Based on the play of the Dallas Stars and the Anaheim Ducks through the first 40 minutes tonight, Dallas did not deserve to be on the winning end of this one. Much less winning in such offensive fashion.
They were outplayed for much of the first 40 minutes. The difference between games earlier this season and tonight’s game was that they finally got a goaltending performance that gave them the ability to weather the storm and find their game. Antti Niemi was the only reason the Stars managed to be even through the first two periods, as he came up with huge saves on the penalty kill, on odd-man rushes against, and on shorthanded chances by Ducks forwards.
Something different also happened tonight that has been sorely lacking this season: the Stars managed to find some goal scoring when it mattered. After going down 2-1 early in the third, the Stars scored five (5!) unanswered goals for a resounding win.
It was quite reminiscent of the Stars of last season. They found a way to bend but not break when they were getting outplayed, and then found their scoring touch on the power play to give them the momentum swing they needed for the win tonight.
Early in the first period, Cody Eakin managed to set Corey Perry on his hind end in neutral ice. That would be the most fun part of the first period for the Stars.
The rest of the period was a combination of disjointed zone entries and taking terrible penalties. That penalty trouble is exactly what led to a loss in Chicago, when the Stars penalty kill was less than killer. The leaky PK was put to the test in the first period when Adam Cracknell went off for a hooking call versus Kevin Bieksa, and then roughly half way through that penalty Esa Lindell committed a slashing against Antoine Vermette.
Luckily, Antti Niemi came to play on home ice tonight. He was the sole reason the Stars made it out of the period without giving anything up to the Ducks, who’ve been on a bit of a streak here recently. The kill of over a minute of 5-on-3 power play gave the team enough momentum to end the period scoreless on both sides.
Dallas would draw first blood in the period when Stephen Johns sent a puck towards the front of the net that looked to just nick Jakob Silfverberg and redirect into the Anaheim net.
Much like how many games this year has gone, however, that lead was short lived. Less than two minutes later, Ryan Getzlaf would take advantage of a broken play by Dallas in their own zone and a Johnny Oduya turnover to beat Niemi and tie the game.
Dallas really should have been losing the game at that point, though. Not only were they being outshot by nearly double by Anaheim, the Stars had managed to give the Ducks plenty of power play time that they were unable to convert on. But even bigger than the penalty kill was Niemi’s play.
The goal Niemi allowed was one that would be tough on any goaltender. He made big save after big save to keep the Stars in the game, allowing the Stars to stay even with the Ducks and hopefully find some way to take — and hold — a lead in the third period.
You know how Niemi was giving Dallas every chance to stay in the game? The Stars forwards were busy trying to give the game away. The team in front of Niemi committed several penalties late in the second period that gave the Ducks nearly another whole minute of 5-on-3 power play time to start the second period.
Suffice it to say, Niemi is not a magician and can only do so much. The Ducks would take the lead on a power play goal, proving that the Stars’ weak penalty kill remains a point of exploitation for opposing teams.
But something different happened this game.
The power play, which has been unbelievably pedestrian for a team that was so potent last season finally clicked. They used a Dan Hamhuis power play goal to even the game. (It was his first goal scored as a Dallas Star to punctuate how big of a turning point it was for this game.)
And then the offensive flood gates opened wide and the gift of goals was bestowed upon the boys in Victory Green on American Airlines Center ice.
Adam Cracknell scored a goal that appeared to go off of Devin Shore’s stick (it was reviewed for a high stick but video showed that Shore didn’t actually touch the puck and deflected off of Corey Perry’s stick and into his own net).
Patrick Eaves continued his banner year with another goal by the bearded one. Jamie Benn got into the action and made up for his egregious penalties and the 5-on-3 power play goal against from earlier in the game. Radek Faksa added his third of the season to give the Stars six goals scored tonight.
It was a very good start to the homestand. Now the Stars need to find a way to bottle up whatever led to that offensive explosion and put together a string of wins to claw themselves out of that standings hole they’ve dug for themselves.