At the beginning of the season, both the Dallas Stars and Pittsburgh Penguins managed records that weren’t in alignment with expectations – or talent of either team’s rosters. Struggling to live up to those expectations for different reasons (one, the hopes of winning another consecutive Stanley Cup and the other to take a deep run after making moves to address the roster’s weaknesses to make a deep run), the Stars and Pens used those first games to forge their identities and really turn things around on the ice.
Both teams found themselves on hot streaks of their own heading into tonight’s contest. Pittsburgh sits second in their division with a slim margin between them and sitting outside of the playoff picture. Dallas is fighting to crawl into the top three in the toughest division of hockey, where a 7-2-1 record in your last 10 is just keeping pace with everyone else ahead of you.
After finding themselves down a pair of goals, the Stars managed to overcome the deficit and take a lead until a late tying goal by the Penguins with goaltender Matt Murray pulled for the extra attacker. The atmosphere in the building had been like a playoff game all night, so it seems only fitting that the two teams gave the fans in attendance bonus hockey tonight.
The opening minutes of the game started nearly exactly as I feared – they looked like a team that had played last night and traveled to Dallas, landing at 3:30 AM local time. That’s not an excuse, considering the Stars cancelled their morning skate because of it and should have looked relatively better than they did on the second half of a back-to-back, more a statement of reality.
After spending much of the first half in their own zone, the Stars allowed two goals within two minutes of each other to dig themselves a whole early into the contest. Riley Sheahan was able to score after a stand-up body play by Stephen Johns in the neutral zone and couldn’t catch up to the play again. Then, Carl Hagelin got in uncontested for a shorthanded goal.
As the period went on, the Stars started to skate better, and Tyler Seguin was able to cut the lead in half.
It sure felt more like Stars hockey in the second frame, though they weren’t able to find an equalizer in the period. They spent more time in the offensive zone than in the first period, and had some good looks on Matt Murray.
The things that won’t show on the stats sheet was the better puck support the Stars had in the second period. They did a better job battling for the puck, and there were usually two in green near the puck to give players outlet options.
Kari Lehtonen must have been living right in the second period, though, because there were two times where he was pulled out of his net and his team bailed him out from allowing a third goal. The first came from fantastic stick work by Esa Lindell to sweep the puck from behind Lehtonen and to the boards left of the net. The second was an excellent save by Seguin.
Dallas hit the third period aggressively, hounding for the puck and continuing their play from the second period. It paid off in spades, as the Stars took their first lead of the game in the frame after finding the equalizer.
John Klingberg added to his NHL-leading scoring by a blueliner by scoring the tying goal. It came after Mattias Janmark and Jason Spezza established a cycle in the Penguins zone, which was continued on by the Stars top line when they came on the ice after a shift change. Klingberg found himself with the puck and not a single player in black and yellow near him, and a clear shot at Murray – and he didn’t miss.
About five minutes after finding the tying goal, the Stars took their first lead of the game when Dan Hamhuis put a puck in from right above the left circle.
From there, the Stars managed to lock down a one-goal lead against arguably the hottest team in the league right now. The fans were into the game, and were loud and encouraging throughout the last half of the game as they tried to maintain the lead. It took a pulled goaltender and an extra attacker for Pittsburgh to get an equalizer in the dying minutes of the third period.
They would have tied it up sooner if it wasn’t for Lehtonen’s spectacular diving save. After a bit of a rocky start, Lehtonen shut everything down nearly everything that was thrown his way – and he deserves as much credit as anyone on the team for pulling out at least a point tonight.
3-on-3 overtime is high blood pressure inducing when you’ve got two teams with the talent that makes it a north-south skating and shooting affair. Tonight was no different in that regard. Each team had some glorious chances, and Lehtonen and Murray were the MVPs of their respective teams, stopping each one of them.
The thing about the 3-on-3 format that is tough on players is they can get hemmed into their own zone for a bit and then have a fantastic breakaway chance the other way, and then have that saved and have to play defense the other way. It leads to much longer shifts than normal for some of these guys.
Iron has never sounded sweeter than it did when Sidney Crosby rang his shootout attempt off the crossbar behind Lehtonen’s head during the shootout. Two big stops by the Stars netminder and a Seguin shootout goal sealed the win for Dallas, allowing them to snatch two points from a game in which they went into the third period losing – a feat they haven’t accomplished this season prior to tonight.