By Mike Heika/The Dallas Morning News
As roller coaster rides go, the Stars are pretty happy with the thrills so far.
Getting a hard-fought 2-1 win over Calgary on Monday at American Airlines Center, Dallas hits Game No. 50 at 31-14-5 (67 points) and heads into the NHL All-Star break with a feeling of relief ... and even accomplishment.
Yes a win over a tired Flames team that lost Sunday at Carolina was probably expected.
Yes, a 3-6-2 run through January is hardly reason for celebration.
But the Stars have wrangled this stretch like a bear in the woods and lived to tell about it. They are in second place in the Western Conference and have a pretty good chance to make the playoffs for just the second time in the past eight seasons. And, just maybe, they are better for the adversity.
“It’s a long season, we all know that,” said defenseman Johnny Oduya. “You have to play all of the games and take them one at a time. It’s what we all say, but it really is true.”
Monday’s game was a battle. Dallas came out flying and tried to bury the Flames early, but Calgary goalie Karri Ramo was on his game, and the Stars decided they couldn’t get too wild. They did that Saturday against Colorado and ended up losing 3-1. Even though the Stars had a 43-15 advantage in shots on goal against the Avalanche, it got too greedy at times and made mistakes.
“The biggest thing is eliminate the big mistakes,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said before the game. “We handed the biggest quality opportunities to the opposition (last game) and I think that if we eliminate that and take advantage of our high-quality situations, we’ll win a game.”
The Stars were aggressive, but cautious against the Flames. As a result, Antti Niemi faced just three shots in a scoreless first period. While Dallas wanted to break an offensive drought, it knew it couldn’t get impatient. That strategy paid off when Jamie Benn and Jason Spezza scored two goals in a span of 80 seconds in the second period.
Both were displays of just how offensively talented the Stars can be. Valeri Nichushkin made a smart play to circle around the net in the offensive zone and flip a pass to Benn entering the slot. The Stars captain then dangled the puck around a defenseman and the goalie before tucking it in for his 28th goal of the season.
Two shifts later, defenseman John Klingberg received a hard rim at the right point and immediately rocketed a pass to Spezza at the net. The veteran forward easily lifted in his 17th goal of the season for a 2-0 lead at the 4:03 mark of the second period.
Benn has six points in the past 10 games and has hit a speedbump in his campaign, but he showed the form that won the Art Ross Trophy last season as the league’s leading scorer. Klingberg has been in the worst slump of his brief NHL career, but he showed the vision that earned him a seven-year contract extension.
After that, the Stars dug in on defense Ales Goligoski, Johnny Oduya and Jason Demers were particularly steady against a Flames team that made one last hard push in the third period. When Calgary was able to fight through the defense, Niemi came up big in net and pushed his record to 18-9-5.
All in all, it was a satisfactory ride that left a sold out crowd with a calm stomach.
At least until the stretch run starts Feb. 2 after the All-Star break.
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