Things went from 0-60 in the third period in a nearly fatal way, but the Dallas Stars hung on and skated away with a very strange 3-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night.
Valeri Nichushkin, Alex Goligoski (*update: this goal was later changed to be Jason Spezza's) and Tyler Seguin scored for the Stars, but the biggest turning point of the game was a goal that didn't get scored by the Sabres. Buffalo was in full control of momentum in the latter stages of the third period and thought they'd tied the game 2-2, only to see the Stars coaching staff successfully challenge the goal, reverting the game back to 2-1. An empty netter would seal the deal a few minutes later, leading to a collective exhale from the team.
The Stars jumped out to an early 1-0 lead and played a prototypical boring road game for the next 50 minutes, keeping the home crowd in a lull. Things looked like they would end that way before a five-minute stretch in the third got the Sabres back in it, but the Stars would ultimately hang on for the win. Antti Nieme...err...Niemi played well in net, stopping 24 of 25 shots for the win.
With the win the Stars bump their record up to 15-4 and into a tie with the Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers for 1st place in the entire NHL.
It didn't take long for the game's first goal to occur thanks to Dallas' third line. Nichushkin carried the puck into the Sabres zone on a great rush, and with Antoine Roussel and Cody Eakin causing havoc in front of the net Nichushkin was given plenty of room to cut into the crease and slide a backhand around Ullmark at the 51 second mark.
The Sabres, playing quite tentatively on defense, allowed the Stars ample room to enter the zone and set up. Dallas created a number of chances, including a dangerous-looking powerplay, but couldn't manage to crack Ullmark a second time.
The Stars, as they've been practicing a lot lately, fell into a defensive shell with their one-goal lead. Buffalo came out aggressive and was throwing pucks on net, but to Dallas' credit, the quality of those chances was very limited. Both teams picked up the pace a bit as the period waged on, but neither could capitalize. A John Klingberg shot off the crossbar was the closest that either team would get.
Boy, things can get interesting in a hurry in the sport of hockey.
The slow, sleepy pace of play turned out to be a huge advantage for a Stars team that can activate their offense in the blink of an eye. Late in a shift Mattias Janmark and Spezza carried the puck into the Sabres zone and, with little defensive coverage to worry about, found the late trailer in the play in Goligoski, who walked right down main street and fired home a wrist shot that deflected off of Spezza to make it 2-0 midway through the third.
The Stars had the Sabres in a pretty controlled spot until Jamie Benn took an unnecessary cross-checking penalty out of frustration against Buffalo defender Josh Gorges, and suddenly things started to change. Ryan O'Reilly, the best player for the Sabres in the game, made them pay on the powerplay less than 30 seconds later.
Next, Goligoski got caught flipping the puck over the glass from the defensive zone, a delay of game penalty, that put the Sabres back on the job. They thought they had scored once again less than a minute into the powerplay (and, well, they kind of did since the puck went in), but Lindy Ruff and the Stars challenged the goal. The play, indeed, did turn out to be offsides on the zone entry and the goal was thus disallowed. Full kudos to Stars video coach Kelly Forbes for having a keen eye to spot the infraction.
Buffalo was certainly energized by the two minutes of chaos but couldn't get a second goal that counted. Seguin's empty-netter at 18:33 would be all she wrote.