Marc Crawford has talked all year about ``stick-to-it-tiveness,'' and the Stars showed a national television audience on Versus Monday night what that meant in a 2-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings.
Coming back from a 1-0 deficit (they are now 7-11-4 when allowing the first goal), taking advantage of two second-period power plays (the second with just one second remaining in the man advantage) and surviving a furious rally and bizarre finish (they are now 16-3-5 in one-goal games), the Stars were a model of persistence.
``I really liked the way we played,'' Crawford said. ``I thought we played hard all night, and in the third period when we were playing with the lead, I thought we protected the puck very well. That says a lot about your team.''
So how well did the Stars protect the puck? Well, Jeff Woywitka made what was a brilliant decision that led to a penalty shot. Looking at a mad scramble in front of the net and seeing the puck sitting on the goal line, Woywitka swiped it away with his glove with 52.6 seconds left in the game.
That was a no-no, according to the rule book:
Rule 62.5: ``No defending player, except the goalkeeper, will be permitted to fall on the puck, hold the puck, pick up the puck, or gather the puck into the body or hands when the puck is within the goal crease. For infringement of this rule, play shall immediately be stopped and a penalty shot shall be ordered against the offending team.''
Now, people can argue the semantics of the rule (in regards to whether he closed his hand over the puck), but what Woywitka did clearly fits the spirit of the rule, and the Los Angeles Kings got a penalty shot because of it. They earned that penalty shot, and Woywitka made a great decision in giving them that penalty shot.
Why? Because that puck could have gone in the net and tied the game. Then you're talking overtime and a possible shootout and you could very easily have seen the Kings walk away with two points in the standings. But by swiping the puck away, Woywitka put the game in the hands of Kari Lehtonen, who has stopped 73 percent of the shootout attempts against him in his career.
And this was nothing more than a one-time shootout attempt...and Lehtonen stopped Jack Johnson.
``I was just thinking the puck was laying there, Lehts didn't really see it, his pad was in the way, and it was just one of those plays where you're reacting and you just want to get it out any way you can,'' Woywitka said. ``It was the heat of the moment.''
Lehtonen, who said he has struggled this season on penalty shots (58.8 percent), agreed that he would rather have the penalty shot than a tie game or a 6-on-4 power play for the final minute.
``I was lucky, the goal line was sticky,'' he said of the puck not going in before Woywitka got to it.
But the harder the Stars work, it seems, the luckier they get.
The power play was a good example. Dallas went 0-for-3 in the first period, but it had long cycles in the offensive zone and created some great scoring opportunities. Mike Ribeiro, for example, hit metal with a point blank chance. So despite the fact the team was down 1-0 on a Justin Williams goal, it knew it was doing the right things.
Dallas continued to push, continued to control play, and drew two more power plays in the second period. The Stars scored on both.
The first was a 14 second thing of beauty, as Brad Richards found Loui Eriksson in the slot with a quick pass, and Eriksson did the high redirection for his 17th goal of the season. The second power play goal was a little tougher, and it again showed this team's persistence. Richards typically plays all two minutes of a power play, but he often shows signs of weariness when he's nearing the end of the two minutes. On this power play, the Stars had the puck in the offensive zone almost the entire two minutes and Richards made the key play with a second left. He skated into the left circle and found Jamie Langenbrunner charging the net on the right side. He zipped a pass through a maze of sticks and bodies and hit Langenbrunner on the doorstep for an easy goal.
``You get to the end of a power play sometimes and your brain shuts down,'' Richards said. ``But that (play) went the whole way with patience all across the top. (Jamie Benn) made a very patient play to get the puck to me, and it's nice to have a right-handed shot going to the net, because they are usually all lefties and a lot harder to find. It was nice to see Jamie get rewarded in his 1,000th game with the game-winner.''
Langenbrunner credited Richards with a perfect pass.
"Rich just laid it there on my stick. It was a great pass by him," Langenbrunner said. "Feels good to contribute on the scoreboard, especially in a win."
And, really, the entire team contributed again. Dallas had 53 shot opportunities to 45 for the Kings, had a 37-28 edge in shots on goal and had 15 blocked shots. Just as important, Dallas held the Kings to six shots on goal while protecting a 2-1 lead in the third period _ and a lot of those shots came in the final flurry.
It was a great example of this team's stick-to-it-tiveness, and a sign that the Stars really can handle winning.
``We're a different team now than we've been in the past,'' Richards said of the 6-0-1 streak. ``It's fun, it's addictive. But the more you win, sometimes the more you've got to put the pedal to the metal and take care of details, and the more we're going to talk about how we can be better. When you have that winning attitude, it seems it's easier to be harder on each other and push each other even more.''
And that is a remarkable aspect of this team that we're seeing more and more of each game.