Fans got their money’s worth at American Airlines Center Friday night. Mike Modano was honored prior to the game as a member of the Dallas Stars 20th Anniversary Team. Jaromir Jagr became the 12th player in NHL history to register 1,000 assists. And the Stars picked up a big two points, knocking off the Minnesota Wild, 5-3.
“It was real big for us,” said Stars coach Glen Gulutzan. “We needed the points to claw our way into the top eight.”
The win pushed the Stars (16-14-3) to within one point of that eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
“We know how important every game is,” said Stars center Cody Eakin. “We need to keep going.”
The Stars were able to bounce back in the third period Friday night after giving up the 2-0 lead they had built in the first 7:31 of the game. Four times this season the Stars have squandered two-goal leads and gone on to lose games. This time around they found a way to win.
“We’ve had plenty of those two-goal leads lately and not been able to hold them,” said Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen. “It sucks, but it was nice that we regrouped well and played the last 20 like we did the first 20. That was great.”
The Stars regrouped by scoring two goals in a 1:08 span of the third period to take control of the game.
After Eric Cole scored on a rebound off the rush to put the Stars up 3-2 at the 1:02 mark of the third, the Stars went on a full two-minute five-on-three power play and wasted no time taking advantage. Ray Whitney set up Jamie Benn, who scored on from the right circle to make it a 4-2 game 2:10 into the third period.
That goal not only extended the Stars’ lead, it also made history. Jagr picked up a secondary assist, giving him 1,000 assists for his NHL career. He’s just the 12th player to reach that milestone and the first European player to do it.
“I never thought about any assists and points, I was happy to be able to play here,” Jagr said. “When I came here, I didn’t think I’d have a chance to play here. The league was too strong and too tough for me. I kept working hard and I’ve had so many good players around me, they showed me the way of how to get better. I really was pretty lucky. I always said you have to be lucky with who you play with and I had a chance to play with so many great players.”
Eakin scored on the power play with 7:20 remaining in the third to put the Stars ahead, 5-2. The Stars power play ended up going 3-6 in the game against the Wild penalty kill, which came in the game ranked fourth in the league.
“I thought we just outworked them,” said Gulutzan. “Shot more and outworked them. We needed to do that.”
The Stars built their early lead by rolling out an impressive first period. A Ray Whitney power play goal from the slot at 4:14 into the game gave the Stars a 1-0 lead. Tomas Vincour scored on the rebound of an Aaron Rome shot at the 7:31 mark to make it a 2-0 game.
The Wild bounced back with goals from Devin Setoguchi and Jared Spurgeon to tie the game, but the Wild got into penalty trouble in the third and the Stars made them pay. The loss snapped Minnesota’s winning streak at seven games.
“It was a frustrating night,” said Wild coach Mike Yeo. “I’m not going to sit here and complain about officials. Bottom line is after two periods I thought we were in a good position. Unfortunately, we came out and let them get that rush chance a little too early in that period and then we’re chasing after that.”
Note: Fiddler leaves game with charley horse
*Stars center Vernon Fiddler left the game in the first period after slamming into the Minnesota net. He is listed as day-to-day with a charley horse.
*Kari Lehtonen left the game briefly in the third period due a skate issue and wasn’t on the ice when the Stars scored what turned out to be the game-winning goal (Jamie Benn’s five-on-three tally). That meant that Richard Bachman, who was in goal at the time, was the winning goaltender despite playing just 2:32 and never facing a shot in the game.