DALLAS – Nashville rookie Michael Santorelli was nervous before his first NHL shootout attempt. His coach wouldn’t have known what to think if he hadn’t been.
Santorelli beat Dallas goalie Marty Turco in the fifth round, giving the Predators a 3-2 victory over the Stars in the season opener Saturday night. “If he wasn’t nervous, then I would say we’ve got something really special here because even the great players will get a little nervous in the shootout, especially at sudden death,” Nashville coach Barry Trotz said.
The Predators earned the win when Dan Ellis stopped Loui Eriksson a day after the Stars’ leading goal-scorer from last season signed a US$25.5-million, six-year contract extension. The only other goals in the shootout came back-to-back when Mike Ribeiro scored for Dallas and David Legwand answered.
“I just wanted to give the team a chance to win,” Santorelli said. “I watched what (Turco) was doing, then went with the move I’m most confident in. I didn’t want to second-guess myself.”
Nashville’s Jason Arnott scored against his former team less than two minutes into the game when he crammed in his own rebound after a wraparound shot was stopped by Turco. Arnott caused another rebound that Steve Sullivan slipped under Turco for a 2-0 lead in the second period.
Dallas looked out of sync for two periods in the first game under new coach Marc Crawford, but pulled even when James Neal scored twice in less than five minutes spanning the second and third periods.
Neal’s first goal was an off-balance flip of a rebound with 9.3 seconds left in the second. Neal tied the score 4:05 into final period when a pass attempt from Nashville goalie Dan Ellis ended up on his stick for an easy shot.
“It was a gift, but I’ll take those any day,” Neal said.
The goals by Neal kept Dallas from losing a season opener in regulation at home for the first time since moving to Dallas 16 years ago.
The Stars pressed Ellis in the third period, ultimately getting 40 shots to 26 for the Predators. But Ellis turned away back-to-back power plays midway through the final period, and made a good save on a strong chance for Ribeiro at the 5:30 mark.
“You do have to take the positives out of it,” Ribeiro said. “We were down 2-0 but didn’t put our heads down. We kept pushing and pushing.”
Dallas had to survive a Nashville power play for the final 35 seconds of regulation after Turco turned away a great scoring chance for Sullivan. Brad Richards was called for slashing trying to prevent a goal on the rebound.
The Stars’ Karlis Skrastins had a breakaway chance in the final seconds but missed wide.
Both teams had to fight off 4-on-3 power plays in overtime, and Turco made a solid stop on a Martin Erat shot with a little more than a minute remaining.
“I thought we deserved better with the way we played,” Turco said. “Personally I felt pretty good. On those goals there wasn’t much I could do.”
For two periods, the Stars looked like a team in transition, which they are because Crawford wants an attacking style that’s quite different from the conservative approach of former coach Dave Tippett, who was fired when Dallas missed the playoffs a year after reaching the Western Conference finals.
Dallas seemed to warm up in the third, moving the puck more smoothly and keeping the pressure on Ellis, who came up through the Stars’ farm system.
“I thought we took the game to Nashville when we started using our size and strength and depth we have through our lineup,” Crawford said. “If we get that kind of effort, on most nights we’ll be successful.”
NOTES: Stars C Mike Modano left the ice briefly with 2 minutes left in overtime but returned for the shootout, missing on the fourth Dallas shot. The Stars said he had an upper body injury. … Stars RW Jere Lehtinen missed the opener while still nursing hip and groin injuries. He went through a full practice for the first time Friday and could play Tuesday at Edmonton. … Predators RW Jordin Tootoo was out with a groin injury.