That’s the best way to describe what happened Monday night at the Scotiabank Saddledome, when the Dallas Stars let a game dripping with playoff intensity slip away in uncharacteristic fashion.
After jumping out to a 2-1 lead early in the second period and appearing in control of the game, the Stars surrendered four goals later in the period, and their outstanding penalty killing unit allowed three goals, as the Calgary Flames resurrected their season with a hard-fought 5-4 triumph.
A win could have just about buried the Flames, who came in on a five-game losing streak (0-2-3), in the crowded Western Conference playoff race, but instead it allowed them to climb up to 85 points, which still ranks 11th, but is just two points back of the Stars.
Dallas started the day occupying the Pacific Division lead and the third seed that accompanies it, and remain stuck at 87 points with six games remaining. Following San Jose’s win, the Sharks moved to 88 points, taking over the Pacific lead and pushing the Stars down to seventh.
It was not the way the Stars, who are now 2-4-0 in their last six contests and had won all three prior meetings against the Flames this season, wanted to kick off a four-game Western road trip.
“I think right now, there’s quite a bit riding on the line for both teams, they’re looking to keep themselves alive in the playoff hunt, and we’re fighting our own battle,” noted Stars defenseman Sheldon Souray, who snapped a seven-game point drought with a third period assist. “They don’t like us, we don’t like them, probably like every team we’re going to play down the stretch - we don’t like anybody right now, but we’re not going to help ourselves by taking penalties. We got to play hard between the whistles and leave it out there. But when you take penalties like that, we leave so little room to get back in the game, and that happened tonight.”
Particularly disappointing was the way the Stars lost, featuring multiple blatant turnovers and undisciplined penalties, two nemeses from earlier in the season they thought they’d eradicated from their game. Dallas coach Glen Gulutzan was visibly frustrated with the club’s undisciplined performance.
“It cost us the hockey game,” the rookie coach said. “I thought that what happened tonight, we gave them. I thought that we had the game, we were in a good spot, up 2-1, we make an error, and then we just take penalty after penalty until they get a two-goal lead. Dumb, dumb penalties.”
After giving Calgary six power plays, the club’s PK unit matched a season-high by surrendering three goals - more than they’d allowed in the 13 previous games combined. After successfully nullifying 41-of-43 opposition power plays over that span, the Stars managed to kill just 3-of-6 in this one.
One significant bright spot for the Stars was the performance of center Jamie Benn, who scored two goals, giving Dallas leads of 1-0 and 2-1, and was a threat just about every time he stepped onto the ice.
“I felt all right. It’s a tough game to lose,” said Benn, who now has four goals in the last two games. “You definitely want to get those two points. I think we had too many costly turnovers and bad penalties and kind of shot ourselves in the foot tonight.”
In goal, Kari Lehtonen put forth a strong effort despite allowing five goals, making 30 saves, several of which were of the outstanding variety.
“You got to learn how to win and the way we went about it, it doesn’t look like we want to win,” Gulutzan said. “It really doesn’t. They’ve got to figure that out for themselves. They either want in or they don’t.”
The Stars played most of the contest a man short, after Eric Nystrom sustained a lower body injury midway through the first period when Flames defenseman Mark Giordano knocked him down on top of goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff, and he did not return.
“He got a cut on his leg, so he’ll be a day-to-day guy now,” said Gulutzan of Nystrom, who only played two shifts for a total of 1:46 of ice time.
Tied 1-1 entering the second period, the Stars grabbed the lead again just 44 seconds in. On a 3-on-2 rush into the Calgary zone, Adam Burish fed a pass from the right sideboards into the middle for Benn, who launched a lethal wrist shot from the high slot that whizzed past Kiprusoff’s blocker, just inside the left post.
Later in the period, with the Stars seemingly in control of the contest and leading 2-1, Calgary seized back the momentum with two goals just 45 seconds apart.
The first one came off a gift-wrapped giveaway in the Dallas zone by Ribeiro, who was under pressure in the right corner and inexplicably fed a pass into the slot, where a wide open Blake Comeau drilled a one-timer that beat a surprised Lehtonen through the pads to tie it at 9:16.
Just 45 seconds later on the same shift, Ribeiro lost a defensive zone face-off to Calgary captain Jarome Iginla, who pulled the puck back to Anton Babchuk at the right point. Lehtonen stopped Babchuk’s subsequent snap shot through a screen, but the rebound fell in front to Mike Cammalleri, who popped it over Lehtonen and in.
Still riding that momentum, the Flames nearly went up by two at 12:37, when defenseman Dave Hannan raced in alone on a breakaway, but Lehtonen made a nice pad save on his deke to the backhand.
Another golden opportunity for Calgary came at 13:26, when a nice cross-ice pass from the left face-off circle by Comeau found Lee Stempniak alone in the right circle and staring at an open net, but Dallas captain Brenden Morrow managed to get his skate in the way to block it.
The Stars began to push back a bit after that, and thought they’d evened it up again at 14:03. After Kiprusoff made a nice save on Stephane Robidas’ slap shot from the point, Burish managed to kick the rebound free, and then, as he was falling in the crease, he booted the puck through Kiprusoff’s blocker and in. It was initially called a goal on the ice, but after a video review, it was quite obvious that Burish utilized a ‘distinct kicking motion’ to propel the puck into the net, which nullified the goal.
But Dallas didn’t get down, they kept battling and got a goal that counted just 26 seconds later when Ribeiro notched his 17th goal of the season at 14:29. On the rush into the Calgary zone, Michael Ryder rifled a wrist shot from the high slot that Kiprusoff stopped, but left a juicy rebound in front that Alex Goligoski couldn’t get a handle on. But Ribeiro was following the play and, with Kiprusoff still down, backhanded it off the netminder’s raised pad and in to tie it 3-3.
The Stars seemed to be back in a good place at that point, but further penalty trouble late in the period cost them two more power play goals against.
Just one second before Robidas exited the penalty box, Giordano drilled a one-timer from the point that beat a screened Lehtonen just inside the right post to give Calgary the lead at 16:58.
Another Stars’ tripping penalty, this time to Ott, led to Alex Tanguay’s 13th goal at 19:32 of the second. After a fluky bounce on a dump-in attempt landed on Cammalleri’s stick along the left sideboards, he found Tanguay cutting down the middle and dished it off to him for a one-timer that found its way through Lehtonen’s glove and in.
“We came out like gang-busters, started the second period with the goal, and for them to score late in that period, it hurt, because we were down two goals there,” said Souray. “We just took way too many penalties to give ourselves a chance.”
Down 5-3 heading into the final period, the Stars wound up getting one back on a power play of their own 5:24 in. Souray boomed a slap shot from the point that Kiprusoff stopped, but a loose rebound led to a mad scramble in front, in which Morrow, Ott, and Larsen each got whacks at it. Finally, Larsen found it again, and with Kipruoff down, managed to spike a backhander over him, just under the crossbar.
The Flames had several chances shortly afterwards to restore their two-goal lead again, but Lehtonen made sparkling stops on Matt Stajan’s one-timer from the left circle at 7:03 and on David Moss’ point-blank one-timer at 9:58.
Dallas had a prime opportunity at 11:51 when Loui Eriksson stole the puck at the Calgary blue line and raced in on a breakaway, but Kiprusoff made a nice pad stop on his backhand deke attempt.
Trevor Daley also managed to weave his way in alone on Kiprusoff at 15:58, but his wrist shot from the slot sailed just over the crossbar.
Lehtonen preserved the one-goal advantage with just 2:35 left in regulation when the Flames came in on a 2-on-1 rush and Iginla used Cammalleri as a decoy and fired a wrister that Lehtonen swallowed up.
The Stars never really threatened again, even after finally pulling Lehtonen for an extra attacker with 55 seconds to go.
The Stars wasted little time putting their stamp on the contest as Benn found the back of the net just 26 seconds into the opening period, on the game’s first shot. Taking possession of the puck in his own zone, Benn carried it all the way up ice and then launched a wrist shot at full speed from the left point that perforated Kiprusoff’s glove and bounced into the net.
Benn nearly made it 2-0 on his next shift at 3:50 when he raced into the Calgary zone off the rush and unleashed another wrist shot from the high slot that Kiprusoff barely got his glove on, but it was enough to deflect it over the net.
Then, with Daley feeling shame in the penalty box, the Flames capitalized on the first power play of the night when Olli Jokinen found the back of the net at 6:53. After receiving a pass from Stempniak at the left sideboards, Jokinen whipped a wrister from the slot past Lehtonen’s glove, just inside the right post.
The Stars regained the momentum with back-to-back power plays, controlling the puck in the Calgary zone for most of that time, but were unable to cash in. In fact, it was the Flames who had the best opportunity over that stretch, when Tanguay took off on a breakaway at 13:13, but his wrist shot from the slot sailed over the net.
The Western Canada portion of the road trip continues Wednesday night in Edmonton against the 14th-place Oilers (8:30 pm start, FSSW). Even though the Oilers are officially eliminated from the playoff chase, they can be pesky themselves and are 5-2-3 in their last 10.
- Benn’s second straight multi-goal game leaves him with four goals in the last two games and 13 points (nine goals, four assists) in the 13 games since he missed six with a leg laceration. He topped all Stars with six shots on goal, including four in the first period alone.
- Ribeiro now has five points (one goal, four assists) over the last four games, and also extended his scoring streak against the Flames to nine contests, in which he’s totaled 15 points (seven goals, eight assists).
- Larsen’s goal, his second of the season and of his 57-game NHL career, snapped a 10-game point drought.
- Ott’s multi-assist night gives three assists in the last two outings, following a stretch in which he’d recorded just one assist in the previous five games. He also led the Stars with a game-high five hits.
- Ryder earned an assist on Ribeiro’s goal, leaving him with five points (three goals, two assists) over the last four contests.
- With an assist on Benn’s second goal, Burish now has assists in consecutive contests after going pointless over the previous six.
- Goligoski earned an assist on Ribeiro’s goal, following a stretch in which he’d recorded just one assist in the previous 12 outings.
- Morrow skated in his 800th career regular season game, becoming the sixth player in franchise history to reach that milestone.
- Fourth-line winger Ryan Garbutt was back in the lineup after sitting out the last four contests as a healthy scratch. In just 4:09 of ice time, he fired two shots on goal and delivered two hits, while also drawing a Dallas power play in the first period.
- Third-line winger Radek Dvorak sat out with a lower body injury, the same ailment that caused him to miss three games before he returned briefly in Saturday’s game.
- Dallas was 1-for-4 on the power play themselves, after going 1-for-12 over the previous six contests.
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