Two of the Dallas Stars’ big guns came up big Sunday afternoon in Traverse City. Valeri Nichushkin scored the game-tying goal with 6:59 left in regulation and Alex Chiasson scored the lone goal of the shootout as the Stars defeated the Minnesota Wild, 2-1, at the NHL Prospect Tournament in Traverse City, Michigan.
Goaltender Max Lagace came up big as well, stopping 27 of 28 shots in regulation and overtime and then all three shots he saw in the shootout.
“We played very good,” said Lagace, whom the Stars signed as a free agent last year. “The guys gave me a chance. It was my first game of the year since last year’s (QMJHL) playoffs. I felt good, the team played well in front of me. It was great.”
The Stars outshot the Wild 43-28 in the game, including 17-9 in the first period. But Minnesota grabbed the lead in the second period when Lagace made a blocker save on a Raphael Bussieres shot, but the puck bounced up and over the Stars goaltender and over the goal line at the 3:03 mark to make it a 1-0 game.
The Stars had their chances. By the end of the second period they had 26 shots on goal and a total of eight power plays, including one five-on-three opportunity. But they were down 1-0.
“We had a lot of power plays and that could have made a huge difference in the score at the end,” Chiasson. “We had chances. I don’t know how many shots we put on the goalie, but we had chances. It was fun. The guys battled.”
The Stars finally broke through with 6:59 left in the third period when Nichushkin beat Wild goaltender Johan Gustaffson with a snap shot off the rush. It was the second goal of the tournament for the 18-year-old Russian, Dallas’ first round pick (10th overall) in this summer’s NHL Entry Draft.
That set the stage for overtime, which in this tournament consisted of five minutes of four-on-four and then five minutes of three-on-three. There were plenty of chances in both sessions, especially the three-on-three which featured some breakaways. The Stars players didn’t seem sold on three-on-three hockey.
“It’s exciting for fans,” said Chiasson. “Four-on-four is great. Three-on-three you could see there were a lot of breakaways, two-on-one’s. It’s exciting. That’s all I can say for that.”
“Three-on-three is only summer hockey,” said Lagace. “It was fun. They hit the post and I was a little bit nervous on that one. We came back hard and the team put it in the net in the shootout.”
Chiasson scored the lone goal of the shootout, beating Gustaffson with a snap shot.
“That’s pretty much the only move I’ve got,” Chiasson said. “I’ve got a couple more, but I try to come in with speed and as soon as see an opening low blocker, that’s where I go.”
Lagace was perfect in the skills competion, stopping all three shooters he faced to give the Stars the 2-1 victory.
“I was confident coming into the shootout,” Lagace said. “We practiced the shootout coming into the game. I felt good and good things happened on the ice.”
Notes: Stars eliminated from the championship contention
*The Stars needed a regulation win against the Wild to stay alive in the race for first place in the Howe Division and a spot in Monday’s championship game. When Sunday’s game against the Wild went into overtime, the Stars were eliminated from the division race and championship contention. The tournament is using a system where three points are awarded for a regulation win, two points for an overtime win and one point for an overtime or shootout loss. The Stars needed three points to possibly tie Detroit and force a tiebreaker.
*Stars forward Curtis McKenzie dropped the gloves with Minnesota’s Carter Sandlak right off the opening faceoff. It was the second fight of the tournament for the Stars. Jamie Oleksiak had a fight in the first game.
*Right wing Brett Ritchie led the Stars with seven shots on goal.
*The Stars’ opponent for Monday’s placement game will be determined after Sunday evening’s games.
*The Stars wore their white jerseys for the third straight game on Sunday.
Valeri Nichushkin-Radek Faksa-Alex Chiasson
Matej Stransky-Brendan Ranford-Brett Ritchie
Cole Ully-Mike Winther-Cody Payne
Remi Ellie-Jason Dickinson-Curtis McKenzie
Patrik Nemeth-Jamie Oleksiak
Jyrki Jokipakka-John Klingberg
Rinat Valiev-Troy Vance
Max Lagace (starter)
Philippe Desrosiers (backup)