The Dallas Stars made it six wins in their last seven games, but it wasn’t easy. The Stars, desperate for wins and points, had to battle back from 2-1 and 3-2 deficits in the third period to defeat the Buffalo Sabres 4-3 at American Airlines Center Monday night.
“Our season was on the line going into the third period, and it was a gutsy effort by everybody,” said Stars forward Patrick Eaves. “It was nice to get the result we wanted.”
The Stars went into the third period down 2-1, tied it at 2-2 but found themselves down 3-2 with just over nine minutes remaining.
“It wasn’t easy. The second period we talked about desperation,” said Stars forward Cody Eakin. “We had to get going to the net and get dirty, get some guys in front to create traffic.”
Eaves scored the game-tying goal with 7:25 remaining, and Eakin scored with 3:14 left to snap a 3-3 tie and push the Stars to their third straight victory and an 8-2-0 mark in their past ten games.
But once again they were unable to make up any ground on the final playoff spots in the Western Conference. Winnipeg, which holds the second wild-card spot, won at Edmonton and remained eight points ahead of the Stars. Minnesota, which holds the first wild-card spot, won in Toronto and remained nine points ahead of the Stars. All three teams have nine games left.
“All we can do is win out. Take it a game at a time but try to win out,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “We know where we are at. It’s tough, but we are going to give it everything we’ve got.”
Stars captain Jamie Benn registered two goals and one assist. Kari Lehtonen stopped 25 of 28 shots.
“It wasn’t our cleanest game,” Ruff said. “I thought we had some guys that were low on energy. That’s when the shifts got short. We didn’t have near the energy we had in the Chicago game (4-0 win on Saturday).”
The Sabres lost for the tenth time in the last eleven games (1-8-2). Brian Gionta scored two goals and goaltender Anders Lindback stopped 35 of 39 shots.
“It’s really frustrating. It sucks,” Lindback said. “They worked hard for it, couple bounces. We worked hard too but, unfortunately, we didn’t manage to play well.”
“They have [Tyler] Seguin. They have [Jason] Spezza. They have game breakers,” said Sabres coach Ted Nolan. “We don’t win a face off to save our soul. We have guys from the AHL that are learning here on the job, and it’s pretty tough.”
The Sabres took the lead at 13:39 of the first when Brian Gionta banged home a rebound to give the Sabres a 1-0 lead. The Stars had back-to-back power play chances, registered six shots on goal but couldn’t crack Lindback. The Stars finally broke through to tie the game with 18.5 seconds left in the first when Eaves put a shot on net from the point, and Benn deflected it past Lindback to tie the game 1-1.
“You come in and go back even, with a fresh start. That was a huge goal to get us even,” said Eakin.
The Stars had a good chance to take the lead at 8:57 of the second, but Ales Hemsky shot wide at an open net on a two-on-one rush. Less than two minutes later the Stars took a penalty for too many men on the ice and the Sabres took advantage with a power play goal. Johan Larsson’s shot deflected in off Gionta, and the Sabres had a 2-1 lead at 11:07 of the second.
The Stars tied the game early in the third period. With Buffalo’s Tyson Strachan in the penalty box for delay of game, the Stars tallied on the power play. A Buffalo clearing attempt hit traffic, Benn got the loose puck and scored from the left circle to make it a 2-2 game at 1:56 of the third.
Buffalo regained the lead at the 10:52 mark when a Tyler Ennis shot off the rush hit the crossbar, went up in the air, landed on the goal line and Matt Moulson pushed it into the net to put the Sabres up 3-2.
But the Stars answered less than two minutes later when a Tyler Seguin shot off the rush deflected into the net off Eaves to make it a 3-3 game at the 12:35 mark.
That set the stage for Eakin’s game-winner a little more than four minutes later. John Klingberg sent a cross-ice pass to Eakin, who beat Lindback from the left circle to give the Stars a 4-3 victory.
“We didn’t want to let these guys jeopardize or ruin our season,” Eakin said. “I think everyone looked at themselves in the mirror and went out and battled and gave each other a chance.”
*The Stars had a 101-49 advantage in attempted shots and a 39-28 advantage in shots on goal.
*Jamie Benn led the Stars with 13 attempted shots and eight shots on goal.
*Benn has six points (three goals, three assists) over his past three games.
*Cody Eakin scored his 17th goal of the season, setting a new career-high.
*The Stars were 1-3 on the power play and 2-3 on the penalty kill.
*The Stars won 40 of 65 faceoffs (62 percent).
*Vernon Fiddler won 11 of 15 draws (73 percent). Tyler Seguin won 6 of 9 (67 percent). Shawn Horcoff won 7 of 12 (58 percent). Jason Spezza won 9 of 17 (53 percent).
*Alex Goligoski led the Stars with 24:16 of ice time.
*The Stars went 19-11-2 vs. the Eastern Conference this season.
Jamie Benn – Tyler Seguin – Patrick Eaves
Cody Eakin – Jason Spezza – Ales Hemsky
Antoine Roussel – Vernon Fiddler – Colton Sceviour
Curtis McKenzie – Shawn Horcoff – Brett Ritchie
Jyrki Jokipakka – Alex Goligoski
Patrik Nemeth – John Klingberg
Jordie Benn – Jason Demers
Scratched: Ryan Garbutt, Travis Moen
Injured: Trevor Daley (lower body), Valeri Nichushkin (hip)
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.