After six straight losses, the Dallas Stars were desperate for a victory Tuesday night. They got it, defeating the Edmonton Oilers, 5-2, at American Airlines Center. And after the game that desperation turned into relief.
“You have no idea,” Stars captain Jamie Benn said when asked about the sense of relief surrounding the team.
Added defenseman Trevor Daley, “I don’t think I’ve ever been part of a third period that I wanted to end so fast.”
The Stars scored 14 seconds into the game, built a 4-1 lead by early in the second period and played a solid third in protecting the lead to secure their first win of 2014.
“It’s been a grind,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “I thought we came out great. A little lull in the second period, but the last half of the second we played well and then we played a pretty smart third period.”
Ryan Garbutt had one goal and two assists for the Stars. Benn and Daley both had one goal and one assist. Erik Cole also scored. Kari Lehtonen was sharp in net, stopping 31 of 33 shots. The Stars improved to 21-18-7 and moved to within six points of Minnesota for the final playoff spot with three games in hand.
“Despite all these losses we’ve managed to stay in the race,” said Daley. “We’ve just got to get wins. We have to stick to what we do – skate, get pucks deep and not hurt ourselves. If we do that, we’ll be fine.”
The Oilers (15-29-5) lost for the third time in four games and dropped to 2-5-2 over their last nine games.
“Going through the game in my end, it seemed like we made three mistakes and they all ended up in our net,” said Oilers coach Dallas Eakins. “And it goes back to what we’ve been saying a lot this year-that you never know when the game’s on the line. It’s on the line every shift. You can never, ever back off somebody, let your mind wander, whatever it’s going to be. The game’s on the line every shift and I thought we played a pretty good road game overall. Those three mistakes end up in our net and you can’t recover.”
The Stars got off to a quick start, scoring 14 seconds into the game when Daley set up a wide open Cole, who put the puck into the open side of the net from close range.
“I think it was just a rebound and I had Cole wide open at the side,” Daley said. “It was a no-brainer to give it to him and he put it in.”
Stars defenseman Brenden Dillon and Oilers forward Ryan Jones dropped the gloves in a spirited fight at the 2:59 mark of the first and less than a minute later the Oilers tied the game.
Taylor Hall set up defenseman Justin Schultz, who beat Lehtonen with a backhand shot from close range.
The Stars got the lead back at the 8:35 mark when Ray Whitney attempted a wrap-around and Ryan Garbutt pushed the puck past Oilers goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov to make it a 2-1 game.
“I was just going to the net and Whitney pushed it out front. I was battling with the D and put it in,” Garbutt said.
“To get that goal right away was important,” said Ruff. “Obviously if you sit there at 1-1, a lot of things can happen. But we went right back down and got it.”
The Stars went on what turned out to be their only power play of the game a little more than a minute later and cashed in quickly to make it a 3-1 game when Tyler Seguin set up Jamie Benn, who scored off a shot from the left circle at the 10:22 mark.
“I thought Tyler made a great play and Benner made a great shot,” Ruff said. “It was good to see it go in. We’ve had that look a few times and we haven’t scored. Our puck movement was good, and hopefully that leads to better times ahead for our power play.”
The Stars struck early in the second to make it a 4-1 game. Antoine Roussel won a puck battle with Justin Schultz behind the goal line in the Edmonton zone and then centered the puck to Cody Eakin, who scored from close range at the 1:10 mark of the second.
The Oilers got a couple of power plays in a six-minute span of the second and scored on the second one to cut the Stars’ lead to 4-2. Sam Gagner backhanded home the rebound of a Hall shot at the 10:28 mark.
The Oilers had a great chance to cut the lead to one early in the third, but Gagner’s close range chance went off the top of Lehtonen’s head. The Oilers had another good chance with just over five minutes remaining, but Dillon made a nice play to deny a chance for Hall, who had an open side of the net off the rush. But for the most part, the Stars limited the Oilers chances and Daley sealed the deal with an empty net goal with 39 seconds remaining to make it a 5-2 final.
“We’re pretty happy with this one. First win of 2014, we just have to keep it going,” said Garbutt. “We played hard as a team. We’ve had some tough breaks in this little slide here but we got some breaks and some bounces tonight. We worked hard for the bounces.”
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.