The Dallas Stars and Los Angeles Kings played an amazing hockey game today. The Stars went to Staples Center and won 3-2. It was an afternoon affair, and both teams showed up and played a three-hour masterpiece.
At times the puck was secondary in this one. The Kings came out buzzing and the Stars answered the bell. It was a heart-pounding affair.
Lindy Ruff won his 700th NHL game, congratulations to him. That milestone cannot be overstated. To win 700 games, you have to be good at what you do for a long time. He is now 5th all time in wins by a coach in the NHL.
The first period started slow for the Stars, as the Kings dominated the first 5 minutes or so. Both teams exchanged a few chances. The first real danger came with about 12 minutes left in the frame. Jason Spezza patiently waited for the Kings to begin a change and then fired the puck to John Klingberg. Los Angeles was clearly caught off guard, though not outnumbered. Klingberg danced and fired a wrist shot at Quick that leaked through. The puck was on end and barely dribbled outside the left post.
Tanner Pearson beat Kari Lehtonen high glove on the rush. The puck looked like it may have knuckled and dove under the bar at the last moment. It was a goal that Lehtonen probably wants to have back, but it was painted by Pearson.
Jamie Benn would answer on the powerplay with 2 second left in the period. It was a textbook Jamie Benn goal, getting a feed in the high slot and ripping it far 90 in the blink of an eye. The goal was challenged for offsides, and the Kings looked like they had a case. The video evidence was inconclusive and the goal stood. Jamie Benn is really on fire.
There were 2 main themes of the first period (1) Jonathan Quick stood on his head, and (2) the puck was secondary. There were 26 combined hits in the period, and it felt heavier than that. Dallas had 18 shots in the period and save the first 5 minutes, dominated the Kings.
The second frame started about the same, with Dallas continuing to beat the Kings into submission. The Kings tried to ratchet up the "dirty", and the Stars kept shooting and skating circles around Los Angeles. The Kings looked helpless to even fight back, other than trying their goon tactics.
The Kings may be upset about the Jamie Benn goal, but the officials made sure they gave one back. Antoine Roussel went to the net, didn't touch Quick, and got mugged and thrown to the ice by 3 Kings. Somehow, Roussel got pulled out of the pile with some King's goon, and a 4 on 4 ensued. Anyway, Jeff Carter scored a softie on Lehtonen. Congrats. 2-1 LA midway through the second.
The goal seemed to give the Kings a spark and they dominated the next few minutes of play. Lehtonen's save percentage didn't look impressive, but he did make some important saves when the Kings started to lean on Dallas.
The Stars got a fortunate call while shorthanded, when Drew Doughty was sent off because Vernon Fiddler highsticked himself. The 4 on 4 was again unkind to Dallas, when Jeff Carter burst into open ice but missed the net.
The Stars again responded to the Kings pressure by nearly scoring 3 goals in the last 2 minutes, but either fate, Quick, or the post intervened each time leaving the Stars wanting. It was still 2-1 LA headed into the break, but the Stars had taken momentum back.
Turnovers by the Stars clouded the early minutes of the third as Los Angeles started to assert themselves territorially. All of that changed when a bucket-less Roussel, Radek Faksa, and Patrick Eaves got the equalizer. The goal belonged to Eaves, but was generated by the forecheck of Faksa and Roussel's work around the net. It was the type of goal that Faksa has been creating for weeks.
With the score tied at 2, Sharp was called for boarding and the Kings went on the job. The Stars managed to kill off the penalty, and didn't really allow anything menacing.
After the powerplay, the pace of the game settled in but the physical play did not stop. Bone jarring hits by both teams and scrums after every whistle were staples of the game. The Stars seemed willing and able to stand and trade with the Kings.
The tie was broken with 5 minutes to play by, of all people, Jordie Benn. Nemeth teed him up from the point and Quick could not find the puck through a screen by Eaves. It was a blast from JoBenn, but the screen could not have been better. Tons of credit to Sceviour for winning an important battle below the icing line.
The Kings had a few chances down the stretch, but the shot blocing and Kari Lehtonen were enough to deter them.
Kari Lehtonen continued his good run of play. He seems to be tracking the puck well and keeping his team afloat when the Stars turn the puck over in front of him. A lot was asked of Lehtonen today. He didn't necessarily face a ton of high-danger chances, but he battled when the Kings crashed the net. He played a strong game.
It was the best game the Stars have played in a long time, perhaps their best game of the season. It could not have come at a better time against a better team. These two teams look like the class of the conference, and a 7-game series between them would be amazing.
The teams came out and played a playoff game, and to their credit, the officials called a playoff game. There were a few stray sticks and late hits that went uncalled on both sides. Any fan of either team that complains about the officials hasn't watched a playoff game in too long. The refs allowed the players to decide the game for the most part, and I thought they did a beautiful job.
The possession battle was firmly in the corner of the Stars, they earned this win. They went on the road and ripped the heart out of one of the best teams in the league. Those who have had pause about the Stars ability to compete in a physical game had some questions answered this afternoon.The Kings wanted to trade paint, and the Stars obliged them. What made it so special was the fact that the Stars did not sacrifice their skating game to be physical.
It was a fun game to watch, and I may get a noise complaint, but it was worth it.