With bad ice and few great chances, this one was hardly a work of art.
But the Toronto Maple Leafs gutted out a 4-3 shootout win on Friday night in Big D, stealing two points against a tight-checking Dallas Stars team despite having a tough time just putting pucks on Kari Lehtonen all night.
Ultimately, Joffrey Lupul was the difference maker, scoring the only goal in the skills competition to earn a little vindication after taking an ugly high stick to the head that went uncalled late in the third.
That was enough to decide it, given this was the kind of game that could have gone either way right to the end, with a bounce here or there – including a post hit by the Stars in the shootout – deciding the winner.
So on what was a really tough night for the officials, a shootout was probably the fitting outcome – even if Dallas likely deserved the two points just a little more.
What made the win impressive for Toronto was they pulled it off minus two key bodies in defenceman Carl Gunnarsson and centre David Steckel, who both left in the second period after blocking shots with their hands.
"The bench got kind of short," Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. "But we weathered a couple storms. The Monster obviously came up big in the third period in a few situations."
"That was a hard fought game," defenceman Luke Schenn said. "That's just the way you've got to play, especially on the road. It wasn't fancy at all, but we worked for the full 65 minutes and luckily we got it done in the shootout."
It was the Stars who opened the game’s scoring only four minutes into the game, with winger Eric Nystrom left unchecked and able to beat Jonas Gustavsson glove side.
Toronto tied things midway through the period as Joey Crabb tipped in a Dion Phaneuf point shot while screening Lehtonen.
The Leafs struck again a few minutes later, belting a slap shot through Lehtonen on the power play to make it 2-1 and improve the Leafs to 11 of 26 on the man advantage in their last eight games.
Nystrom scored again in the second, finishing off a pretty passing play for his second of the night and seventh of the season.
Not bad for a guy who recently cleared re-entry waivers.
The Stars then held Toronto to without a shot deep into the third period, getting beat just once when Tim Connolly wired a pinpoint pass off Clarke MacArthur’s skate and in to go up 3-2 with 13 minutes left in regulation.
Dallas didn’t flinch, however, and had another equalizer a few minutes later, with checker in Radek Dvorak doing the honours to send the game to overtime and eventually a shootout.
"Even with the guys that went down and the guys that had to play more minutes, it was a big character game for us," Phaneuf said. "We'll take the two points and move forward."
The controversial calls
Two key plays in the third period went without calls, with the first a big hit by Schenn that injured Stars youngster Tomas Vincour and had fans calling for a look from NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan.
Not long after, with Toronto already on the power play and the game tied, Lupul was whacked in the head with Sheldon Souray's stick and went down hard behind the Stars net.
He had a big welt on his cheek when he spoke with the media after the game. He said the stick hit him so hard it cracked his visor.
"He said he missed it," Lupul said of the explanation he got from official Kyle Raymond. "He was only three feet away."
PK picks up
Chalk up another perfect penalty kill for Toronto.
After starting the year as god awful as ever when down a man, the Leafs went 4-for-4 in Dallas and have now killed 35 of 40 penalties (88 per cent) in their last 11 games.
"Great penalty killing tonight," Wilson said. "I don't even think they got a scoring chance on their power play."
There was bad news for the shorthanded units on the injury front, however. If Gunnarsson or Steckel are out for extended periods, staying perfect on the PK is going to be a harder task than ever.
"They couldn't finish the game," Wilson said. "They both got shots in the fingers so we'll see how they are tomorrow and go from there."
The injuries meant for huge minutes for some of the blueliners, with rookie Jake Gardiner leading the team with more than 28 and Schenn picking up a season-high 27.
"Other guys have got to pick their game up and step up," Schenn said. "We hope the guys are all right."
Phaneuf on fire
Phaneuf’s two first period points gives him to 18 in 23 games on the year, good enough to tie him for third in scoring by defencemen in the NHL.
He has been especially hot of late, with six points in his last four games, three of which have been wins.
The Leafs captain is well on his way to bettering his point totals from the last two seasons, when he had only 32 and 30 points.
Leafs fans do Dallas
There was an odd moment midway through the second period when a “Go Leafs Go” chant started up at the American Airlines Center.
After struggling with attendance all season, the Stars drew an impressive 18,532 fans for their first sellout of the season on Friday – thanks at least in part to the many Leafs fans in the crowd.
That’ll bump up their average on the year, which was under 11,000 a game and better than only the Phoenix Coyotes coming in.Report Typo/Error
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