Rookie Radek Faksa’s opportunistic goal was the right tonic the Dallas Stars needed to throw the first salvo in their Western Conference second-round playoff series against the St. Louis Blues.
Faksa’s goal was the game-winner with 4:44 left Friday night as the Stars pulled out a 2-1 victory over the Blues at American Airlines Center to take the opener of this best-of-seven series. Game 2 will be at AAC at 2 p.m. Sunday before the series shifts to St. Louis for Games 3 and 4.
On the winning goal, Blues goalie Brian Elliott had denied Ales Hemsky’s shot, but Faksa was at the right spot at the right time and tapped in the rebound in front of a sellout crowd of 18,532.
“I thought we played a good game,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. “I thought our energy was good and got better as the game went on. I thought we skated well, I thought we defended well, I thought we were physical.
“That’s a good start to the series for us.”
It was just the second goal of the playoffs for Faksa, and it speaks to the depth the Stars have amassed.
“That’s the only way we can win the playoffs,” center Jason Spezza said. “We need big games from different guys to step up at different times.
“We can work on some things, but our lines have been really good for us and they continued to be good for us tonight.”
The victory capped a night when the Blues had 32 shots on goal — many of them right near the net — and Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen put on a sterling performance.
“In a playoff series you need your goaltenders, and we have two great ones and it’s going to be ebbs and flows of games,” Spezza said. “They had some shifts where they took over, and Kari did a good job of getting whistles and making big close saves, and he did a good job staying with the things we needed him to.”
The Stars had 14 shots on goal to seven for the Blues in the first quarter. But neither team could crack the scoreboard.
Ironically, the Stars scored their first goal of the game a few minutes after a roar came from the crowd when Dallas Mavericks superstar forward Dirk Nowitzki was shown on the Jumbotron hanging out in a suite. Antoine Roussel scored the goal with 10:24 remaining in the second period after receiving assists from John Klingberg and Faksa.
St. Louis tied the game 1-1 with 8:28 left to play on a goal by Kevin Shattenkirk. That score came via assists from Colton Parayko and Patrik Berglund.
Undaunted, the Stars dug deep and knocked in the winning goal less than four minutes later.
“It was nice to get the goal pretty quickly and make it 2-1,” Lehtonen said. “It’s always tight when it’s one goal in a hockey game in the third in the playoffs.
“You have to win games like this, and it was a good showing from us.”
Not just his own spectacular defense, Lehtonen spoke of the job his teammates did in holding down the Blues.
“It reminded me of the first couple of games [in the first round of the playoffs] against Minnesota,” Lehtonen said. “It’s just playing smart hockey.
“We were in the right spots and everybody was doing their job and that makes it easier.”
And on this night, it was the rookie (Faksa) who made life easy for the Stars.
“He brings enthusiasm with a big smile on his face — his willingness to do whatever it takes to win right now.
“He’s having a great time, he’s a kid that enjoys every minute he plays. You can see it in his game. There isn’t a battle that he doesn’t want to engage in, there isn’t a play he quits on and his play has been infectious for our team.”
Stars vs. Blues
2 p.m. Sunday, KXAS/5