If you were expecting a high-scoring event fest, you may have been disappointed. Certainly the Ottawa Senators, desperate to keep their playoff hopes alive, would like to have a do-over on a denied goal. But the Stars dug in on both received and created opportunities to defeat the Senators 2-1, and former Stars prospects Nick Paul and Alex Chiasson both played in a game in which Jason Spezza – the guy who went the other way – made a moment of personal history.
Dallas took the first two penalties early as Kris Russell got whistled for interference and Jamie Benn was hauled off for tripping. The Sens are dead last in the league on the home-ice power play, and Kari Lehtonen held things down to kill both advantages. The period trudged on to a scoreless end, mainly marked by a series of nice saves by Lehtonen and Andrew Hammond.
A determined shift by the Britchin line early in the second period almost resulted in a Brett Ritchie goal, but Cody Ceci fished the puck from behind a trapped Hamburglar to keep it out of the Senators' net. The Senators drew first blood at 4:45 as a whiffed shot by Jamie Benn set up a misread by Alex Goligoski that left the Dallas net undefended in front. Zack Smith took advantage and got one past Lehtonen for his 18th goal of the season off a slick assist by Mark Stone.
The Stars got their first power-play opportunity late in the second when Smith went off for tripping Tyler Seguin. Leave it to Spezza with his "soft Palmolive hands" (™ Daryl "Razor" Reaugh) and face-off ninja skills. Speznasty, in charge of the Stars' first unit in John Klingberg's absence, grabbed his first goal against his former team with a whip-smart shot through a nice Ritchie screen. JaBenn and Russell received the assists.
There was no rest for the wicked as Cody Eakin got called for high-sticking shortly thereafter, putting the Sens on another PP. With 21 seconds left in the Eakin minor, Russell drew a penalty from Jean-Gabriel Pageau, but the Stars were unable to convert on the remaining minute and a half of power-play time even as they shut down the Senators' efforts for the third time.
The third period began with a near-miss in Dallas' end and a bizarre play in the other, in which Hammond elbowed Ales Hemsky behind the net with enough force to knock him to the ice and possibly give "goaltender interference" a whole new meaning. A Curtis Lazar tally on the way back brought a coach's challenge from Lindy Ruff, and mission control in Toronto cut the Stars a break with an offside ruling.
Both teams ground away scoreless through the middle of the frame, with Benn and Seguin earning a couple of good chances and Erik Karlsson getting a breakaway that was ultimately foiled by a sliding Jason Demers. Patrik Nemeth earned a great chance at his first NHL goal late in the period but fell short at the end.
The Stars took their first lead with just over two minutes left, as the third line created enough chaos in front of Hammond to give Antoine Roussel his 11th goal of 2015-16. Rooster roofed his sixth game-winning goal of the season off a tidy pass by Hemsky, who earned the sole assist.
With 1:40 left, Hammond took the bench as the Senators frantically tried to break even with the extra attacker, and as Dave Cameron called a time-out with :57 left. Determined defending from Johnny Oduya helped the Stars eat the clock as Mike Hoffman fluttered his shot on a decent chance. With 4.4 seconds left, Vernon Fiddler fought dirty for a face-off win that killed the remaining seconds and gave Dallas two points in regulation.
Jamie Benn continues to struggle, and it's easy to share the Captain's frustration. Between the ill-timed penalties and a bad case of the whiffs in front of the net, he seems increasingly unable to hide his exasperation with his own game. Now that the team is finding its feet and is back in the win column, perhaps he can take some pressure off himself and settle back into the kind of play that was key to getting the Stars this far to begin with.
Kari's solid play and serenity in the net gave the Stars room to find their scoring touch, and it earned him first star of the game with 24 saves. Russell earned the third star, which may help soothe a few of those who are still shaking their heads over Jim Nill's latest trade.
Meanwhile, Radek Faksa was on the ice defending the Stars' lead during the final minute. He and Cedar Park riding buddy Ritchie made themselves useful all over the ice and should give fans extra confidence about the team's playoff depth.
The Stars now own 87 points with 15 games left. What a time to be alive.