Stars head to break with nice win over Phoenix
FEB 08, 2014 11:36p ET
DALLAS---Sellout crowd, taking advantage of a tired team on the second night of a back-to-back, a stellar performance from your No. 1 goaltender and balanced scoring, on Saturday night, the Dallas Stars couldn't have asked for much more in a 2-1 win against the Phoenix Coyotes at American Airlines Center.
"It's good that we're moving to the right direction. We just have to keep going," Lehtonen said.
And if that wasn't enough, Saturday's win gives the Stars 64 points heading into the NHL's Olympic break, a total which pulls them even with the Coyotes for the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference.
The Stars also defeated the Coyotes 3-1 in Glendale, Arizona on Tuesday as part of a three-game road trip where they took five of a possible six points.
"That was real important," Stars head coach Lindy Ruff said of Saturday's win. "We were able to be patient and win in Phoenix. Then, we had to come back and win an even bigger game here. To get to the team you've got to beat is an important step for us to move up in the standings."
Dallas opened their account early when Whitney beat former Stars goaltender Mike Smith with a wrister that sailed in over his glove 2:10 into the game. And the Stars could have been ahead by a pair had a wrister by Nichushkin later in the opening frame not found the crossbar.
However, the Stars got the second goal they badly needed when Nichushkin deflected in a snap by Trevor Daley from the high slot 33 seconds before the second intermission. Nichushkin's goal, his 13th, was reviewed but deemed valid.
Smith kept Phoenix in the game for much of the night, delivering several key saves. Lehtonen also had several key stops, including a nice one against former Dallas teammate Mike Ribeiro early in the second period as the Coyotes were on the power play.
Three Dallas players-captain Jamie Benn (Canada), Lehtonen (Finland) and Nichushkin (Russia) will travel to Sochi, Russia on Sunday to participate in the 2014 Winter Olympics. Ruff will also travel to Sochi to serve as an assistant coach for Team Canada.
About the only negative to come out of the game was seeing Lehtonen lose the shutout, which would have been his fourth clean sheet of the season, with just 16 seconds left in regulation when Phoenix's Radim Vrbata got the better of him with a wrister to make it 2-1.
The Stars also failed to convert on a 5-on-3 power play in the third period that would have iced the game, but other than those two minor negatives, this one was a great way for Dallas to head into the Olympic break, with a 6-1-2 record over their last nine games.
"We've come from a long way," Ruff said. "I thought if we got within three or four points at the break we could be a serious contender. We've exceeded that. Those dark days of January we can put behind us."
Dallas returns to the ice on Feb. 27 against the Carolina Hurricanes at the AAC. The Stars will have 24 games remaining in the regular season after the 17-day Olympic break.
The Stars will resume practice on Feb. 19.
"You tell your players you've got to come out from the break and be one of the better teams in the league," Ruff said. "Those first two or three games back, you're guessing what you're going to get."