– by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief
DALLAS — Playing one of his former teams might have just been the tonic needed for Montréal Canadiens goalkeeper Antii Niemi to break out of his personal funk — as well as give the rest of the team confidence in him as the squad continues on without the regular No. 1 starter in goal.
Niemi made 45 saves, all in regulation, before Phillip Danault scored his second goal of the game just 14 seconds into overtime as the Canadiens defeated the Dallas Stars 3-2 on Monday, the Habs’ fourth win in five.
Making his third consecutive start in place of regular goaltender Carey Price, out with a lower-body injury, Niemi allowed the fewest goals that he has conceded in any of his 11 starts this season. Before tonight, Niemi had allowed at least five goals in three of his last five starts, including six in Montréal’s 6-5 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday.
“After a tough game in Tampa I felt like I had to settle down a bit,” said Niemi, who spent two seasons with the Stars, from 2015 to 2017. “Be more patient. More calm. I think I was able to get there.”
Niemi was making back-to-back starts for the first time since Feb. 29 and Mar. 1 of 2016, when he was a member of the Stars, and he was at his best in the second period despite conceding two goals in the frame that allowed the Stars to come back from a 1-0 first-period deficit to take a 2-1 lead. In the second, Niemi stopped 22 of 24 shots.
Danault, who scored the opener for the Canadiens in the first period, tallied once again at 9:17 of the third period to tie the game at 2-2-. Of Danault’s seven goals this season, five have come in the past nine days, as he recorded a hat trick in Montréal’s victory in Vegas against the Golden Knights on Dec. 22.
“I think I’m taking more of the middle. Taking more speed and confidence,” Danault said. “Sometimes when you score goals it helps you with your confidence, which it did. And my wingers are playing well with a lot of speed.”
The Canadiens ended the game on the first shift of overtime as, after a face-off win by center Max Domi, winger Paul Byron skated up the ice with speed before playing a cross-ice pass to Petry, who beat Stars goaltender Ben Bishop with his eighth goal of the season to give the Canadiens the come-from-behind win.
Radek Faksa scored at 3:02 of the second period for the Stars to tie the game before Jamie Benn tallied his 16th goal on the power play at 16:34 to give Dallas its first and only lead. It was the first goal scored by Benn since he and teammate Tyler Seguin were publicly criticized by Stars CEO Jim Lites on Friday. Seguin recorded the primary assist on Benn’s goal.
“We had our two best practices consecutively and we’ve played well these last two games here,” Stars head coach Jim Montgomery said. “We just have to keep doing it every day. That’s been the biggest challenge with our group, is being good every day.”
*Editor’s note: Above the byline is the photo gallery from Monday’s game, with all photos taken by Dallas-area photographer Ross James. After clicking on the first photo to enlarge the picture, make sure to press the left and right arrow buttons to scroll through the rest of the pictures. There are 15 pictures in total.