The Dallas Stars moved closer to the final playoff spot in the Western Conference Tuesday night, defeating the Phoenix Coyotes, 3-1, at Jobing.com Arena. Antoine Roussel’s goal early in the third period snapped a 1-1 tie and held up as the game-winner for the Stars, who moved to within two points of the final wild card spot in the West.
"We knew that was one of the biggest games of the year," said Roussel. "We didn't start the way we wanted, but the third period was really good for us and we got the win. The last 10 minutes we locked it down and didn't give them much."
Said Stars coach Lindy Ruff: “It was what we talked about this morning; it was two teams that are pretty similar. Somebody is going to take advantage of an opportunity and we were able to push through.”
On hand to watch the victory were fathers of several of the players, who are on the Phoenix and San Jose legs of this road trip.
“It was a big win for us tonight,” said Stars forward Ryan Garbutt. “We had the dads in town and it was a fun game for the guys to play in. It’s kind of nice for us to be on a roll right now.”
Shawn Horcoff and Garbutt also scored and Kari Lehtonen stopped 27 of 28 shots for the Stars, who improved to 5-1-1 over their last seven games, allowing just nine goals over that stretch.
“It’s just working hard in your own end. The guys are coming to play every night, everyone is working hard and it’s fun to be a part of,” said Garbutt. “It’s pretty easy when you have a goaltender like Kari Lehtonen in net.”
The Stars remain in 10th place in the West, but moved to within one point of ninth-place Phoenix and to within two points of Vancouver, which holds the final wild card spot. The Stars can move into a playoff spot based on points percentage with a win in San Jose on Wednesday.
The Coyotes, who were coming off an impressive victory over Pittsburgh on Saturday, lost an opportunity to put some distance between themselves and the Stars.
“It all comes down to how you play,” said Coyotes coach Dave Tippett. “The Pittsburgh game we played pretty solid and did good things with the puck and won enough one-on-one battles, too, and stayed competitive in the game. Tonight was the exact opposite. (We) turned over a lot of pucks and in the one-on-one battles just didn’t do enough to give ourselves a better chance to win.”
Both teams had good looks in the first period, but there was no scoring. Phoenix goaltender Mike Smith made a sharp glove save on Rich Peverley off the rush. Lehtonen stopped a Martin Hanzal bid from the slot.
The Stars went on their second power play early in the second, had some good pressure but couldn’t take advantage. Lehtonen came up big, stopping Coyotes forward David Moss on a breakaway 4:50 into the second.
The Coyotes got the game’s first goal at 9:18 of the second when Antoine Vermette stole the puck in the neutral zone, broke in on net and beat Lehtonen with a backhand shot to put Phoenix up 1-0.
The Stars answered a little more than three minutes later, cashing in on their third power play of the game. After blocking a clearing attempt, Horcoff went to the front of the net, took a centering pass from Tyler Seguin and beat Smith with a close range backhand shot to make it a 1-1 game at the 12:32 mark of the second period.
The Stars took the lead 3:25 into the third period, capitalizing on a Coyotes turnover and bad line change. The end result was Garbutt setting up Roussel, who scored from the slot to put the Stars up 2-1.
Smith made several sharp saves to keep the Coyotes within a goal, but his team couldn’t come deliver the equalizer and Garbutt scored into an empty net with 26.7 seconds left to seal the win for the Stars, who wrap up the road trip Wednesday night in San Jose.
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.