How quickly things can change in the world of hockey.
A little over a week ago, the Dallas Stars were rolling along on a 13-2-0 tear following the All-Star break, and their potent offense had piled up 21 goals in their last four games - all wins, as they inched to within three points of first overall.
But after managing just one goal for the third straight game in dropping a 3-1 decision to the Colorado Avalanche Saturday afternoon at the Pepsi Center, the Stars have now lost three in a row.
Dallas, who had outscored opponents 30-18 while going 8-1-0 in their previous nine road contests, have seen their lead atop the Pacific Division shrink to just one point over San Jose (who have three games in hand) and four over Anaheim. They still trail Detroit for first in the West - and overall in the league - by seven.
Once again, the Stars faced another opponent desperate for points in the seventh-place Avalanche, who entered the day just two points ahead of ninth-place Vancouver. Colorado won their season-high sixth consecutive contest, allowing just eight goals over that span.
Antti Miettinen scored the lone Dallas goal while Marty Turco was outstanding in net, making 25 saves, several of them of the spectacular variety. The Stars took a 1-0 lead into the third period, but were unable to build on it, and ultimately, failed to keep it.
“It’s tough to lose when we fought hard, got the first goal and Marty gave us a chance to win,” captain Brenden Morrow said. “We didn’t finish it and we have to know that no lead is safe, especially on the road against a hungry team. We are kidding ourselves if we think we’ll win and go deep, playing like this.”
Veteran center Peter Forsberg, skating in just his third game since signing with the Avs on Feb. 25 and the 700th of his career, collected his first two assists of the season, while Andrew Brunette and Paul Stastny each scored a goal and an assist, to fuel Colorado’s third period comeback.
“We kind of faded as the game went on,” said center Mike Modano, who fired three shots on goal in 17:42 of ice time. “Holding onto a 1-0 lead on the road isn’t an easy task and we needed to realize that. We are trying to create an atmosphere of urgency and playing our best game and not second-guessing ourselves. We can get to that level and we need to see what we’re made of with some tough games left.”
One of those tough ones on the schedule comes about 26 hours later, as both clubs return to Dallas to face off in the second leg of a home-and-home series Sunday evening at the American Airlines Center.
“As we move on, we have to generate offense under pressure and match the intensity of the game,” Stars coach Dave Tippett said. “We have to be willing to get done what we need to. It’s less about combinations and more about execution.”
Holding a 1-0 lead entering the final period, the Stars almost went up by two four minutes in on Modano’s fierce backhander from the slot through a screen, but Colorado goaltender Jose Theodore made a nice save.
Colorado then counter-attacked and 13 seconds later, Turco was forced to make two big saves, first stopping Jordan Leopold’s shot from the slot and then turning aside Wojtek Wolski’s point-blank rebound chance.
The Stars then received a scare about five minutes in when Morrow was checked by Avalanche defender Jeff Finger - a blatant interference penalty, which was called - that forced the back of Morrow’s head into the stanchion at the end of the bench. Morrow stayed down for awhile before slowly making his way off the ice, but he would return.
“It was more my neck than my head, but I feel pretty good,” Morrow said.
Not longer after that, Colorado evened the score on Scott Hannan’s second goal of the season - and first in 42 games - at 7:30. Brunette controlled the puck in the left circle and fed Hannan as he backed into the top of the crease, and Hannan managed to swat it between Turco’s pads and in.
About 30 seconds later, the Avalanche, clearly buoyed with momentum from the goal, came back again, as Forsberg shoveled a pass from the top of the left face-off circle that Brunette, deflected in front, but Turco made the save.
Then midway through the period, Modano was flattened by a check, this one by newly-acquired Avalanche defenseman Ruslan Salei, with whom he’s had run-ins before. Modano stayed down in pain for several moments before slowly skating off, but like Morrow, he would make it back out onto the ice.
Shortly afterwards, Colorado’s power play unit, which entered the day ranked dead last in the 30-team NHL, struck for the game-winner. Brunette, camped in front, deftly deflected Forsberg’s waist-high pass from the right boards out of mid-air and past Turco for his 15th of the season to put the Avs up 2-1 at 10:12.
The Stars nearly tied it back up less than a minute later, as Morrow, charging into the slot, re-directed Loui Eriksson’s long pass from the top of the right circle past Theodore, but it clanged off the crossbar - the second time in the game the Stars struck iron.
Turco made back-to-back saves to keep the Stars within striking distance with 5:15 to go, as Avalanche rookie David Jones swept in alone on him and tried to slip the puck between his pads. Turco denied that, and then Tyler Arnason’s point-blank rebound chance as well.
Dallas began to press for the equalizer late, with perhaps their best opportunity coming with 2:35 remaining, as Stephane Robidas boomed a slap shot from the blue line that Theodore somehow managed to save through a maze of bodies. The rebound lay loose for several seconds, but Theodore smothered it before Niklas Hagman or Toby Petersen could get to it.
Then 20 seconds later, Stu Barnes’ wrap-around attempt slid through the crease, and center Brad Richards seemed to have an open net for a moment, but his shot from the right side of the crease got just enough of a sliding Theodore to get shunted just wide of the post.
The Stars then pulled Turco for an extra attacker with 1:01 on the clock, but were unable to generate another significant opportunity. Stastny then put the game away with an empty-net goal with just three seconds left.
“It was a tight game through two periods,” Tippett said. “When they put extra pressure on and grabbed momentum with their first goal, we couldn’t get it back.”
Leading 1-0 going into the second, the Stars had the period’s first prime scoring chance about 5:45 in as Mike Ribeiro, from the right side half-boards, fed into the slot to a cutting Morrow, who re-directed it on net, but Theodore made the save.
Then on a power play, about a minute and a half later, Trevor Daley blasted a slap shot from the top of the left face-off circle, but Theodore stymied him with a shoulder save.
With about six minutes left in the second, Turco made a huge stop on Milan Hejduk’s backhander from the left circle with considerable traffic in front and then another one 50 seconds later on Cody McLeod’s wrister from the slot.
Rookie defenseman Matt Niskanen, playing in his second game since missing three with a bruised foot, was shaken up at the buzzer ending the second after he was nailed by Cody McCormick, but he did return for the third, although he left the ice again later in the final period.
“Niskanen will be re-evaluated tomorrow,” Tippett said. “He is fighting through some bumps and bruises to get up to speed.”
Colorado had the game’s first opportunity as McLeod received a nice pass out of the left corner from Jones and fired a one-timer from the slot, but Turco made a nice blocker save.
Dallas then jumped on the board first for the first time in five games as Miettinen connected for his 14th goal of the season at 8:56 on a power play. Robidas fired a snap shot from the top of the left circle that Theodore kicked out with his pad, but the rebound went right to Miettinen alone in the slot, and he Finnish winger popped it over him.
The Stars nearly went up by two less than a minute later, as Ribeiro carried into the Colorado zone and curled just inside the blue line along the right sideboards before finding a breaking Steve Ott through the slot. Ott re-directed it on net and Theodore made the stop, but the rebound kicked out to right to Eriksson. A sprawling Theodore got just enough of Eriksson’s one-timer as it squeezed through him to send it just wide of the post.
Then less than a minute after that, Richards nearly picked up his first goal as a Star, as he led a rush into the Avalanche zone and ripped a wicked wrist shot from the slot that pinged off the goalpost.
With 3:50 left in the first, Turco made a key blocker save on Finger after the Colorado defender slickly stick-handled his way into the slot before unleashing a quick wrist shot through a screen.
Then, with the Avalanche on a power play, Turco made an incredible series of four straight saves to maintain the Stars’ lead with 16 seconds left in the period. Forsberg carried in deep on the left side, then slid a nice cross-ice pass to a cutting Jordan Leopold at the right side of the crease, but a sliding Turco thwarted Leopold’s one-timer. The rebound ended up in the slot, where Stastny eked it through Mattias Norstrom and Turco got his skate in front of it, and then he made another stop with an outstretched pad on John-Michael Liles’ rebound attempt.
Both teams now travel back to the Metroplex to face-off again Sunday evening at the American Airlines Center (7pm start, my27) in the second leg of the back-to-back.
- Miettinen’s goal was just his second in the last 12 games.
- Robidas’ assist on Miettinen’s goal snapped a six-game pointless drought and gave him 19 points, leaving him just one shy of his career high set in 2005-06.
Robidas also launched three shots on goal, tied for the team lead, and blocked a team-high three shots while leading the team in ice time with 25:52.
- Richards now has six assists in a Stars uniform since his acquisition at the trade deadline on Feb. 26.
- After leaving Wednesday’s 2-1 loss to Phoenix after just 14 seconds with a shoulder injury, defenseman Philippe Boucher sat out this one. He’s currently listed as week-to-week. Taking his place in the lineup was rookie Nicklas Grossman, who was a healthy scratch on Wednesday. Grossman skated 18:14 with one shot and blocked one shot.
- Theodore came into the contest sporting a 1-8-3 record and a 3.39 goals-against average in his career in the regular season versus the Stars.
- Turco, the franchise’s all-time leader in wins, missed his third chance to collect his 30th triumph of the season, which would give him five straight years of 30 or more. Only the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, New Jersey star Martin Brodeur, has more consecutive 30-win seasons (12) among active goalies.
- The Stars fell to 5-2-1 this season in afternoon contests and still boast an impressive 26-5-2 mark over the last four seasons in games that begin at 3 pm or earlier.
- In scoring on their first power play of the day, the Stars snapped an 0-for-11 streak that stretched over the two previous games. Overall, they were 1-for-4 with the man advantage and are 2-for-21 over their last four.