These back-to-back sets haven't been kind to the Stars over the last couple of years (and that's putting it lightly, probably). They've almost become automatic losses on the schedule each season.
On the positive side for this one, the Rangers played in Nashville last night and so also had to travel for today's game at Madison Square Garden. That's most often not the case in these situations and really helps to even the playing field.
The Stars and Rangers both looked like they had played last night in the first period, combining for just ten total shots on goal with five apiece. There were plenty of blocked shots in the game, along with some precarious puck protection on both ends. Turnovers and passes that didn't get to their intended recipient were all happening early and often.
It led to a period of play that works out well for the road team, with few prime scoring chances against and tight defense keeping the score 0-0 at the end of the first. The second period was a lot more wide open, as both teams really got their legs under them.
The Stars took the first lead of the game on a 5-on-3 power play early in the period, which is red hot on the road lately; the broadcast said it had clicked at a 36% rate over the last handful of road games which is ridiculously high. The goal was scored by Jason Spezza, who tallied his tenth on the season, when he was left all alone to just drive by the front of the net and slip in a redirection.
The Rangers would get it back to even when the Stars lost their defensive coverage and left a man on the back door to make a good play in front of Kari Lehtonen.
Luckily, it wouldn't last long. The Stars were able to capitalize off of an offensive blue line turnover by the Rangers and take one in for a tic-tac-toe play. Erik Cole would shoot it in on Cam Talbot, who appeared to make the stop, only to have the puck dribble through his pads and in.
It's the type of lucky kind of goal the Stars haven't been getting much of this season, and off of a play they've committed themselves that has burned them plenty of times the other way.
Tonight, turnovers by the Stars were met with a gritty effort to recover quickly. They won a lot of the one-on-one puck battles tonight, even the ones they created for themselves.
The Rangers really turned the heat up in the third period, putting plenty of rubber up against Lehtonen. There were several plays that happened that in games past would have found some kind of quirky or odd way to go in that the Stars netminder stopped tonight. Like a puck bouncing back on Lehtonen's skate and up on end heading for the side of the post. It seems like all of those weird kind of plays have ended up in the Stars net a lot more often than not, and tonight they were on the 'not' side -- finally, it seems.
That last frame was greasy for the Stars. They got outshot by an insane amount (granted, some of that due to score effects and power play chances by the Blue Shirts). But they played a good defensive hockey as a five man unit. And they got the one thing they've been lacking so often in these kinds of tight games at the end -- good goaltending.
Lehtonen played a really good game, until the last two minutes of the game. One thing I noticed that was different tonight versus a lot of others was how he didn't cheat on the posts. He had them covered tight with his body, so none of those weird angle goals could get in.
He let the tying goal in on the penalty kill when he came out to play the puck around his net instead of letting the team handle it. He went to sweep the puck and instead of clearing the zone, it went straight to Mats Zuccarello who is able to create the tying goal. Lehtonen was completely caught out of position and isn't in the place he needed to be to make the stop.
So overtime was on the menu tonight, something the Stars haven't been able to order two points off of all season -- they were 0-6 in the extra time frame this season.
Ales Hemsky would have that be no more when he would roof one over Talbot to give the Stars the win.
Yes, it shouldn't have really gotten to this point. But the Stars played a pretty decent game on the second half of a back-to-back and got the two points. And if you're going to give away points, at least they did it against an Eastern team they aren't fighting for positioning in the standings with.