The Dallas Stars dropped the Los Angeles Kings 5-4 in the shootout on Thursday night, not necessarily because they were the more skilled team between the two, but more likely because they were the more physical team.
The Pesky Stars, as they are affectionately being referred to more frequently among Stars fans, have been carving out a reputation this season as a gritty team that can grind out a full 60 minutes, and this was showcased to full effect last night against their Pacific Division rival Kings.
The Kings outshot the Stars 41-38 and were by far the better of the two in terms of special teams (LA went 3/7 on the powerplay and 5/6 on the penalty kill), but the Stars were clearly wearing down the Kings throughout the game and used their physical play to shift momentum in their favour at key intervals.
Less than a minute after Loui Eriksson made it 1-0 in the first, Radek Dvorak battled a puck away from Jack Johnson and then fed it to Eric Nystrom, who took the puck to the net hard and scored off his own rebound in tight on Jonathan Quick.
The Stars eventually squandered the lead and were trailing 4-3 late in the third before captain Brenden Morrow destroyed Anze Kopitar behind the Stars net, prompting Mike Richards to jump in and stand up for his fallen comrade.
This hit had many ramifications on the final outcome of the game.
First, it knocked Kopitar out for the remainder of the night. He didn’t return for either overtime or the shootout, and was sorely missed by the Kings for both. Secondly, Richards received 2 for instigating a fight with a visor on, 2 for unsportsmanlike conduct and a game misconduct. This also ejected Richards out of the Kings lineup prior to overtime and the shootout. Thirdly, the Stars capitalized on the 4-minute powerplay, with Eriksson tying the game 4-4 on another hard play in front of the Kings net.
And with less than a minute in overtime before the game went to the shootout, Drew Doughty, with Sheldon Souray on his back, took the puck hard to the net on Kari Lehtonen and bowled into the Stars netminder. It wasn’t the first time a Kings player had gotten too close with Lehtonen in the game, and the Dallas players on the ice, namely Souray and Jamie Benn, took exception.
It might not have had a direct impact on the scoresheet, but it certainly could have fired up Lehtonen. With Kopitar and Richards unavailable to be picked for the shootout, the Kings’ trio of shooters Jarret Stoll, Dustin Brown and Trevor Lewis were all unable to beat the Finnish netminder, while Eriksson topped off an amazing game by scoring the winner on a slick deke.
The fact that only two points separated the two Pacific teams was surely not a fact lost on either going into last night’s game, and the outcome didn’t disappoint. Hits were 39-37 Kings, but the Stars ultimately had the physical edge.
It’s not the first time that the Stars have grinded out a win in this fashion this season, but it can’t be the last time that they do it if they want to squeeze every possible point out of an ever-tightening Western Conference and make the playoffs for the first time in four years.