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DALLAS - In their final game before the Christmas holiday, the Stars expected an all-out dogfight from Calgary on Thursday night at the American Airlines Center.
They got exactly that and more in a hard-fought 3-2 loss in a shootout. A goal by Alex Tanguay with 1:21 left in regulation tied this one at 2-2 and the Flames winger also delivered the game-winner in the shootout after a perfectly executed fake on Dallas goaltender Kari Lehtonen.
“We’re disappointed with the way that we played tonight. It wasn’t anywhere close to the type of game we’ve come to expect from ourselves,” Stars head coach Marc Crawford said.
But it wasn’t all doom and gloom from the Dallas coach.
“We had a few guys that I thought played very well,” Crawford said. “I thought Robidas was good. I thought Lehtonen was good and Ribeiro was good. But we had too many people that maybe were just a little bit off tonight. Give Calgary credit. They came in here with a very determined game. They played a hard game. They got pucks to the net and they got their break at the end.”
The visitors took an early 1-0 lead when Anton Babchuk connected from distance just over eight minutes into this one on the Flames’ first power play of the night. Lehtonen was screened on the play by Calgary’s Curtis Glencross and never saw the blast from Babchuk.
Babchuk’s goal came with one second remaining on the power play, which was set up after Dallas center Steve Ott was sent to the box for tripping.
Dallas had to wait about six minutes for their first power play of the night but like the Flames, they too made good on the opportunity. After Calgary’s Tim Jackman was whistled for delay after knocking one over the glass, Mike Ribeiro converted just 17 seconds into the power play for the equalizer.
Other than the scoring in the opening period, the other big story was the dustup between Calgary offensive cog Jarome Iginla and Dallas’ Jamie Benn. This talented duo went at it at center ice for what seemed like several minutes with about seven minutes gone in the first.
Crawford liked the tenacity that his young left winger displayed in the scrum but also admitted it took a big toll on him for the rest of the evening.
“He just announces his presence and he announces that he’s not only a good player but a tough and honest competitor. Give Jarome a lot of credit. He stood up for his teammate,” the Stars head coach said. “Jamie, it probably took a lot out of him. That was a long, long battle. We didn’t use Jamie on the penalty kill much after that. We knew that altercation took a lot of energy out of both players. From that standpoint, I thought it was one of the highlights of the game. Jamie just keeps playing well and shows you another dimension that he has.”
The game remained tied at 1-1 until Brenden Morrow scored off a rebound just under three minutes into the final frame. The Dallas captain poked one home after a Ribeiro shot from the right side was stopped by Calgary netminder Miikka Kiprusoff. Morrow was waiting to pounce on the rebound and quickly converted for his 13th goal of the year.
And for a while, it looked like the lead might hold and Dallas might head into the holiday break with a fourth straight win. But with just over a minute left, Tanguay drew things level at 2-2 with his 10th goal of the year.
Even though the Stars blew the lead in the final frame, there was no doubt it was the home team’s best period of the evening.
“I thought the third period was our best period tonight. We did generate more chances,” Crawford said. “I thought the second period was probably our worst. That first period, we didn’t generate enough scoring opportunities.”
The teams combined for five shots in overtime before this one headed to the shootout. After Loui Eriksson was denied on his first chance thanks to a left pad save by Kiprusoff, Tanguay beat Lehtonen high and to the left to put Calgary up.
“Before the game, we were looking at what he has done before in the shootout. Every shootout, he tries something different,” Lehtonen said. “This was a new move again. It was a nice one. I wish I would have done better with it. I definitely need to work on that.”
Kiprusoff then denied Brad Richards with a glove save on Dallas’ second attempt but the Stars remained alive after Lehtonen denied former Star Niklas Hagman with a save at the near post. Next up for the Stars was Ribeiro, who lost control of the puck and didn’t get a shot off to end the game.
“I think I just threw it too far ahead. I was trying to bring it back on my backhand and it just slipped away,” Ribeiro said about his missed attempt in the shootout. “It doesn’t happen often. It’s one of those days.”
Still, even with a somewhat disconcerting ending, the head coach still managed to see the silver lining in tonight’s disappointing outcome.
“On the bright side, we got a point. If you would have said at the start of the season that we’d be tied for first place going into the Christmas break in the Western Conference, we’d all be pretty happy. We should be pretty happy,” Crawford said.
Dallas has the next two days off before returning to the ice on Sunday night against Phoenix. The Stars beat the Coyotes 6-3 back on November 5 thanks to two-goal nights from Eriksson and Richards.
But until then, it’s a welcome break for the entire organization.
“We need some rest. It seems like we’re playing every second day right now,” Morrow said. “It will be great to get a little mental break and push through.”
Still, the Stars head coach wants his team to forget about this one as quickly as possible.
“You’ve got to park this one as quick as you can. It’s great that our guys get two days completely away from the rink because right now, our guys have played a bit of hockey in the last little while. We have another real busy week after Christmas and we want to be playing great again,” Crawford said.