The Dallas Stars turned what could have been a demoralizing loss into a continued push for a chance at the playoffs, however small that chance might be, with a 4-3 overtime victory over the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena.
Rookie phenom John Klingberg had the game winning goal off a rush in the final minute of overtime, and Trevor Daley had two assists in his first game back from a knee injury.
The Stars got off to a quick start as Jamie Benn found the rebound of a Tyler Seguin shot lurking just off Eddie Lack's pads and easily slipped the puck home for a 1-0 lead.
Vancouver started to press after that, forcing Kari Lehtonen to make several above average saves, and the Canucks finally answered midway through the period when the Stars defense was caught in a bad line change, leaving the newly-returned Trevor Daley facing a 2-on-1. Daley couldn't cut off the pass, and Lehtonen couldn't catch up to the quick shot from Nick Bonino.
The Stars very nearly took a lead into the intermission, but Alex Goligoski's point shot rattled off Lack's stick, then the left post before bouncing away.
The Canucks appeared to take their first lead of the game early in the second when Bo Horvat was all alone at the side of the net for a rebound. The low official, however, immediately overturned the goal because of non-penalty goalie interference, ruling that Jannik Hansen was responsible for taking himself into the crease and Lehtonen despite the presence of Daley at his back.
But midway through the second, Brett Ritchie covered at the point for John Klingberg and made an aggressive pinch and lost his man, leading to an Alex Goligoski slashing call as Goligoski tried to break up the ensuing 2-on-1. The Canucks converted on the power play after Daley was knocked into Lehtonen by Alex Burrows, which led to Lehtonen losing both his positioning and his stick (which was pushed further behind the net by Burrows later in the play). Chris Higgins took advantage of the chaos in the Stars crease with a shot from the slot that beat Lehtonen clean.
You could argue (and I would) that the Canucks power play goal was much more significant goalie interference than the one that was waived off, which was very marginal. But such is life when humans referee games.
Although the Stars were playing with fire in the third, letting the Canucks have several good chances where Lehtonen had to make strong saves, they were able to get the tying goal off the stick of Patrick Eaves, who made a good cram play at the net after Jason Spezza put the puck out front.
Daley made up for some of his defensive misadventures with six minutes left in the third, as he found Seguin with a beautiful stretch pass up the right side that put Seguin in alone. Seguin, who had missed a few chances earlier in the evening, made no mistake on this one.
Seguin found himself in the box in the game's final minutes, as a weak tap sent Alex Edler's stick flying across the ice, Radim Vrbata got away from a mess at the front of the net and put one past a screened Lehtonen as the Canucks took advantage of the 6-on-4 power play to tie it late.
It was John Klingberg who made the difference in overtime, continuing to show why he is the best rookie defenseman of the season, beating Lack from the high slot off a drop pass from Daley.
More thoughts from my sofa:
- John Klingberg is amazing, and nothing you can say will convince me otherwise. He still has a lot of learning to do, but the kid's vision is amazing. The little fake he put on Eddie Lack on the game winner, and the presence of mind to jump up once Daley was leading the rush, was amazing.
- On the other hand, it was not the best night for Patrik Nemeth, who followed up a sub-par game in Edmonton (at least in relative possession stats to his teammates). Playing with Daley, Nemeth both had a few interesting positioning decisions as well as bad clears. How much of that was Daley, who has put up pretty bad numbers in the defensive end this season, and how much was Nemeth, who has struggled in that area recently? It's hard to say at this point.
- Seguin called the late slashing call on him "interesting," and I'd call it weaker than that. The Hockey Night in Canada called it soft, though at least one panelist thought it should be interference. There's an interesting discussion to be had about whether or not knocking the stick out of someone's hand (violence of the slash notwithstanding) should be an automatic slash, and tonight's example was a pretty prime example to change that.
- Jamie Benn usually plays well when the Stars head to Vancouver, and tonight was no exception. The first goal was a classic Benn play at the net, and he was strong on the boards and in his own zone.
- This game ebbed and flowed pretty well. The shots ended up 40-36 for the Stars, including 5-2 in overtime,and the shot attempts were won by the Stars 63-58. Both teams had times when they seemed to be dominating the play. The biggest downside for Dallas was probably special teams, where they were 0-for-1 on the power play and were 1-for-3 on the penalty kill.
- Kari Lehtonen continued his recent run of strong play with 33 saves on 36 shots, a save percentage of 0.917. There were several sparking saves in that as well, including two great reaction saves with the far pad that bailed out the Stars defense. This is the Lehtonen we've been waiting for all year, and while he may have arrived too late this season, it's a good sign to see as the Stars think about next year.
- The Stars finish this trip with four points out of six, which would have been a very successful trip in November or February. Still, they almost had to have all six to have a chance at catching the Jets for the final playoff spot (seriously, Stars, the Oilers?). That makes it a tough road trip to evaluate, but from an aesthetics perspective, at least it was a relatively enjoyable one.