting any sort of sustained attack.
Some big times blocks from the forwards in the empty net situation and even bigger saves from Bachman helped the Stars work the clock down to only a few seconds left and hang on by their fingernails for the 2-1 win.
More to come...
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
- Let's start with Richard Bachman, who was at one point one of the worst statistical goalies in the NHL this season. He was rebounded (pun unintentional but amusing) completely at this point, posting back-to-back wins with three total goals allowed. He made 31 saves on 32 shots tonight, many of the above average variety and a few of the larcenous vein. He's playing with confidence, back on top of his crease and following the puck through traffic. A tip of my cap to you, Mr. Bachman, for the turnaround. Make no mistake - he is what won them this game.
- I call it "staring warily at the playoff race" in the links, and I will continue to do that because there is so, so much left to be decided. With this win, the Stars move into eighth place with 45 points and 19 regulation or overtime wins. The Red Wings have 45 points with 17 ROW in ninth and the Blue Jackets, courtesy of their shootout win over the Minnesota Wild, have 45 points with 14 ROW. Heck, the Wild are even possibly in play with 47 points in the same number of games played and 18 ROW. I don't know how this will shake out other than it will cause me major heartburn, but it looks like a five team race for four spots.
- Alex Chiasson is having a magical start to his NHL career. Eric Nystrom on NHL Network's Live said this about the kid after the game: "He's on pace for the Hall of Fame, so hopefully he can keep it up." Look, we all know this won't continue. Once he scored his goal in this game, he was shooting 50 freaking percent for the season. So the question becomes what lies beneath this bubble that he's riding. The fact that he's scoring his goals from good areas of the ice (his high tip ability is uncanny) and that he's decent defensively, that he wins puck battles on the boards and plays even late in one-goal games, all bodes well for how he fits when the goals dry up.
- As excited as the Stars are to be getting out of the Pacific Division, the Sharks will probably be equally happy to have fewer games against them. I thought it might change this year with the departure of Steve Ott, but no one gets under the skin of Joe Thornton like Dallas. Tonight's target of misplaced rage was Stephane Robidas, who got hogtied to the ice with a few seconds left. Thornton often becomes much less effective when he's ticked off, and tonight was no exception.
- Four points earned and none given up in a back-to-back? Where has this team been in Glen Gulutzan's entire coaching career.
- As the game went on, the Sharks were progressively more dominant. Some of that may have been by design, as the Stars seemed to be sending fewer forecheckers deep as the game went on and they focused on protecting the lead. It is concerning, to say the least, to have the team shelled in a game that meant so much. If they want to hang in this race, they do need to get back to better puck possession through neutral. Oh, and eliminating the turnovers just inside the defensive blueline would be nice too.
- Brenden Dillon looks like he may be wearing down a little bit, or at least may be running into teams that have him scouted a little better. He and Alex Goligoski got caught by the Sharks speed quite a few times. Dillon did have a nice moment as he carried the puck out of the zone in the first. He played a little less than 20 minutes, though, and he's still giving you everything you can ask of a rookie playing huge minutes and situations.
- Fiddler went down the tunnel in what looked like some serious pain in the third period but popped right back on the bench after the next commercial break. I'm not sure exactly what happened to him, but I hope it's not serious - his line has been one of the driving forces of the winning streak.
- Let's touch on that bubble thing one more time. The Stars are unashamedly riding on one at the moment. While they should have beat the struggling Predators despite the issues in that game, they really had no business winning that one given the way the final 40 minutes played out. That's not necessarily the sign of a good team but a lucky one. We won't really know what is different about this team until they run into a roadblock and have to respond. That roadblock may come as soon as Monday against the always scary Chicago Blackhawks. Like with Chiasson, what's under this bubble is going to be the key for if they can continue to hang on in this race.
- I want to believe. I really do. But given the cobbled together nature of this lineup and logjam in eighth, there are still some serious doubts out there. Will the Stars defy all the odds and sneak into the playoffs? Who knows. What I can say is the ride they're taking us on to get there is more than I could have dreamed of just a few short weeks ago.