DALLAS – With points at a premium with time running out on the regular season, the Stars came up empty at an inopportune time.
Entering their game against the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday at American Airlines Center, the Stars held a slim one-point edge in the race for the Pacific Division title with both Phoenix and the Los Angeles Kings. Dallas, though, was unable to pad that cushion, falling to the Canucks 2-1.
Dallas has eight games to go before they know their playoff fate, and with such a small margin between first place in the Pacific -- which will ultimately the third seed in the Western Conference -- and standing on the outside looking in as the ninth seed, missed opportunities and slipups need to be kept to a minimum.
“It’s crunch time here, and we have to win games,” Alex Goligoski said. “We all know that. They got a two-goal lead and started sitting back on everything, so you have to work a little harder. We did a good job sticking to the plan and trying to get pucks behind them and go forecheck. We had a few chances but couldn’t bury it.”
In a chippy game that lacked flow while producing plenty of pushing and shoving scrums after whistles, the Stars were unable to take advantage of a Vancouver team that was missing its leading goal scorer, Daniel Sedin. Sedin was held out after taking an elbow to the head in the Canucks’ loss to Chicago on Wednesday.
Unfortunately for the Stars, the Canucks still had Daniel’s brother Henrik, who finished with a pair of assists, and backup goalie Cory Schneider, who was magnificent in his 29th game of the season.
Schneider finished with 25 saves to earn his 17th win, and Mason Raymond and Kevin Bieksa helped build a two-goal advantage for the Canucks (44-21-9), who improved to 2-1-1 over the last four games.
“It’s tough to get behind against a team like that,” Eric Nystrom said. “We had a strong push at the end but we have to do that for the full 60 minutes.”
“I didn’t think we were focused,” coach Glen Gulutzan said. “It’s funny, our game plan at the start was to keep the pace high and stay whistle to whistle. In the first few minutes Schneider made some real good saves and then we lost focus. We wanted to get involved in an extra-curricular game. The frustration level was way too high. We have to be methodical and focused at this time of the year, and you can’t be up and down like a yo-yo this time of the year.”
Vernon Fiddler scored, and Kari Lehtonen made 26 saves for the Stars (40-29-5), who failed to build on their dramatic shootout win on Tuesday against the Coyotes.
“After the goal we got some momentum, and there were some scrambles around the net that we had chances on,” Nystrom said. “But their goalie played well, and we really didn’t test him until later in the game. It was a physical game, and we were in the penalty box a little too much. That takes away your chance to generate anything on offense.”
Down by a goal, the Stars pulled Lehtonen for the extra attacker with 70 seconds left in regulation, and then went on a 6-on-4 power play for the final 45 ticks on the clock when Bieksa was called for a high sticking penalty on Loui Eriksson. But Dallas was unable to dent the Canucks’ stingy defense, and didn’t get a shot on goal over those final moments.
Goligoski’s last gasp slap shot from the blue line with 2 seconds to go wound up being blocked by Alex Burrows to preserve Vancouver’s victory.
“Most of the game we played pretty well,” Goligoski said. “We lost the guy one time on the rush, and lost a guy in the d-zone, but defensively we were pretty good. We just couldn’t find it there at the end.”
With the Stars looking to mount a third-period comeback, Bieksa put the Canucks up 2-0 just 4:18 into the third period. Cruising into the slot, Bieksa took Raymond’s pass from the right boards and took a shot that Lehtonen was able to kick out. But the rebound went right back to Bieksa, who moved around Lehtonen to tuck the puck into an empty net.
But Fiddler was able to cut the deficit to 2-1 with 12:16 to go in the third, capitalizing on Schneider’s gaffe behind the goal line when he muffed on a dump-in. Schneider mishandled the puck, and it bounced into the crease where Fiddler dove over Schneider to get to it and tap it in for his eighth of the year.
Down by a goal after one period, the Stars had a chance to tie things up when Mike Ribeiro was awarded a penalty shot when he was slashed and hooked from behind by Canucks’ defensemen Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis while going in alone on Schneider with 7:05 to go in the second period. Ribeiro tried his dipsey-doodle half-deke move, but was unable to flick the puck in.
The Canucks struck first on their first shot of the game 4:46 into the first period on Raymond’s ninth of the season. Sneaking near the left edge of the crease, Raymond accepted Henrik Sedin’s pass from the right circle that ricocheted off Hamhuis and deposited the puck past Lehtonen for a 1-0 Vancouver lead.
“Everybody out there made plays and everybody out there finished their checks,” Bieksa said. “That’s the type of team we are. When we’re all going like that and everybody’s contributing, we’re a tough team to beat.”
The Stars will close out their four-game homestand on Saturday when they host the Calgary Flames at American Airlines Center (1 p.m., TXA-21). The Flames lost to Minnesota in a shootout on Thursday, moving their record to 0-1-3 over their last four games. The game will also be the first of back-to-back contests between the two teams as well, with Dallas playing at Calgary on Monday to start a four-game road trip.
“We’d like to go undefeated, but there are obviously games you’re going to come out on the wrong end of,” Nystrom said. “But there can’t be too many of those coming down the stretch. We just have to move forward.”
-- Jake Dowell and Vancouver’s Dale Weise engaged in a spirited first-period fight. Michael Ryder and Jannik Hansen also fought in the third period, but they both had their gloves on and were issued double-minors for roughing.
-- Lehtonen picked up his second assist of the season with a helper on Fiddler’s goal.
-- Fiddler’s goal was his first since February 1 against Anaheim.
-- Ribeiro is 0 for 3 for his NHL career on penalty shots.
-- Dallas dropped to 2-1 this season against the Canucks. The Stars were aiming to win three straight against Vancouver for the first times since 2006. The two teams close out their season-series on March 30 at Vancouver.
-- The Stars fell to 9-2-1 against Canadian-based teams. Their other losses were to Winnipeg and Toronto.
-- The Stars killed off all four of Vancouver’s power plays, while Dallas went 0 for 3 with the man advantage.