COLUMBUS, Ohio – So bunched is the Western Conference playoff race that no one wants to come up just short and regret a point or two that slipped away.
For at least another night, the Dallas Stars don’t have to worry.
James Neal scored the only goal in the shootout and Marty Turco had 41 saves Monday night to lead the Dallas Stars past the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-2.
“I guarantee you we’re going to come down to that last week (of the season) and you’re going to be thinking about points you could have had,” Dallas coach Dave Tippett said.
Neal, 6-for-9 in shootouts this season, slipped the puck past Steve Mason on the glove side. Turco, tested all night, then made a blocker save on Blue Jackets captain Rick Nash to preserve the win.
“You want to step up. You want to be a big player and contribute,” said Neal, who came in with four goals and an assist in three games against Columbus this season. “I want to be a guy who can put the puck in the net in big situations.”
The teams came in tied with Anaheim for sixth place in the West with 61 points.
“This race has the chance of being one of the all-time tightest,” said Turco, 14-1-2 against Columbus. “If you look at (the teams in positions) five through 15, everyone has a sniff. The teams that can focus on themselves and play well down the stretch, get the special teams a-rockin’ and get good goaltending, those teams are going to have the best chance.”
Dallas’ Brad Richards scored 27 seconds in, before most of the crowd of 15,006 had settled in. Loui Eriksson collected his 27th to tie it in the second period.
Richards took a hard check midway through the second period and skated to the bench holding his right wrist. He didn’t return. Tippett said he would be evaluated Tuesday.
R.J. Umberger had both of the Blue Jackets’ goals in a span of 1:29 in the second period – the fastest goals ever by a Columbus player.
Problem was, he didn’t get much help, Blue Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock said.
“We have to get more help from our people up front if we expect to go to the next level,” he said. “We don’t have enough consistency from some people. We need to address some of our forwards’ play, to find a way to help them get more from their own game. If we’re going to be a playoff team … we need to get more from some people.”
Turco faced a season-high 43 shots, including a 20-shot assault in the second period.
“Turcs was great today, Eriksson said. “He’s been amazing. To (stop) the three shots in the shootout, too, that’s what we want from him. He’s been incredible.”
Richards gave Dallas a 1-0 lead just 27 seconds in. He tried a quick wraparound that Mason stopped, then jammed in the rebound for his 16th of the season.
Columbus, last in the league on the power play, came up with the game-tying goal with a man advantage at 6:17 of the second. Kris Russell’s one-timer from the left point resulted in a short rebound and Umberger backhanded the puck past Turco.
On Umberger’s next shift, he was again at the doorstep to clean up Christian Backman’s drive from the right point.
The Stars then tied it 2-2 on a nifty saucer pass along the goal line from Trevor Daley to Eriksson.
The Stars weathered a Blue Jackets power play in the third and two in the overtime – the latter lasting only the final eight seconds. Turco turned aside hard shots by Nash and Manny Malhotra. Columbus defenceman Fedor Tyutin was just wide with a man-advantage blast from the high slot in the final seconds of the extra period.
Dallas continued its mastery of the Blue Jackets, improving to 24-4-4 since Columbus joined the league in 2000-01.
The Blue Jackets were trying to get six games over .500 for the first time in franchise history. Instead, they got only one point – and weren’t happy about it.
“We’ve had games like this, where we outplayed the other team and didn’t win the game,” Hitchcock said. “When we went up 2-1 and had all those chances, we left the game out there.”
Notes: While calling a first-period penalty, referee Don Koharski turned on his microphone too early and yelled at Columbus RW Derek Dorsett: “Shut your mouth or you’ll get four (minutes)! Don’t even try me!” … Moments later, Daley served a hooking penalty – and tripped and fell coming out of the box, touching off peals of laughter. … Richards’ early goal was the quickest to start a game by a Stars player or against the Blue Jackets this season. … The previous record for fastest goals by a Columbus player was 1:42 by Malhotra against Nashville in 2004.