The Dallas Stars learned a tough lesson about playing a complete 60 minutes.
After giving up a short-handed goal early in the third period and then the game-winner late on a missed coverage in the defensive zone, the Stars found themselves on the short end of a 3-2 decision against the Calgary Flames Wednesday night at the American Airlines Center.
Even with the defeat, the Stars still own a stellar 9-2-0 mark in their last 11 outings and maintain a healthy lead atop the Pacific Division. But the way they let this one slip away gnawed at their recent sense of prosperity.
“We just made some crucial errors at the wrong time that cost us the game,” Stars coach Dave Tippett said. “A shorthanded goal and we give up a goal where we were outraced on an icing. I didn’t think we did enough to create enough chances, but you rely on the whole group to do that and we didn’t have the whole group on board tonight. We talk about scoring by committee - we need the committee to show up every night, and we had too many guys on the outside looking in there tonight.”
Niklas Hagman and Mattias Norstrom scored the goals for Dallas, while goaltender Marty Turco made 15 saves in goal.
For Calgary, goaltender Curtis Joseph, making just his second start since signing with Calgary on Jan. 16, stopped 29 shots to earn his 447th career triumph, tying him with the legendary Terry Sawchuk for fourth on the NHL’s career list.
The Flames, locked in a life-and-death battle to make the playoffs, were the more desperate team and played that way, opportunistically capitalizing on their few chances.
“I think more times that not, desperation wins games in this league and they won some key battles that cost us tonight,” captain Brenden Morrow said. “We always talk about creating momentum with our power play, and we didn’t do that tonight. We didn’t sustain pressure on them and we didn’t match their effort at times. We were prepared for a desperate team and we know we’ll see a lot of teams in that same boat down the stretch.”
This game ended up coming down to one play, as Flame captain Jarome Iginla was left alone in the slot and snapped a quick one-timer past Turco with just 2:27 to play for the game-winner. First, Daymond Langkow beat Nicklas Grossman to a dump-in behind the Dallas net to nullify a potential icing, and then Stephane Robidas left the front of the net to try to pressure Langkow, but the Flames’ center made a nifty backhand pass out front to Iginla, who beat Turco between the pads for his 38th goal of the year.
“I don’t know how you could leave Iginla in front of the net, but we did,” Tippett said. “That’s the difference in the game.”
“It was almost an icing and they were chasing for it,” Robidas explained. “The puck went behind the net and we lose a little bit of composure there. I should have stayed in front and tried to block that pass. It’s my bad there, I should have made sure that pass doesn’t come back in front, and I was a little bit too aggressive there. I wanted to close the guy in the corner there, but I didn’t do it, so that’s what happened.”
After that, the Stars pressed for the equalizer, but were unable to connect, as Hagman’s point-blank wrist shot from the right face-off circle sailed just over the crossbar with 1:35 to go.
With 30 seconds left, Tippett pulled Turco for an extra attacker, and Mike Ribeiro nearly tied it 10 seconds later as he swatted the puck chest-high out of mid-air from in front, but Joseph made the save and managed to smother the rebound as a mass of bodies converged on him.
Joseph then had to turn aside Mike Modano’s wrist shot from the right circle with 15 seconds remaining to clinch his historic win.
“It was a tough one because we let them hang around,” Norstrom said. “You have to give them credit because they knew they were just one shot away from winning and they got that one shot. We always hang around games and are in close games, but Calgary got that important last goal. We look at this game as a hiccup. We’ve been playing great hockey as of late.”
Entering the final period deadlocked 1-1, the Stars went on the power play almost immediately, as Craig Conroy was whistled for hooking just three seconds in.
Unfortunately for the Stars, an agonizingly close scoring chance turned into a shorthanded goal against just 30 seconds into the period. Robidas drilled a slap shot from the blue line through a screen that managed to squeeze through Joseph. Then, as it trickled towards the goal line, Calgary defenseman Cory Sarich, who had lost four teeth earlier in the game but finally returned, managed to get to the puck and clear it off the goal line.
Sarich’s clear was picked up in the neutral zone by Alex Tanguay, and he sped into the Dallas zone, made a slick move to cut into the middle and launched a scorching wrist shot from the high slot that beat Turco over the shoulder. It was Tanguay’s second goal of the game and 13th of the season.
“It always hurts when you give a goal when you are on the power play,” Robidas said. “It’s part of the game. You see that oftentimes, you miss at one end of the ice, and they go back the other side and they score.”
But the Stars rebounded quickly, as Norstrom collected his first goal of the season - and in a Stars’ uniform - with six seconds remaining in the man advantage. After taking a cross-ice pass from Modano, Norstrom blasted a slap shot from the top of the left face-off circle, and with Steve Ott attempting to deflect it in front, the puck whizzed over Joseph’s glove to tie it 2-2.
The goal, initially credited to Ott, was later changed to Norstrom. Ott indicated he never touched it.
“Mo made a great pass to Nordie and Nordie bombed it,” Ott said. “I waved my stick at it, I couldn’t sleep at night if I said I hit it. A great shot by Nordie and it went in.”
Each team had several chances as the third period wound down, but neither could capitalize until Iginla’s late heroics.
Trailing 1-0 going into the second period, Dallas evened the score just 16 seconds in on Hagman’s 22nd of the season - and fourth in four games against Calgary. The Stars controlled the puck off the opening face-off and Grossman hit Hagman with a pass at the Calgary blue line, sending the speedy winger down the left side. Once he reached the left circle, Hagman launched a wicked wrist shot that beat Joseph over the shoulder to make it 1-1.
Dallas, with much of the momentum now, kept pressing and almost took the lead 4:55 into the second as Morrow’s point-blank wrist shot was stopped by Joseph, but the puck bounced high up in the air and landed in the middle of the crease. A mad scramble ensued, but the puck was cleared out.
The Stars had another prime opportunity while on a power play 7:15 in, as Morrow fed a perfect pass out of the right corner to a charging Modano in front, but Joseph made a larcenous stop on the resulting one-timer. The rebound kicked right back to Modano, but he couldn’t quite corral it and then shoveled it wide.
Right after that penalty expired, Calgary went back the other way on the counter-attack, as Stephane Yelle ripped a quick wrist shot off the rush from the right circle that Turco kicked out. The rebound spit out into the slot, and Matthew Lombardi, who had torched the Stars for three goals in the three previous meetings between the clubs this year, backhanded it just wide.
The Stars continued to put the clamps on Calgary defensively, as the Flames managed just three shots in the second period after four in the first.
The contest got off to a rousing start, as just 52 second in, Ott squared off with Iginla in a fight. Iginla seemed to have the better of it until Ott took him down.
“Jarome’s a competitor, he’s a big strong guy, he’s definitely an in-your-face type of player,” Ott said. “He scores, he fights, he does it all and for myself, maybe a little conflict of personalities, so just a hockey fight.”
The Stars’ first scoring chance came 6:30 in as Jere Lehtinen ripped a quick snap shot from the high slot off the rush that Joseph managed to snag with his glove.
With 7:58 remaining in the period, a well-rested Iginla unleashed a bomb of a slap shot from above the right circle that Turco just managed to get a piece of with his glove and send it over the net.
About a minute and a half later, though, the Flames took the lead on a power play on Tanguay’s first of the night. Turco made a nice kick save through traffic on Adrian Aucoin’s slap shot from the blue line, but the rebound bounced out to the right of the net, where Tanguay made an incredible backhand shot from an almost impossible angle that sailed over a sliding Turco’s glove at 13:29.
The Flames nearly made it a 2-0 game on another power play about three minutes later, but this time, Aucoin’s blast from the blue line was deflected in front by Langkow, but it clanged off the post, rolled behind Turco in the crease and out the other side.
The Stars will complete a three-game homestand with a matchup Friday night (7:30pm, my27) against Edmonton. It will be the fourth and final meeting between the clubs this season, and the Stars will be going for a clean 4-0-0 sweep, having won the three previous contests.
Edmonton will be another desperate team, as they linger on the fringes of the playoff race, sitting 14th (next-to-last) in the Western Conference, but nine points back of eighth place Vancouver.
“We get back on the ice and look for Edmonton,” Ott said of how the Stars bounce back from this loss. “They’re another desperate team, I think every team we’re going to be facing the rest of the way is going to be desperate to get in the playoffs, and for us, we have to play that way. We have to play our game and bury the bottom-tier teams.”
- Norstrom’s goal came in his 69th contest with the Stars: 14 at the end of last season, seven playoff games, and this marked his 48th outing in 2007-08. His last goal came while he was still with the Los Angeles Kings on Jan. 13, 2007 at St. Louis, 77 regular season games ago.
- Hagman scored for the second straight game and extended his career high to 22, third on the club behind Morrow and Ribeiro’s 24. Hagman also fired a game-high five shots on goal.
- Grossman’s assist on Hagman’s goal gives him helpers in consecutive games for the first time in the NHL, after he had just one assist in the previous 12 outings. He is still looking for his first NHL goal after 57 career games.
- Modano’s assist on Norstrom’s goal leaves him with seven points (one goal, six assists) in his last six games.
- Center Stu Barnes, who had been one of eight Stars to have suited up for every game this season, sat out his first of the season with a partially torn retina, after taking a particularly hard check during Sunday’s win over Detroit. He underwent successful surgery on Monday and is listed as being out for 7-10 days.
- The Stars had killed off all 15 Calgary power plays during their three previous meetings this season, then surrendered one on the Flames’ first opportunity in this one.
- The Stars still own an impressive 11-4-1 record against teams from the Northwest Division so far this season, including a 2-1-1 mark against Calgary that closes out the season series.
- Even with this loss, Marty Turco is 12-6-3 against the Flames over his career with a goals-against-average under 2.00 and three shutouts.
- There was a moment of silence before the game in honor of Mickey Renaud, a Calgary draft pick who suddenly passed away at 17 the other day, due to unknown causes.