DALLAS (AP)—Willie Mitchell didn’t need to see the replay. Having skated into the crease to swat away a potential tying goal, he was sure he’d gotten to the puck before it trickled over the line.
“I would have gone nuts if it was called a goal,” Mitchell said.
His sanity remained. Officials agreed that Mitchell bailed out goalie Roberto Luongo with 2:33 left, preserving Vancouver’s 2-1 victory over the Dallas Stars on Tuesday night and a 3-1 lead in this first-round series.
Stars fans registered a different opinion when the play was shown on the overhead scoreboard—especially when it was frozen with the puck at its deepest point, the top of the net making it hard to tell how deep it actually went.
“Willie came to the bench and said it wasn’t in,” Canucks center Trevor Linden said. “You always ask the guy who made the play. He’s not going to lie to you.”
A tight, scoreless game broke open midway through the third period, with Mattias Ohlund scoring for Vancouver and then Darryl Sydor answering soon after for Dallas. After Linden put the Canucks back ahead by shoveling a rebound past Marty Turco with 5:31 left in regulation, Stars center Mike Ribeiro did his best to tie it again.
Outskating two defenders, Ribeiro shot it right at Luongo. The puck bounced off the goalie and began sliding oh-so-slowly toward the net, moving sideways. Mitchell got there just as it reached the goal line and swatted it away.
“Almost,” said Ribeiro, who was trying to provide the first goal this series from one of the Stars’ top-five goal-scorers from the regular season. “It was close, but not there, not enough.”
The Canucks head home knowing they may not have to make another long flight back to Texas. They can advance to the second round with a victory at home Thursday night.
Dallas could be knocked out of the first round in five games for the third straight postseason. A big part of the Stars’ problem has been an inability to win at home. This was their sixth straight home playoff loss covering those three playoffs.
If they don’t make it back, this may have been the last home game for coach Dave Tippett, and perhaps general manager Doug Armstrong, too.
Turco was solid and sometimes spectacular, but it wasn’t enough, not with the Stars wasting a 5-on-3 power play that lasted 1:55 in the first period and getting thwarted by Luongo on some of their few other good scoring chances.
“We’ve got to find a way,” captain Brenden Morrow said. “We’ve got to be a team that plays to win every one-on-one battle. Until that changes, I don’t think we’ll have success. … There were pucks laying around at our feet and those are pucks we have to come up with.”
Turco went to the bench with 1:07 left, but the Stars still couldn’t get anything past Luongo. Vancouver had a good chance for an open-net goal blocked. A 3-1 final in a Vancouver-Dallas game just wouldn’t have been right anyway. This marked the sixth time in eight meetings that the teams finished 2-1; it happened in all four regular-season meetings and the last two games of this series.
Luongo finished with 26 saves, including three impressive ones in the final 30 seconds of the second period, the last coming with his legs parallel to the ice.
Turco had 27 saves, but appears headed toward his third straight series loss since winning the first of his career. Only 20 of the 210 teams that have fallen behind 3-1 in a series have come back to win it. It last happened in 2004.
“We can do it,” Turco said. “We’ve played better when we’ve been down. I know you’ll see more desperation out of us.”
Mike Modano, the leading U.S.-born goal-scorer in NHL history, failed to record a shot despite leading all forwards in ice time and playing the second-most of all Dallas skaters. His extended action partly was due to Jussi Jokinen leaving with an undisclosed injury.
Vancouver took a penalty while on the power play for the eighth time this series. … A moment of silence was held for the victims of the Virginia Tech shooting rampage and for Gaetan Duchesne, who helped the Minnesota North Stars reach the 1991 Stanley Cup final. He died Monday at age 44. … The wife of former Dallas Cowboys fullback Daryl “Moose” Johnston was cut on the head by a puck, but returned for the third period. … Stars fans got to vote for a song to hear during the second intermission. “Canadian Idiot” by Weird Al Yankovic easily beat out cuts from Canadian natives Celine Dion and Bryan Adams.