The Dallas Stars bounced back from Thursday’s disappointing season opening loss to Florida with a solid effort Saturday night. Erik Cole and Alex Chiasson scored goals and Kari Lehtonen stopped 25 of 26 shots as the Stars defeated the Washington Capitals, 2-1, at American Airlines Center.
“We did a lot of the little things much better tonight in all three zones,” said Cole. “And our compete was at a much higher level than it was the other night. We deserved to win. It wasn’t easy, but we got a lot of strong efforts from several guys.”
The Stars improved to 1-1-0, giving Lindy Ruff his first win as the team’s bench boss.
“There was a lot to like except for some of the missed really good opportunities we had,” Ruff said. “Work ethic-wise I thought it was tremendous.”
The Stars, who allowed 39 shots in Thursday’s game, limited the Capitals to 26 on Saturday, including only six in the third period. The Stars couldn’t hold a third period lead on Thursday, but they didn’t crack with the lead on Saturday.
“It’s good. We really didn’t sit on it,” Ruff said. “We had some good zone time and, again, we missed some great opportunities, but at the same time we didn’t do anything foolish to allow them that shot to get back in the game.”
The Capitals went on the game’s first power play at 3:25 of the first period after Stars defenseman Stephane Robidas was called for tripping, and they scored a little more than a minute later. Mike Green sent a cross-ice pass to Alex Ovechkin, who scored off a one-timer from the bottom of the left circle.
The Stars tied it at the 8:01 mark when Tyler Seguin sent a backhand pass from behind the goal line to the slot, where Cole put it past Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby.
“We saw in the video that there are some holes in the slot there,” said Cole. “Segs took a quick look over his shoulder and it was actually a blind pass from there, on his backhand through a guy's skates, and I hit at it and tried to put it in. It went in, thank God.”
The Capitals thought they had taken a 2-1 lead with 11:59 left in the second after Nicklas Backstrom batted a puck past Lehtonen, but Backstrom knocked over Lehtonen with a stick to the head in the process and the goal was waved off.
“I knew that I got hit pretty hard,” Lehtonen said. “I tried to tell that to the linesman. I think he saw it too and he went to tell them. It was a weird play. Sometimes they are able to see it and sometimes not. I’m just lucky they waved it off.”
Capitals coach Adam Oates didn’t like the call.
“I thought once the puck goes in there, you’re allowed to go after it,” Oates said. “And I didn’t think [Backstrom] interfered with him. I think he touched the puck first and then the goalie. Obviously the goalie embellished it a little.”
Washington went on its second power play of the night just moments later, but the Stars were able to kill it off to keep it a 1-1 game.
The Stars broke the tie with 7:53 left in the second with a goal off the rush. Chiasson knocked home the rebound of a Cody Eakin shot for his second goal of the season and his eighth in nine NHL games to give the Stars a 2-1 lead.
“I just play my game. That’s my main focus,” said Chiasson when asked about his goal scoring at the NHL level. “As long as the team wins, that is all I care about.”
The Stars went on a power play at 6:27 of the third, but the Capitals came close to tying the game when Brooks Laich got a breakaway, but his shot from the right circle hit the crossbar. The Stars almost scored moments later, but Rich Peverley’s shot from close range hit the post.
The Capitals got one last power play chance when Seguin took a delay of game penalty with 35.6 seconds remaining in the game. Some good penalty kill work by Vernon Fiddler and then a Lehtonen save on a Backstrom backhand shot as the final horn was sounding gave the Stars their first victory of the season.
The Stars don’t play again until Friday, meaning they’ll have a five day break between games. A win was the ideal way to head into the early season break.
“For sure. You go into a week like we’ve got coming ahead of us and on the heels of a win it makes for a real good atmosphere,” said Ruff. “I think when you start with how much work we put into the game, it’s a real good place to be.”
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.