The Dallas Stars aren't dead yet. Not by a long shot.
Faced with a tough back-to-back after getting punched in the mouth by the Blackhawks Monday night the Stars found themselves in 10th place Thursday evening, needing to take advantage of one of their precious few home games remaining to give themselves a chance.
The Vancvouer Canucks stood, rather formidably, in their way. At least for two periods.
A huge third period rally with goals from Cody Eakin, Erik Cole, Jamie Benn and Ray Whitney saw the Stars power their way past what had been a frustrating Cory Schenider and on to good feelings aboard a plane for St. Louis tonight.
The Stars had the better of the play through 20 minutes but saw former center Derek Roy spoil the hard work and put the Canucks ahead seven minutes into the second period. With no shots through 10 minutes of the frame the Stars were on their heels until a Vernon Fiddler power play goal tied it up and helped them weather the storm.
The subsequent third period offensive explosion was a cathartic reprisal of the same feat accomplished against the Kings at the AAC nine days prior, also ending in a 5-1 score for the home team as fans and team both breathed sighs of relief and the playoff race continued.
In their last 15 games the Vancouver Canucks had surrendered 1, 2, 4, 1, 0, 2, 0, 3, 4, 1, 0, 2, 0, 1, 2.
The Stars got five (FIVE), bucking that trend in a big way, and they did it, ironically enough, thanks to patience and goaltending. They could have started to pinch early. They could have gotten frustrated with the missed nets and the crossbars. They stuck largely with their game plan, let Lehtonen clean up what he could, and waited for their breaks that came with stunning regularity early in the third.
Now they pass Detroit again with the tie-breaker and trail Columbus in 8th place with a couple of games in hand. If the Stars can persist until their next home game, the date with "Lumbus" looms rather large.
Much of the talk surrounding this one was lined with a fear, and a pretty reasonable body of evidence that said Kari Lehtonen is not good in his first game back after an injury. He told media this morning that he thought he was ready, but that you never really know until you get into a game situation - Which made some nervous.
Then he calmly weathered the storm as Vancouver out-played Dallas through significant stretches, finding pucks in traffic and giving the Stars the time they needed to finally find the finish in their game.
This is the Kari Lehtonen they need. If he gets a whiff... if he really believes, then he can carry them to where they want to go. It's tall task. There's a guy named "Bob" in Columbus doing the same with another great underdog story.
Jamie Benn's Line
I sometimes write these little blurbs in the second intermission. If I had written one on these guys then it would have been about how they were buried by the need to check two of the best lines in the game, and that the task took away any thought of offense for them.
And so it was for quite a while.
Then in the third Jamie Benn is where he needs to be to take advantage of a pretty big brain fart on Ballards part, and Ray Whitney pounced on a rebound just a couple of minutes later. Suddenly the line has two big goals in the latest biggest game of the season.
Like Kari Lehtonen's performance, they need more of the same. They need Loui Eriksson to contribute somewhere in there too as his seasons of almosts and maybes continues.
Perhaps one of the best stories of the night was the Eakin line, who crashed and bagned their way to the better part of Dallas' chances in the first, led by Ryan Garbutt's speed and tenacity, of all things.
Eakin fed off that all night long, assisting on the huge power play goal to tie things up and then later cashing in on his 7th goal of the season (one more than Derek Roy has). His tenacity on the puck and in the battles was reminiscent of his early season exploits. The Stars will take more of that, too.
Reilly Smith along side had an energetic night, using his body more effectively than usual. There's just the little matter of the two golden, golden chances he had - Both missed the net from point blank range. Sometimes it goes like that.
- Size does matter - Whether it was watching Alex Edler smash Reilly Smith into the end board behind Schneider or watching Alex Goligoski bouncing comically off Ryan Kesler in the corner to Kari Lehtonen's left, this team is just too small. It's not a news flash. Just an observation, albeit a frequent one. It was emblematic of the first period in particular that the Stars had all the "want to" in the world but lacked the things you can't teach or coach - size and skill.
- The decision to place Cody Eakin on the power play with Vern Fiddler and Eric Nystrom puzzled me a bit. Erik Cole is a ready-made body in front of the net. That's what we were told. And has more PP experience than the other three combined, but is being used in a four-forward look on the first unit I was pondering all of this. And then Fiddler scored with that configuration. So c'est la vie.
- Speaking of size, what size are the nets in college? Just saying.
- Aaron Rome is not someone the Vancouver Canucks appear to enjoy. That, or they want to get him all riled up because they know, as former teammates, that he'll start over-pursuing for hits. Which he did on a number of occasions.
- Cody Eakin's good night did not extend to the faceoff circle where he lost 12 of 17 attempted. The Stars had 17 missed shots on the night. The Canucks had 22 misses on the night - Some of them dangerous. "The inches we need..."
- The second period lull - They finished the period even, but had ZERO shots through the first ten minutes of the frame. Then 10 shots in the final ten minutes, including the goal. That lull almost derailed things, but like when the Kings were here last week the Stars were able to endure.
- Sergei Zubov was downstairs signing stuff for fans for quite a while before the game started. He was very generous with his time. Then he was... a little... camera shy with Ralph, wasn't he? Oh well. It was special to get to honor him a little after the way it ended here. I left the press box before the game so I could show my appreciation. Doubtful we'll get another chance.
- Dirk on the big screen got a HUGE cheer. And it was AWESOME. Despite the... ahem... excess of time he finds on his hands these days. Nice to see him supporting his building-mates.