– It wasn't that long ago the Dallas Stars
used to hate playing the Detroit Red Wings
The last few years, they've completely turned the tables on the Wings - who lost 4-1 to the slumping Stars on Thursday night at Joe Louis Arena.
Dallas (32-23-6) snapped a five-game losing streak by taking a commanding 3-0 lead after two periods and closing it out in the third with the help of some outstanding work by goalie Kari Lehtonen - who stopped 38 of 39 shots and helped thwart five of six Detroit power plays.
Tomas Holmstrom scored the Red Wings' lone goal on a power play with 3:31 left to play to prevent Lehtonen from picking up his first shutout of the season - but that was of little concern compared to the big two points Dallas picked up in the tight Western Conference race
"He had to make several saves throughout the game," Stars coach Marc Crawford said of Lehtonen. "I thought he was sharp throughout. Unfortunately, he lost his shutout bid with the power-play goal at the end, but at the end of the day, I don't think he worries about it too much. All he was concerned about was trying to make sure that this team won tonight. It was such a desperate win for us."
That's because the Stars came into this game on a five-game losing streak and a 2-10-1 record in their previous 13 games. After a spate of injuries - including a concussion that still has star Brad Richards sidelined - the Stars lost hold of what seemed like a comfortable playoff position.
Now they're in a fight to the finish over their final 21 games.
"It was a big game for us," said center Mike Ribeiro, who opened the scoring late in the first period with his 12th goal. "It didn't matter who we played against. We knew that we played good games here and they maybe took us a little bit lightly at the beginning of the game - and we took it to them."
As for the season series against the Red Wings, the win gave Dallas its third victory against Detroit this season - making it the third straight season the Stars have taken three of the four regular-season meetings. Dallas has also won nine of the last 12 games against Detroit during that span, after dropping 16 of 20 between 2002 and 2008.
"It's one thing right now beating an Edmonton Oilers team, but coming into Detroit and stealing a game out of here against a team that's second in our conference is a big confidence builder for us," said forward Krys Barch, who scored in his return from a facial injury that kept him out for eight games. "We're starting to turn the ship in the right direction, and we're starting to get some smiles in the room, too."
Loui Eriksson also scored late in the first to give Dallas a 2-0 lead heading into the first intermission, while Jamie Langenbrunner added an empty-netter to seal it.
It was another home disappointment for the Red Wings (37-18-6), who've dropped two in a row on home ice and are 7-9-2 in their last 18 games at Joe Louis Arena.
"We haven't been good enough at home," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. "That's not good enough in your home building. You can't have success unless you're dominant at home and right now we're not."
Neither team was dominant for the bulk of the first period, until Dallas seized control with two goals in the final few minutes of the first.
Ribeiro put the Stars up 1-0 with just 3:18 left in the first by tapping in a pass by Morrow that deflected to him off a defender's stick. However, it was the next goal that really upset Detroit fans.
The Red Wings were on a power play when Eriksson made it 2-0 with a shorthanded goal just 22.9 seconds before the horn sounded. He won a race to a loose puck just inside the Red Wings zone and beat Jimmy Howard with a low shot - the goalie's backward slide into the butterfly position allowed the puck to cross the goal line. The play was started in the Dallas zone, when a clearing attempt up the boards bounced past Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall at the point.
Detroit came out stronger to start the second and appeared to get on the board just 2:42 into the period on a long blast by Brian Rafalski. The puck hit the back of the net, but was waved off because Holmstrom was called for incidental contact with Lehtonen while standing just outside the blue paint.
A little more than six minutes later, Barch made it 3-0 by flipping a rebound of his own shot through traffic and watching it sail slowly, end-over-end, into the net. On his original shot, the puck bounced off Rafalski's skate and came right back to Barch for another try.
"I don't normally go (1:30) into a shift," Barch said. "My shifts are normally about 30 seconds. I was looking for an oxygen tank. I almost dumped the puck at the blue line. It was just a lucky bounce and ended up on my stick. I got a second opportunity at it and found the back of the net."
Not long after that, things heated up during a post-whistle skirmish between the circles in the Red Wings zone. Howard took exception to a gloved jab by Ribeiro, who'd charged into him. That set off a heated exchange with the refs trying to keep it from boiling over into several fights.
Howard and Ribeiro were given roughing minors, while Detroit's Johan Franzen and Dallas' Adam Burish - who also made his return from a facial injury - got matching roughing minors and misconduct penalties. In the third, tempers continued to flare when Detroit's Jonathan Ericsson fought Dallas enforcer Steve Ott just 3:52 into the period, with Ericsson seemingly getting the better of the exchange.
It was about the only thing Detroit won all game, as Dallas controlled the puck for long stretches and kept the Red Wings' skilled forwards to the outside most of the night.
"I thought they outworked us in our zone," Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. "They had the puck a lot in our own zone and we had some turnovers right at our own blue line, where they came back and spent another 20 seconds in our zone. That just tires the whole team out."