WARNING: Due to the fact that the Stars played their once a season game in New Jersey, there will be numerous references to Bruce Springsteen songs and lyrics. Read at your own peril.
Back in the heyday of the Devils getting through the neutral zone was like being stuck in the mud somewhere in the swamps of Jersey. But much like LP records, those days are long gone. Lindy Ruff’s version of the Devils were born to run, and skate. They came into last night’s game against Dallas with the second-best record in the league boasting the third-best offense. Dallas was coming off a heartbreaking loss in Pittsburgh while New Jersey did not fare well either, but earned an overtime loss during a meeting across the river against the Rangers.
There were a couple of big moments in the second period that were game changers. Ryan Suter, born in the USA 37 years ago, saves a goal by going into the crease and blocking a wrist shot from Erik Haula that would have gone into a wide-open net. The block kept New Jersey from scoring first. When Dallas scores the opening goal, they have a record of 14-5-1. When allowing the first tally, the Stars are a paltry 3-3-4.
The second big moment turned out to be the game winner. Just before the two sides got lost in the flood of the 2nd intermission Zamboni break, Roope Hintz pounced on a rebound of a Miro Heiskanen drive that dinged the crossbar. There were 2.4 seconds remaining when the puck hit the twine. In this case, the goal was more than a momentum boost—it sent the trajectory for the final 20 minutes into a different direction. Dallas is now a perfect 13-0-0 when leading after two periods. They are a pedestrian 3-3-3 when tied after 40 minutes. The Ace of Spades has had a nice start to the road trip. We’ll see if he can proclaim, “I’m on fire,” as the week continues.
To have any chance of winning the second end of back-to-back games on the road, your goalie has to be tougher than the rest. Since coming to the Stars last year at the trade deadline, Scott Wedgewood has consistently given Dallas the chance to succeed under less-than-ideal circumstances.
The Stars number two goalie was brilliant, disguised as a Wedgewall after Dallas had taken the lead. Many of those saves coming on top-grade chances including third-period stops on Jesper Bratt, Yegor Sharangovich, and a big stop on Dougie Hamilton after New Jersey had pulled their goalie for an extra attacker. Wedgewood was a Devils draft pick in 2010 and made his NHL debut for the team eight seasons ago. Goalie tandems matter.
Dallas Stars Head Coach Pete DeBoer also enjoyed his trip back to the Garden State. DeBoer coached the Devils to the Stanley Cup Final in 2012, nearly finding the NHL's promised land. Rather than relive those glory days, his new club is still in first place in the Central Division. More importantly, his team has shown a defensive acumen and grit on the first two games of this road trip that had not been seen previously this year. No retreat, no surrender against two of the NHL’s best and most proficient offenses bodes well for bigger games further down the road.
There were critics who said the Stars hadn’t defeated a great team yet this season. Now they have. Three games await, but so far, it’s been an impressive start to a very tough stretch of games. I don’t know if the highway was jammed with broken heroes as the Stars made their way to the airport and the next stop on this road trip. It probably doesn’t matter. The closing line to the Springsteen classic Thunder states, “It’s a town for losers. I’m pulling out of here to win.” That’s exactly what the Stars did last night in Newark.