The Los Angeles Kings rolled into the American Airlines Center on Easter Sunday and 25 seconds into the game punched the Stars on the mouth and never relented. When Tuesday night's rematch commenced Loui Eriksson's double minor for high-sticking just 34 seconds in, and subsequent Drew Doughty power play goal seemed to signal a repeat.
Luckily for the now 9th place Dallas Stars (41 points - 19-17-3) the similarities ended there.
Dallas continued their new energetic and "direct" style of chipping and crashing away to great effect despite falling behind - Answering the goal with a power play tally of their own compliments of Alex Goligoski. A scoreless second signaled nervous times ahead, but a four goal barrage in the third, including two goals each for Ray Whitney and Vern Fiddler would shock the Kings to the delight of the AAC faithful.
The win puts Dallas squarely back in the playoff race as they won their "game in hand" on the Red Wings, now trailing them by just two points with nine games to play and 18 more points up for grabs.
But just as swiftly as the Stars have re-entered the race after being partially dismantled at the trade deadline, their chances took a dire hit when Kari Lehtonen left the game late in the first period.
Richard Bachman stopped all 22 shots he faced in relief, including 17 in the second period, though the Stars were able to keep the quality of the Kings' chances down as the game progressed. Lehtonen was proclaimed questionable to return and we'll update his status when we know more.
As the Stars turnovers were their undoing in so many home games recently, so too were Los Angeles' tonight, particularly in the third period. Dallas has now taken three of four from L.A. with one remaining.
Do you believe? On this night it's safe to say the Stars do. It's not over yet.
They're the "thrid line". They're now apparently the second power play unit. They are, of course, the first penalty kill unit. They were pretty much everything tonight and more as Fiddler potted two goals and Goligoski a third due to their work on an expiring power play.
The Loui Erikssons and Jamie Benns of the world wound up with more ice time over all as the game wore on, but make no mistake about what happened in the minutes that got the Stars where they needed to go. Eric Nystrom and Fiddler played in all situations and led forwards in ice time late in the second period through all the penalty kill and power play time they were entrusted with.
Is that a recipe for long term success? I think we know the answer to that but Gulutzan needs them right now and they are responding against pretty salty divisional competition.
Look as we might, and many of you tried from home with the DVRs, it's impossible say what went wrong with Kari's "lower body" late in the first period. He skated off the ice in relatively calm, unhindered fashion and was never heard from again.
That started the "suit up Eddie" joke series, naturally, as the Eagle was here to be honored for the Stars' 20th anniversary team, but the problem is a serious one.
Dallas will not give up until they're mathematically eliminated, no matter what the reality of the situation may seem with the playoff race. With Lehtonen the only thing standing between them and lopsided defeat sometimes it could be tough sledding with Bachman the lead dog.
Will they re-call Cristopher Nilstorp, newly returned from injury in Cedar Park, or Jack Campbell? With a scheduled off day tomorrow it may take a while to sort it out.
Another point for the young rookie, making it four in four games played (3 goals, 1 assist) as he fed Ray Whitney on that early third period (taco) goal.
Other Stars have had impressive debuts. Few of them stick around for the long haul. Chiasson looks like an NHL player. He skates well. He engages physically, which creates space and better competition for pucks - Something Reilly Smith doesn't do. Was Chiasson a better option all along? Was this just the right path for him to take, and the time is ripe?
Looking NHL-capable is hard to do, but many can in time. Putting the points up on the scoreboard is something else entirely. Ask Tomas Vincour. Ask Tom Wandell. Will it last?
We look forward to finding out. Right now Jamie Benn, Ray Whitney and Alex Chiasson is a very exciting combination to watch right now.
- All Ray Whitney does is produce. There's no reason he can't do it again next year if this season is any indication. That's a great contract for the Stars so far.
- Officiating has gotten to the point now where the refs are going to call: high-sticks, delay of game, too many men, and blatant infractions on or near scoring chances. That's it. Only things they feel that they really HAVE to call. It's just that time of year. Or is that extremely frustrating? There's not much that can be done.
- Direct your mail care of Don VanMassenhoven and Francois St. Laurent.
- The Drew Doughty unsportsmanlike conduct penalty was just outstanding. Earlier in the shift he actually stopped playing and was complaining to an official during a Stars' odd-man rush. Later in the shift he's whistled. Why doesn't he have an 'A' on his chest, again?
- Not to be out-done, Dustin Brown took a run at Alex Goligoski while on the power play in the second period. There was definitely some distance traveled, and it rattled Goligoski, but the hit itself didn't look too bad upon review. Stephane Robidas was not a fan.
- It's hard to get 10 minutes in high-sticking calls in one game for a single team. I don't know that I've ever seen that one before.
- 16,367 tonight. Probably not that many behind-imprints in the seats but they've maintained it a certain level through rough times and maybe, just maybe, if these games down stretch mean something starting Saturday, this place will fill up to support them. Tell your friends. After we find out about Kari.
Here's video from the broadcast, in case you were here, like me, and missed it. Lehtonen deliberated in the tunnel before heading down for good.