Three minutes into the game, the Dallas Stars lost their top scoring defenseman and one of their top five scorers when John Klingberg took a hit in an awkward position. He did not return to the game, and joined Patrick Sharp, Patrick Eaves and Jordie Benn on the shelf.
It would have been easy for this Stars roster to fold under the pressure of playing only five defensemen the entire game. They could have pointed to some of the key pieces missing in their lineup and said "what do you expect us to do?" Instead, the youth led this team to a big win and two points in their race to the top of the Central division.
Val Nichushkin, who turned 21 today, started the night off with a beautiful goal that showed more of the glimpses of the game seen in his rookie season before that hip injury sidelined him last year. He powered his way to the front of the net and used his body to shield the puck, pulling it across his body and potting it right by Devils goaltender Cory Schneider.
Mattias Janmark had a couple of nice setup passes, with the best one connecting with Jason Spezza right in the slot for a slick redirect through the wickets of Schneider. That goal put the Stars ahead 2-1 less than one minute after the Devils had tied the game. It was a big answer by the Stars, who have been the victim of quick answer goals against a fair amount this season.
Brett Ritchie showed a lot of confidence and swagger playing on the top line tonight. While he did not record any points, he was one of the most noticeable forwards on the ice. He was throwing his body, with big clean body checks. He stood up for himself when Adam Larsson came at him after a big clean hit on his teammate by dropping the gloves and pretty much never allowing Larsson to even get his hands up and land anything on him.
Devils goaltender Corey Schneider would leave the game at the beginning of the third period after a very awkward save. Keith Kinkaid would come in on relief duty after playing in the Devils' overtime win over Nashville last night and shut down the Stars' offense in the third period, allowing his team to pull within one goal with about five minutes left in the game.
Luckily, Vernon Fiddler would take a Colton Sceviour pass to score a shorthanded empty net goal to ice the win. The goal was his 100th career goal, in 802 NHL games played. Nice of the young guy to recognize the opportunity and concede his own shot to get the goal for Fiddler, and then immediately retrieve it out of the back of the net for him.
Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn continued to struggle tonight, continuing their recent run of goals against and not factoring as heavily into the offensive side to offset those. The good thing is the young guns took advantage of the opportunities afforded them with key guys out of the lineup. The Stars were able to lock down a win and two points, and pull even with the Chicago Blackhawks in points at the top of the division. With fewer wins, they remain in second place but close the gap in points.