Having lost four straight games and some ground in the Western Conference playoff race, the Dallas Stars needed a win Saturday afternoon at American Airlines Center. And they got it. Trevor Daley’s goal early in the third period snapped a 1-1 tie and held up as the game-winner as the Stars defeated the Ottawa Senators, 2-1.
“This time of the year every win is important,” said Daley. “We put ourselves behind the eight-ball, but tonight put some smiles back on our faces.”
The win pulled the Stars to within two points of the Phoenix Coyotes, which lost to Boston, 4-2, Saturday night. The Stars have one game in hand on Phoenix.
“[The win] was huge,” said Stars center Cody Eakin, who scored in the game for the Stars. “We needed it for confidence and standings-wise.”
It wasn’t easy though. The Stars had to overcome a 1-0 deficit after the first period and then win the third period as the two teams were tied 1-1 heading into the final 20 minutes.
“It was a great test for our team. This is just playoff hockey now the rest of the way,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “You are going to have to have the ability to come back, you’re going to have to lead a game by one goal late and hold that lead and play well. You are going to need some big saves at crucial times. It really is a good test for us.”
The Stars outshot the Senators 44-27 in the game. They allowed just one goal after giving up 19 in the previous four games. Goaltender Kari Lehtonen, who was making his second start since returning from a concussion, was solid in stopping 26 of 27 shots.
“I felt good in Pittsburgh (Tuesday), but the result (5-1 loss) wasn’t good. I knew I needed to keep focusing on every shift, every puck,” Lehtonen said. “Today I got a couple of good bounces, a couple of posts. The end result was really good, so I have to be happy about that.”
The Senators got a superb goaltending performance from Robin Lehner, who stopped 41 of 44 shots, but it wasn’t enough to keep the Senators from dropping their sixth straight game (0-4-2).
“It’s very hard losing,” said Lehner. “It’s a bad taste in our mouth right now. It sucks. Thought we had decent control. Then again, going into the third, think they had a lot more push than we had.”
The Stars outshot the Senators 17-7 in the first period, but found themselves down 1-0 as the teams headed into the first intermission.
Ottawa scored the only goal of the first at the 3:27 mark. After Stars defenseman Aaron Rome got caught deep in the Senators’ zone, Ottawa headed up the ice and Erik Karlsson scored off a blast from the slot to make it a 1-0 game.
Lehner was a tough nut to crack until late in the second when the Stars finally broke through to tie the game with 4:53 left in the period. After Valeri Nichushkin drove the net and put a shot on goal, Eakin poked the rebound into the net as Lehner tried to cover it up.
“The ref was in a good spot where he could see the puck was loose, I skated around until I saw it and shoveled it in,” said Eakin, who broke a nine-game goal scoring drought and scored for just the second time in the last 18 contests.
“It’s been too long for me,” said Eakin. “It’s nice to be able to chip in for the team and relieve that top line.”
The Stars took the lead early in the third. After Lehner stopped Ray Whitney, the Stars forward got the rebound and set up Trevor Daley, who scored from the left circle to put the Stars up 2-1 at 4:52 of the third.
“We got them off the rush, got them scrambling a little bit,” said Daley. “You get pucks to the net and cause rebounds that is going to lead to scoring chances. Wiz was behind the net and gave me a nice pass out in front.”
A little more than two minutes later the Stars had a 3-1 lead when Jamie Benn scored from the left circle off the rush for his 30th goal of the season.
Ottawa had two power plays in the second half of the third, but couldn’t take advantage and the Stars maintained their 3-1 lead to the end.
“We got some kills there, and that’s a positive,” said Daley. “Tonight was an all-around good team win.”
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.