I used to write that the Stars didn't deserve to win games like Tuesday's, that it wasn't a team win, that the goalie stole the game, and former associate coach Rick Wilson once pointed out to me _ ``Hey, the goalie is part of our team.''
And maybe that was no more apparent that Tuesday. Kari Lehtonen was a huge part of the team, but it really did take more than just Kari Lehtonen to win that game. The Stars scored three very pretty goals, and they answered the bell in the third period when they really could have squandered a golden opportunity to pick up points.
The result was a 3-2 win over the struggling Edmonton Oilers that broke an 0-3-2 home winless streak.
The Oilers had the better effort. They earned their 41-20 edge in shots on goal, especially the 18-4 bulge in the third period. They earned two hard-working goals from hard-working players that got pushed past Lehtonen to tie the game at the 7:38 mark of the third period, and had every opportunity to win this game in the third period
But Lehtonen _ and his Dallas teammates would not allow it.
"It is two points and two very important points for us," coach Marc Crawford said. "I think over the last six (home) games, we've played better and not gotten the two points and at the end of the day, there's nothing like winning. You win maybe not as well as you would like, but it's so important to get the points when they're there and available to be had.''
And that's important in the standings, because San Jose lost to Toronto last night and the Stars are starting to put distance between themselves and the rest of the Pacific Division. The Sharks were at home and playing an opponent they should beat. They didn't. The Stars had the same scenario and won. That's a four-point swing right there if it is reversed.
The first man to get praise has to be Lehtonen. He stopped 39 shots and survived his team getting out-shot 18-4 in the third period.
"Kari was really good," Crawford said. "I thought that we knew that the Oilers had terrific team speed and they showed it all night. They ended up generating chances a lot to the outside with their speed, they got real quality shots and a couple of rebounds. They hit a couple of posts, which was fortunate, but I thought Kari was big and he kept them at bay for the times that they did get rebounds. You need your goaltender to be your best player some nights and tonight he was."
Captain Brenden Morrow, who had a goal and a bit of a physical side, said Lehtonen had been there all year.
"Huge again, he gives you so much confidence," Morrow said. "We got doubled up in shots again, that's not going to win too many hockey games, we know that. It wasn't the way we drew it up tonight, we got two big points, but we've got some work to do. We can't give up 40-50 shots every night and expect to win."
Technically, it was only the third game in the last 12 where the Stars gave up more than 31 (46 against Nashville and 37 against Chicago) and the Stars won those games, too, so it appears the goalies can handle that load every now and then. And, as was mentioned earlier, the forwards did take care of business when they had to.
Mike Ribeiro, Morrow and Jamie Benn ran a beautiful play midway through the first period on a cycle. Ribeiro found space behind the net, Benn took two defenders to the front of the net, and Morrow found some space behind Benn in the slot. Ribeiro found Morrow wide open, and Morrow hammered a shot through the mess that Benn and the two defenders caused in front of the net. It was textbook hockey.
Then, when the Stars looked stagnated, Crawford started juggling lines and put Benn on a line with Steve Ott and Adam Burish. The trio ran an impressive weave coming into the offensive zone and looked like they maybe made one pass too many when Ott passed up a great scoring chance by flying by the net with the puck. Instead, Benn slipped in behind him, took a give and go pass, and flipped in a beautiful goal to make it 2-0.
"The Benn-Ott-Burish goal was as nice a goal as you're going to see," Crawford said. "Advance the puck, control the puck, find an opening and then make a great finish."
And the Stars tried to sit on that goal for a long time. But when Edmonton came back and tied the game in the third period, the Stars got just enough to go back ahead. This time, The James Neal-Brad Richards-Loui Eriksson line made the play, as Eriksson took a hit to get the puck out of the zone, Richards carried it up the right wing, and he left the puck in the right circle for a Neal snap shot. Neal's shot was so hard that officials had to go to review, but it was clearly a goal _ and another beautiful offensive play.
"I got hit right away, so I wasn't sure if it went in," Neal admitted. "I got the shot off as quick as I could and tried to go up in a hurry. That was a weird one, eh? It kind of went around the bar and shot out. I wasn't sure what happened. Guys on the bench were asking me what I saw, and I wasn't sure. But as soon as I saw the replay, I knew it was in. It was good to get a change of momentum because they were pushing on us there."
Somehow, someway, the Stars found a way to respond...as they typically have this season.
``Their comeback to make it 2-2, that's the first time in a while our team has been tested like that,'' Crawford said. ``We've been behind and come back in games, but never where we had a lead and gave it up and had to come up with a surge, and we did. It was a super shot by James and thank God we do have video review because it was so difficult to see if it was in."
So add another to the amazing numbers for the Stars this season. They are 15-3-5 in one-goal games. They are 20-2-1 when scoring first. They are 12-0-1 when leading after two periods. They are finding ways to win even when they don't play their best hockey. And that really is the definition of a good team, isn't it?
And, on this night, the Stars were the better team, because they had the better goalie.
Should they have been dialed in better? Should they have respected the Oilers more? Should they have expanded their lead or at least learned their lesson by the third period? Yeah, sure...in a perfect world. But they set aside the home winless streak and ended a stretch of 29 games in 57 days (better than a game every two days). They now get their first three-day break since Nov. 13-15 and play just six games in the next 20 days.
They may have been wearing down, they may have been mentally exhausted. And they still won.
``They're not all going to be the type of games you look back and put on a highlight reel. But two points is so, so important right now,'' Crawford said. ``I think for our guys, we'll probably play better in our next home game, just maybe getting that little bit of a monkey off our back.''
Langenbrunner plays first at home: The actual time between home games for Jamie Langeenbrunner at AAC was 3,229 days. The small crowd (12,463) gave him a nice round of applause in his first shift and loved it when he got into a fight/wrestling match with Kurtis Foster.
"It felt good. This place holds a special place in my heart, it's fun to be back here," Langenbrunner said. "It was great to get the two points. We bounced around a little bit, we were trying to get a little bit of a spark somewhere. We were obviously a little sluggish there, but I think coach pushed the right buttons. I'm excited to be back."
Morrow gets goal and a few punches in: Brenden Morrow had another goal and now has nine points (5 goals, 4 assists) in the last seven games. He broke his nose a while back and has been hot since putting on a face shield for protection.
"It must be the shield, I don't know," Morrow said with a laugh. "I'm trying to do same things all the time, but maybe not getting stuck right in front of the net, finding some seams, and Ribby's making some good plays. I'm releasing the puck quicker instead of getting it, holding onto it and taking a look where I'm going to shoot it. I'm getting it and firing it and I've gotten lucky."