The Dallas Stars weren’t supposed to win Friday night.
Teams coming off their five-day “bye week” were 4-12-4 this season. The Stars improved that record slightly with a 5-2 victory over the visiting Arizona Coyotes, who were playing the second game of a back-to-back.
The win ended a down day for the Stars, in which popular winger Patrick Eaves was traded to the Anaheim Ducks for a conditional second-round pick in the 2017 draft, on a high note.
“I think that everybody knows where we’re at,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “Patty [Eaves] has been our most consistent player while fighting through injuries the whole year. We’re going to miss him.”
Stars captain Jamie Benn praised his now-former linemate as well, calling him “one of the most unselfish players I have ever played with and a great teammate and a great guy.”
In this seemingly-accursed season, perhaps the trade of Eaves was the “ritual sacrifice” needed to appease the Hockey Gods and lift the curse on the Stars; perhaps the players just needed some time away from the rink. Either way, the Stars pulled off an improbable win Friday, due in part to their league-worst penalty kill going four-for-four.
Perhaps it’s time for Stars fans who don’t believe in magic to reconsider their position on the subject.
As expected following a lengthy break, the Stars’ start to the game wasn’t very smooth. The teams traded power-play chances in the first five minutes without result.
Seven minutes into the first period, Radim Vrbata put the Coyotes on the board with a one-timer from the high slot.
The goal extended Vrbata’s point streak to eight games and seemed to awaken his opponents. For the next seven minutes, the clubs traded chances. The Stars were buzzing, but couldn’t quite connect. At the 14:12 mark, they finally broke through, as Devin Shore made the most of a setup from linemate Jiri Hudler on a 4-on-2 rush.
Shore’s snipe seemed to give the Stars confidence, and they ratcheted up pressure on the Coyotes for the remainder of the period. Shots were 12-8 Stars through 20 minutes.
Very early in the second period, the home crowd voiced their displeasure when a post-whistle Kevin Connauton hi-stick to the face of Antoine Roussel went uncalled. Seconds later, Stars defender Jamie Oleksiak was assessed a double-minor for hi-sticking, sending Stars fans across the line from “unhappy” to “outraged.” A solid penalty kill, complete with a (foiled) 2-on-1 chance for Jamie Benn and Curtis McKenzie, placated the crowd somewhat.
The Stars drew two calls over the next five minutes. Despite good offensive-zone time and puck movement, they couldn’t convert on the man-advantage.
At 13:59 of the frame, Martin Hanzal turned a nifty pass off the boards from Vrbata into a wraparound goal, restoring the Coyotes’ lead.
61 seconds later, the Stars tied the game…or thought they did, anyway. Though a goal was initially signaled on the ice, video review showed Coyotes defenseman Luke Schenn sweeping the puck off the goal line and out of danger.
The Coyotes dodged that bullet, but when Jordan Martinook was boxed for slashing late in the period, their luck ran out. John Klingberg flew down the slot, took a pass from Jason Spezza and rifled a shot past ‘Yotes goalie Louis Domingue to tie the game.
The Stars out-shot the Coyotes 14-11 in the second period, and led 26-19 through 40 minutes.
Three minutes into the final frame, Jamie Benn gave his team the lead for the first time all night, seizing on a dump-in from his brother, Jordie. Jamie faked a shot to freeze Domingue, then carried the puck around the net for a wraparound goal.
The teams again traded power plays, but neither could convert. Near the midpoint of the period, the Stars extended their lead on a picturesque play by Oleksiak. The big blueliner carried the puck all the way around the Coyotes’ net before sending it across the zone to Radek Faksa at the left point. Domingue saved Faksa’s shot, but the rebound kicked to Lauri Korpikoski, who buried it to put the Stars up 4-2.
Cody Eakin added an insurance goal with four minutes remaining, putting the game out of reach for the fatigued Coyotes.
ARI – Radim Vrbata (14) assisted by Max Domi (18) and Alex Goligoski (22)
DAL – Devin Shore (10) assisted by Jiri Hudler (6) and Esa Lindell (5)
ARI – Martin Hanzal (16) assisted by Radim Vrbata (30) and Connor Murphy (13)
DAL – John Klingberg (9) (PPG) assisted by Jason Spezza (25) and Devin Shore (16)
DAL – Jamie Benn (21) assisted by Jordie Benn (13) and Esa Lindell (6)
DAL – Lauri Korpikoski (8) assisted by Radek Faksa (20) and Jamie Oleksiak (2)
DAL – Cody Eakin (3) assisted by Jamie Benn (35) and Brett Ritchie (8)
THW Three Stars
First: Devin Shore (1 goal, 1 assist)
Second: Jamie Benn (1 goal, 1 assist)
Third: Radim Vrbata (1 goal, 1 assist)
Boston Bruins at Dallas Stars
American Airlines Center – 11:30 a.m. CST on Sunday, Feb. 26
Broadcast channels: NBC
2016-17 Season Series: First Meeting of the Season
Buffalo Sabres at Arizona Coyotes
Pepsi Center – 6:30 p.m. MST on Sunday, Feb. 26
Broadcast channels: FS-A, MSG-B
2016-17 Season Series: First Meeting of the Season
Matt blogged about all things hockey at On Goal Analysis/The OGA Blogs from 2008-2014 and has written several travel articles for The Dallas Morning News. He began covering the Dallas Stars and Florida Panthers for The Hockey Writers in August 2015. Matt is also writing a biography of “Tex” Rickard, the Texas cowboy who founded the New York Rangers and the Madison Square Garden Corporation.