The Dallas Stars continued their best stretch of the season, cooling off the hottest team in the NHL in the process. The Stars defeated the New York Rangers, 3-2, Monday night at American Airlines Center. It was the sixth win in the last seven games for the Stars and ended the Rangers’ winning streak at eight games.
“It’s a big win for us,” said Stars defenseman Alex Goligoski. “They had eight wins in a row. That’s a good team over there.”
The Stars played a strong game against a quality opponent, measuring up well in a measuring-stick game.
“It was something we needed to do. It was a good test to see how we measure up against a solid team like that,” said Stars center Cody Eakin. “I think we proved to ourselves and everyone that we are on the right track when we are playing well.”
Stars coach Lindy Ruff said the win might have been his team’s most impressive this season.
“I’d say so, yeah,” Ruff said. “From the standpoint of overall compete, the things we did. We did a lot of good things in the game. I thought everybody did a lot of good things.”
The Stars improved to 6-1-0 over their past seven games and 7-2-0 in their past nine. They are 16-14-5 on the season and moved to within six points of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
John Klingberg, Ales Hemsky and Antoine Roussel scored goals for the Stars. Kari Lehtonen stopped 28 of 30 shots.
“Everybody knew [the Rangers] had been winning a lot of games lately, and that makes it even better,” Lehtonen said of Monday’s win. “It makes us believe in this group more. We just have to keep playing hard and smart hockey.”
The loss was the first for the Rangers since Dec. 6 when they lost 3-2 at Detroit. The eight-game winning streak was the longest in club history since 1974-75.
“We knew we weren’t going to win out, but we wanted to keep this thing going as long as we could,” said Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi. “It’s unfortunate it had to end tonight, but we have a chance to come back in two days and end the year off right.”
The two teams combined for four goals in the first period. The Rangers went on the game’s first power play and cashed in to take a 1-0 lead. Mats Zuccarello set up J.T. Miller, who split the Dallas defense and beat Lehtonen with a wrist shot from the slot off the rush 5:57 into the game.
“I don’t think it happens very often that a team gets a breakaway on the power play from the breakout,” Lehtonen said. “That was a wake-up call for everybody that these guys can skate. After that we played a smarter game and made some good plays at both ends.”
The Stars answered the Rangers’ goal by taking advantage of their first power play of the night. Klingberg tallied off a shot from the high slot at 9:02 of the first to make it a 1-1 game.
The Stars took a 2-1 lead at the 15:46 mark of the first when Hemsky shot the puck towards the net from behind the goal line and it deflected off Rangers defenseman Marc Staal and past goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.
“I feel like I’m blocking the post with my skate like I always do. It goes up in there and hits my pad. I was kind of shocked it went in, but tough bounce,” Lundqvist said.
The Rangers tied it 2-2 exactly one minute later when Staal’s shot from the point was deflected into the net by Kevin Hayes.
The Stars took the lead for good 54 seconds into the second period when Roussel backhanded home the rebound of a Ryan Garbutt shot to put the Stars up 3-2.
Stars defenseman Jyrki Jokipakka came up with a huge play, blocking Chris Kreider’s point-blank bid at an open net 5:09 into the second to keep the Stars up by one goal.
“That was huge,” said Lehtonen. “I owe him a big thank you and maybe a lite beer.”
Lehtonen made 10 saves in the third period. His best came with 8:16 remaining when he stopped a close-range shot by Rangers defenseman Dan Boyle to keep it a 3-2 game.
And that’s the way it stayed until the final horn, ending the Rangers streak at eight games and keeping the Stars on their strong run.
“This is the best stretch we’ve had. We’re getting a little more consistent every game,” said Ruff. “We’re playing better away from the puck which, if we’re going to push our way back in, we have to do. We still need just a little out of our special teams but maybe I’m getting a little bit picky. It has been the best stretch. We’ve found ways to win some games, and then we flat-out deserved to win some games.”
*The Stars are 6-2-1 in their last nine games at home and are 7-7-5 at American Airlines Center this season.
*The Stars improved to 11-1-2 when leading after two periods.
*The Rangers outshot the Stars 30-26.
*Trevor Daley led the Stars with five shots on goal.
*The Stars were 1-4 on the power play and 1-2 on the penalty kill.
*The Stars won 36 of 66 faceoffs (55 percent).
*Cody Eakin won 11 of 18 draws (61 percent). Jason Spezza won 8 of 12 (67 percent). Tyler Seguin won 6 of 11 (55 percent). Vernon Fiddler won 5 of 15 (33 percent).
*Daley led the Stars in ice time at 23:21.
*Attendance Monday night was 18,532, a sellout.
Jamie Benn – Tyler Seguin – Colton Sceviour
Erik Cole – Jason Spezza – Ales Hemsky
Antoine Roussel – Cody Eakin – Ryan Garbutt
Shawn Horcoff – Vernon Fiddler – Travis Moen
Alex Goligoski – John Klingberg
Jyrki Jokipakka – Trevor Daley
Jordie Benn – Jason Demers
Scratched: Jamie Oleksiak, Travis Morin
Injured: Patrick Eaves (ankle), Valeri Nichushkin (hip), Patrik Nemeth (arm)
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.