Commentary

Stars hit on all cylinders in third period

Updated: December 19, 2009, 8:46 PM ET
By Richard Durrett | ESPNDallas.com

DALLAS -- It certainly wasn't the kind of win that you'll see featured in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

The Dallas Stars littered the ice with bad turnovers, soft goals and inconsistent play for the first two periods of a Saturday matinee against the Detroit Red Wings. But there was one major difference: The Stars made the key plays late to secure the 4-3 win.

Karlis Skrastins provided the boost, scoring his second goal of the game and season early in the third period. The Stars had to take advantage of the rare scoring outburst by Skrastins. After all, doesn't goalie Marty Turco have a better chance to score two goals in a game than Skrastins?

"Sometimes, it's who scores the goals that can get you going," said Stars coach Marc Crawford, who joked that maybe when doctors stitched up Skrastins' lacerated finger a few weeks ago that they "sowed in a little magic."

The last half of the third period is what Crawford would like to see from his team every game. The Stars were tenacious on the forecheck, skated hard and tracked back defensively to prevent good scoring chances, received timely saves from Turco (after a shaky first two periods) and played all the way to the final horn.

The play that defined the Stars' final 10 minutes was Brenden Morrow's late block and clear of the puck. Brad Richards was whistled for slashing with 26.4 seconds left, giving the Red Wings a power play and essentially a two-skater advantage with the empty net. Detroit got the puck in the offensive zone and took a shot from the point. Morrow dropped to the ice and blocked it with his glove, then hopped up and knocked the puck down to the other end of the ice, effectively ending the game.

It was a great play that may provide momentum for the Stars, who play five of the next six at American Airlines Center.

"It won't mean something unless we keep it going," Richards said.

And that is the biggest challenge for this team. They've had spurts of great play this season as they learn Crawford's aggressive, attacking offensive style. However, sustaining that kind of effort and execution has been the problem.

It's filtered to all parts of the team at various times. The best example Saturday was Turco. He made spectacular saves as the Red Wings charged the nets and got rebound chances. But he also allowed two pucks in that he'd like to have back.

Turco tried to clear a shot from Tomas Holmstrom with his stick instead of covering it with his glove and he whiffed, allowing the puck to go in the net. Detroit's second goal was a shot by Todd Bertuzzi from the left point that was traveling at the speed of rush-hour traffic. Pavel Datsyuk did deflect it, but Turco wasn't able to adjust quickly, and it went through his legs.

But once the Stars got the 4-3 lead, Turco and the Dallas defense clamped down. Turco stopped all nine shots he faced, including a couple of good chances shortly after Skrastins' goal-ahead goal.

"We didn't step back," said James Neal, who had two goals Saturday and leads the team with 16. He also had an assist.

"We put the same amount of pressure on them in the third as we did in the first and second. It was a good win."

It seems that in many of the Stars' wins, the common denominator is the leadership and play of Richards. He had just one shot on goal, but he created plenty of chances for his linemates. Richards had two assists, and his line accounted for seven points.

"He's skating really well," Crawford said. "When I see speed and determination in his skating, I have a good feeling. It's not warm and fuzzy, but close."

Detroit was concerned enough about that line that they changed the defensive pairings, putting their top two blue line players -- Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski -- together and tried to get them on the ice against Richards' line as often as possible.

That line, like the rest of the Stars' team, did a nice job on the defensive end in that final period. In fact, the normally offensive-minded Crawford sounded like Stars coaches of seasons' past, talking defense like Ken Hitchcock and Dave Tippett did.

"We really had an identity of a team that wanted the puck and played strong, defensive hockey," Crawford said. "They recognized how much onus there was on defense and how much responsibility they had to have."

The next step for the up-and-down Stars is to figure out how to do it more often.

Richard Durrett covers the Dallas Stars for ESPN Dallas. You can follow him on Twitter; or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.

Richard Durrett joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He writes about colleges, the Dallas Stars and the Texas Rangers. Richard spent nine years at The Dallas Morning News covering the Rangers, Stars, colleges, motorsports and high schools.

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