Before the puck dropped in the Dallas Stars’ contest versus the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight, the scoreboard watch was indicating some positive vibes: the Chicago Blackhawks were tied with the Detroit Red Wings and the Nashville predators were down three goals in their contest versus the Carolina Panthers.
Both of those teams sat above the Stars in the standings, and both went on to lose their games tonight. If the Stars could lock in a win, they could make up some ground on the standings while maintaining their games in hand advantage over both. They had to get through the Columbus Blue Jackets first, however.
While the Columbus team is all but mathematically eliminated in the race for the last spot in the Central Division, it’s still a club coached by John Tortorella. He still expects them to backcheck and be a defense-first oriented club. “Hard to play against” and all that.
For the first period, they were just that. The game was fairly low-event, with the Blue Jackets registering seven shots on goal and the Stars registering just five in the first 20 minutes of play. Columbus opened the scoring off of a turnover at the offensive blueline by Dallas. With the Blue Jackets in transition, Jack Roslovic took a pass from Michael Del Zotto and fired it right past a sprawled-out Joel Hanley and past Jake Oettinger in net. The 1-0 score would stand through to first intermission.
Dallas came out shooting more in the second period early on, at one point amassing a 6-1 shots on goal advantage without anything on the scoreboard to show for it. As the Stars continued to pour on the shots and control the play for the most part, Elvis Merzlikins put up a stone wall.
Until Denis Gurianov busted his slump in a big way.
Gurianov had gone 10 games without scoring a goal. In the last 20 games, he had just two goals to his name. He looked for all the world like he was in desperate need of a butt goal — something that goes in off a weird body part, or an opponent, or off his own butt. He finally got off the schneid — and it was a pretty goal, at that.
“He’s putting in a lot of hard work, and happy to see it pay off here,” Jamie Benn said after the game. Not to be outdone, though, his second goal of the game was basically a butt goal — Gurianov spotted Jason Dickinson heading around the net. He shot the puck in what appeared to be a pass towards Dickinson and where he would be at once he got around the back of the net. Instead, the puck careened off of Del Zotto’s skate and past his goaltender.
Gurianov kind of shrugged when it happened, and then gave a bit of a grin as the team celebrated.
Between Gurianov’s goals came a quick second goal to stun the Columbus team. Miro Heiskanen shot the puck at Merzlikins with Benn screening in front. It appeared to hit something in front and deflect into the net, and eventually held up as the game winner.
Joe Pavelski added further insurance to ice the game away late in the third period. He floated back from his coverage and took advantage of the opposition puck watching. Standing off to the side at the front of the net, Roope Hintz sent a laser of a pass to the waiting Pavelski.
For a change this season, the effort and the scoreboard and the shots on goal accurately reflected the game. Dallas won 4-1. They outshot Columbus 31-18, including 26-11 over the last two periods. They out-chanced the Blue Jackets 23-17 according to Natural Stat Trick.
The cherry on top was the other two teams they needed to lose tonight losing their games. Ground was made up, and with a soft part of their schedule ahead before a brutal stretch to end the regular season, this is exactly when Dallas needs to win and find a way to be right in the thick of things at the end of these next five games (vs CBJ, vs DET, vs DET, @ DET, @ DET).