VANCOUVER – The Dallas Stars are riding a late-season surge to make the playoffs and need a win on the road over the Western Conference leaders.
And Richard Bachman, their rookie goalie, is facing a penalty shot a few seconds after the opening face-off.
No pressure, right?
Bachman stood his ground against Zack Kassian and saw the puck dribble off the Canuck rookie’s stick, then settled in and backstopped the Stars to a 5-2 win over Vancouver Tuesday that put Dallas in first place in the Pacific Division.
“Starting off with a penalty shot to warm up is never what you want to see as a goalie,” said the 24-year-old Salt Lake City native with 16 NHL games under his belt.
“Once that was done it kind of helped settle me in and after the first period I really got comfortable,” Bachman said.
It was only his second start ahead of Kari Lehtonen in 17 games, and he remained poised even after giving up the game’s first goal.
“I guess I fooled you guys,” Bachman said when told he appeared pretty calm after he misplayed a shoot-in leading to another early chance by Henrik Sedin.
“In the first period I actually felt some jitters. It was the first NHL game I started in Canada. The atmosphere was amazing.”
The lack of recent playing time didn’t seem to faze Bachman, who improved to 8-3-1.
“You may not get too many more (starts),” he said after Dallas won for the seventh time in eight games. “It’s come ready and have fun with it.”
Mike Ribeiro scored twice to give the Stars 2-1 and 4-2 leads. Loui Eriksson started the comeback late in the second period, Jamie Benn got what proved to be the winner and Stephane Robidas scored into an empty net.
Chris Higgins opened the scoring 26 minutes 45 seconds into what began as a tight-checking contest.
Alex Edler drew the Canucks to within a goal at 3-2 with a shot that deflected behind Bachman off a defender’s stick.
Dallas (36-26-5) swept a three-game Western Canada road trip and ended a string of five losses on Vancouver ice to continue a drive for a first Western Conference playoff berth since 2008.
The Canucks (41-18-8) lost ground in their bid for the NHL’s overall lead by dropping their second game in a row at home.
Vancouver also lost a second straight game in regulation for the first time since early November to fall a point behind St. Louis in the Western Conference.
The ever-patient Stars capitalized on odd-man rushes and Vancouver defensive zone turnovers.
Ribeiro scored with 23 seconds remaining in the second period and less than three minutes after Eriksson counted his fifth goal in six games.
“We’ll take that,” Ribeiro said of the late goals.
“We won a lot of battles along the boards. We chipped the puck. They’re a team that likes to pinch and we were able to win those battles and create two-on-ones.
“Most of the time teams will break or make a mistake and you can score and we just stuck with it.”
Benn had several close calls around Canuck netminder Roberto Luongo but finally produced what proved to be the game-winner as Dallas came from behind to beat Vancouver for the second straight game.
“I was just unlucky but it was good to get that one,” the Victoria native said after Steve Ott created a Canuck turnover. “It was a big goal.”
Sedin, the former scoring champion who’s mired in a season-high six-game pointless drought, said the Canucks had plenty of chances but paid for defensive breakdowns.
“We made a few mistakes but had enough chances to win the game,” Sedin said after his club fired 31 shots on Bachman. “The breakdowns we had turned into goals for them.
“There comes a time when creating chances isn’t good enough. You have to score goals to win games.”
The number of giveaways wasn’t lost on Luongo, who made 24 saves.
“Obviously that’s not the type of hockey we want to be playing,” he said. “Luckily they didn’t connect on most of them.
“A lot of their goals came from right around the goalmouth. I don’t know what to make of it.”
Daniel Sedin, who has only an assist to show for his last six games, said the Canucks need to stay positive.
“It’s tough when you lose and you’re not contributing,” he said. “We’ve done some things over the last few years and we can’t really panic, just keep working hard.”
Working hard with no passengers has been the key to Dallas’s late-season run, Bachman said.
“Every guy looks the same out there. Everyone’s doing the little things, getting pucks deep. We’re getting timely goal-scoring from some of our big players.
“Everything’s kind of come together at the right time and the biggest thing is just hard work.”
Notes: The Stars lost Daley for most of the first period when Burrows fell on him during a goalmouth scrum. … Vancouver outscored the Stars 20-5 in winning all four games between the clubs last season. … Their four meetings this campaign are compressed into a 34-day period. … The Canucks play a franchise-record 11 home games in March.