ST. PAUL, Minn. – The Dallas Stars are playing with confidence and sound defence, and are finding ways to score first.
That’s one of the surest formulas for success on the road, and they’ve been enjoying plenty of that lately.
Jamie Benn scored twice, backup goalie Andrew Raycroft notched his second shutout of the season with 26 saves and the Stars matched a franchise record with their seventh straight road victory, 4-0 over the Minnesota Wild on Sunday.
“I think we’re at the point now where we truly believe what we’re doing,” Raycroft said. “If we play it strong defensively, we have more than enough guys to make plays up front to win games.”
Trevor Daley and James Neal also scored for the Stars, who last won seven games in a row away from Dallas in the 2001-02 season. They took it to Wild goalie Jose Theodore, who gave up only three scores in the last three games. The Wild had a four-game winning streak snapped, their longest in almost a calendar year.
The Stars, who welcomed Jamie Langenbrunner back to the lineup after a trade this week that returned him to his original team after nearly nine years with New Jersey, are 13-7-1 on the road.
“With the addition of Jamie here, we’ve got three lines that can score,” Daley said.
Raycroft said the trade has given the Stars even more incentive and confidence. Coach Marc Crawford lauded Langenbrunner’s scoring touch, experience and special teams ability.
The Wild were 8-2-1 in their last 11 games, but they’re now 1-6-3 on the second day of back-to-back games. They fell to 10-10-2 at home, compared to 11-6-3 on the road.
The Wild got home late after beating the Sidney Crosby-less Penguins in Pittsburgh 4-0 on Saturday night, and they started this game in the wrong way by falling behind barely 2½ minutes in. Brad Richards threaded a pass to the opposite circle to set up a textbook one-timer for Daley.
“No excuses at all,” Wild coach Todd Richards said. “There was a way to win the game tonight, and we weren’t able to execute that. Our tanks were low, but I think that’s when you have to play a smart game. The first thing to go when fatigue sets in is your mind, and we did some uncharacteristic things, as far as how we’ve been playing hockey.”
The Stars are 11-0-1 when leading after two periods, and their 19-2-1 record when getting the game’s first goal is the league’s second-best.
“Sometimes you play a game that’s a little simpler on the road, and I definitely believe that was the case tonight,” Crawford said.
The Stars had a strong backcheck and didn’t get stuck in the offensive zone. Good goaltending always helps, too. Raycroft and starter Kari Lehtonen have been a stellar tandem this season, replacing longtime star Marty Turco.
Raycroft has a .949 save percentage and a 1.69 goals-against average while winning all four of his last starts on the road.
“Guys have lots of confidence in him. They like him. They know he works hard, and it’s a little factor but people wanting to play that extra bit harder when they’re in front of you makes a big difference,” Crawford said. “Our goaltending’s been strong all year. We haven’t had very many nights where we’ve scratched our heads.”
Pierre-Marc Bouchard hit a post with a power-play shot from the point a few seconds later, waking up the Wild and a sluggish crowd at Xcel Energy Center, and Bouchard struck the pipe again later in the period after a slick feed from Brent Burns.
The Wild had another lapse in the final minute, though, when Benn went nearly end to end with the puck—putting a deft move on Cam Barker to scoot around the defenceman in the left circle—and sent a snap shot past Theodore with 48.6 seconds before the first break.
After a scoreless second period, Neal scored on a turnaround after he drifted away from the crease and suddenly spun forward. Then Benn picked up his second goal, on a shot through traffic in the high slot.
“The effort was definitely there,” Wild forward Matt Cullen said. “We probably didn’t have the same jump we would’ve liked, but we kept ourselves in there.”
NOTES: This was Benn’s first multi-goal game this season. … Theodore was in the net for the fifth straight game because Niklas Backstrom is bothered by a lower-body injury. Backstrom is scheduled Monday to see his specialist in Vail, Colo., where he had left hip surgery in 2009. Anton Khudobin was recalled from AHL affiliate Houston to back up Theodore for the time being. … Richards and Loui Eriksson each got their 30th assist of the season on Daley’s goal. Eriksson stretched his assist streak to seven straight games. … The Wild said defenceman Marek Zidlicky doesn’t need surgery on the shoulder he hurt in the Dec. 29 game against San Jose. He’ll rehabilitate the injury instead, with the goal of returning to action in four to six weeks. … Neal is fourth on the Stars in scoring with 15 goals, which would lead the Wild by two, but this was only his second goal in the last 14 games. … The 35-year-old and two-time Stanley Cup champion Langenbrunner played 15 minutes and put three shots on net.