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Practice pays off: Stars impressive in 3-1 win over Flyers

by Mark Stepneski / Dallas Stars

Practice paid off for the Dallas Stars. After two days of practice following Tuesday’s sloppy win over Carolina, the Stars rolled out an impressive performance in defeating the Philadelphia Flyers, 3-1, Friday night at American Airlines Center.

"I thought we played maybe our best all-around game when it comes to puck movement and playing in their own end. I thought we did a lot of great things in the game,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. “We worked [in practice] on the stuff we needed to clean up. “

“That was a great game by us tonight,” Stars center Jason Spezza said. “All week we worked on exits out of our zone and making plays with the lead. We executed that tonight. It shows that the week of practice did us some good. Thought we sharper tonight than the past couple.”

The Stars dominated the Flyers, outshooting them 44-20. The attempted shots were lopsided as well with the Stars holding an 86-46 advantage. The only thing keeping the game close was the play of Flyers goaltender Michal Neuvirth, who stopped 41 of 43 shots. And it took a couple of ugly goals to beat him— a Mattias Janmark shot that bounced off a Flyers player and Antoine Roussel scoring off a scramble in front of the net.

“You got a bizarre bounce and just a lot of hard work,” Ruff said. “We did a lot of good work below the goal line, the one-on-one battles. I was just so impressed with our compete level. Those 50-50 battles when either guy could win it, I thought we won a lot of them. And when you start winning the majority, a lot of good things happen.”

The Stars, who blew a four-goal third-period lead on Tuesday, took a 2-1 lead into the final period in Friday’s game and locked it down.

“I thought that group did a tremendous job on focusing and playing the game we needed to play,” Ruff said. “That game was 2-1, and I felt we needed to win it 2-1. It was going to stay that close. We’ve been a lot better team in a tight game like that.”

Jamie Benn sealed the win with a late empty-net goal, his league-leading 20th goal of the season. Antti Niemi got the start in goal and stopped 19 of 20 shots.

The Stars, who own the best record in the league at 22-5-2, pushed their points streak to seven games (5-0-2) and extended their lead in the Central Division to ten points over both St. Louis and Chicago.

“I think we have shown a lot of character this year; stuff that wasn’t there last year,” said Stars defenseman Jason Demers. “The new guys have obviously helped, but collectively we have done a great job of saying, ‘We have to tighten the screws and right the ship.’ Even though we won on Tuesday, there are a lot of things we can clean up. I think we had good practices this week, and we were ready to go.”

The Flyers (12-12-6) lost in regulation for just the second time in their past eight games (5-2-1) and had a four-game road winning streak come to an end.

“First two periods, we spent a lot of energy killing penalties, but we were working hard in a lot of areas,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said. “Obviously, the two goals we gave up little more than three minutes apart were the difference in the hockey game. We pushed as hard as we could in the third period to generate, but unfortunately couldn’t take advantage of [Neuvirth’s] performance, which was outstanding tonight.”

The Stars had an 18-9 shots advantage and the only two power plays in the first period but headed into the first intermission in a scoreless tie. Neuvirth was sharp, stopping Valeri Nichushkin on a two-on-one, making a slick glove save on Tyler Seguin and getting a pad on a Jamie Benn redirection. Niemi came up with some big stops for the Stars, including a save on Brayden Schenn on a two-on-one rush.

The Stars went on their third power play early in the second, didn’t cash in, and Philadelphia took advantage of its first power play midway through the second to take a 1-0 lead. Shayne Gostisbehere scored off a blast from the point at the 9:23 mark.

The Stars missed on a fourth power play but tied the game at the 14:06 mark of the second when Janmark put a shot on net from the left boards that bounced off Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds’ skate and got past Neuvirth.

Roussel scored at 17:28 to put the Stars up 2-1, poking the puck past Neuvirth during a scramble around the Philadelphia net.

“Most of my goals came from the blue paint or within like 3 feet of it,” Roussel said. “That's how you get goals these days in the NHL. It's not the pretty stuff. You get once in a while pretty, but just hard-working goals nowadays.”

The Stars held the Flyers to just five shots in the third period and killed off one Philadelphia power play. Benn sealed the win with an empty-net goal with 53 seconds remaining to cap off a solid third period and an impressive game.

Stars defenseman Jason Demers was back in the lineup Friday after missing the past three games with an upper-body injury. Demers had one assist and a plus-three rating in 21:54 of ice time.

“The legs were a little stiff. My lungs hurt a little bit, but it got better as the game went on,” Demers said. The guys played great. It’s nice to come in when we’re rolling like that and moving the puck well. I tried to help out where I could and get my feet under me as quick as I could.”

Coach Lindy Ruff said getting Demers back, especially his right-handed shot, was a big boost for the Stars.

“I thought he played an excellent game,” Ruff said. “There was quick passing, the puck movement between lefty-righty, getting it off the walls and getting it into the middle of the ice, I felt was excellent and he’s a big part of that. Even shorthanded he had a breakaway. He moved great and made a lot of nice plays for us.”

*Antoine Roussel has five goals this season and four of them are game-winners.

*Tyler Seguin led the Stars with six shots on goal.

*Seguin and Jamie Benn co-led the Stars with ten attempted shots apiece.

*The Stars have won three straight at home and are 6-1-0 in their past seven home games.

*The Stars are 13-4-0 vs. the Eastern Conference, including 7-0-0 vs. the Metropolitan Division.

*The Stars have scored a league-high 11 empty-net goals this season.

*The Stars were 0-6 on the power play and 1-2 on the penalty kill in Friday’s game.

*The Stars won 39 of 66 faceoffs (59 percent).

*Jason Spezza won 14 of 18 faceoffs (78 percent). Vernon Fiddler won 8 of 10 (80 percent). Cody Eakin won 10 of 19 (53 percent). Tyler Seguin won 5 of 11 (45 percent).

*John Klingberg led the Stars with 23:51 of ice time.

*Friday’s announced attendance was 18,532, a sellout.

The Stars are right back at it Saturday night, playing at St. Louis. It’s the first of five meetings between the Stars and the Blues this season.

Jamie BennTyler SeguinValeri Nichushkin

Mattias JanmarkJason SpezzaPatrick Eaves

Antoine RousselCody EakinPatrick Sharp

Colton SceviourVernon FiddlerAles Hemsky

Alex Goligoski
John Klingberg

Johnny OduyaJason Demers

Jyrki JokipakkaJordie Benn

Antti Niemi

Kari Lehtonen

Travis Moen, Patrik Nemeth, Jamie Oleksiak

Injured: None

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 reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.

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