After a string of success, the law of averages pointed towards the Stars eventually playing a clunker. They unfortunately did just that on New Years Eve.
Nashville goalie Dan Ellis, Dallas' second-round pick in 2000, made 22 saves for his third shutout of the season and career to help give the Predators a 1-0 win over the sluggish Stars on Monday night. It was the third straight loss for Dallas on the night before New Years, and fourth consecutive New Years Eve game in which they were unable to garner two points.
J.P. Dumont scored the lone goal for the Predators, who snapped a seven-game losing streak in Dallas while winning for the fourth time in their last six games overall.
The Stars had their four-game winning streak snapped, and lost for just the second time in 10 games, but still remain a point ahead of second-place San Jose in the Pacific Division.
"We just couldn't find that spark we needed tonight and basically had a lack-luster performance," goalie Marty Turco said. "Everything was just one step off. We don't like the last two games now and we've talked about it and will turn it around as we start the New Year. We'll learn from it and put this behind us."
The Stars actually wouldn't have had a chance without the standout goaltending of Turco, as he made amends for last year's Dec. 31 game when he was pulled after allowing three goals in the first nine minutes against the Sharks. He finished with 29 saves, including stopping Scott Nichol's penalty shot attempt in the first period, and then Nichol's breakaway in the second.
Turco lost for just the second time in his past eight decisions, and third in his last 11 games.
"We didn't get enough pucks at the net, and we didn't create enough chances," forward Jeff Halpern said. "Marty played well tonight and gave us a chance to win. That's all you can ask from you goaltender."
Ellis, meanwhile, won for only the second time in his last six appearances, but rarely had to make a scintillating save to do it. The Predators suffocated the high-octane Stars offense that came in having scored 20 goals in the last four games, and frustrated the Stars snipers by keeping the play predominantly to the perimeter for most of the game.
But when Stars did show some life and drove to the net to create a scoring chance, Ellis was there to deny the threat. His biggest saves came in the dying minutes of the third. He first kicked out Brenden Morrow's point-blank shot with three minutes to go, and followed that by punching out with his glove-hand Trevor Daley's shot from the slot the defenseman seemed to slightly whiff on with six seconds remaining in regulation.
"You can't point a finger at the lack of energy from us because the fans were definitely in it tonight," winger Steve Ott said. "We couldn't find that next gear that we needed to shift into."
The Stars also went 0-for-6 on the power play, and didn't register their first man-advantage shot until Stephane Robidas' slapper was turned aside by Ellis on the final power-play opportunity, which occurred in the third stanza. And when Turco went to the bench for the extra attacker in the final minute, Dallas was only able to muster Daley's attempt on net despite having the puck in Nashville's end the entire time.
"We've had a lot of things go our way lately and we earned some good bounces, but we didn't earn our bounces tonight," coach Dave Tippett said. "Nashville worked hard and limited our chances and they got that one goal they needed."
Turco kept the game scoreless in the first period when he denied Nichol's penalty shot six minutes in. While the Predators were killing a penalty, Nichol intercepted Mike Ribeiro's pass in the Nashville zone and shot up the middle of the ice before being hooked by defenseman Sergei Zubov.
Nichol tried to deke Turco on the penalty shot, but Turco stood his ground and made an easy save.
Turco stymied Nichol again in the second period to keep the game tied at 0-0 with nine minutes left. With Nashville short-handed once more, Nichol outraced Zubov to a loose puck in the neutral zone to bear down on Turco. This time, Nichol tried beating Turco with a wrist shot, but to no avail.
Nashville finally broke through to score the game's first goal with 3:18 left in the middle frame. With the puck behind the net, Alexander Radulov was able to bat it to the front to Dumont. Dumont then shoveled the puck just enough to squirt the puck underneath Turco and into the net.
The Stars were outshot in the first two periods by a 24-11 margin despite enjoying five power plays.
"With all due respect to the other teams' penalty kills, it's more about our power play," Tippett said. "We weren't very good tonight in a lot of things, and the power play was one of those things."
The Stars will play their first game in 2008 on Wednesday when they visit Detroit to play the Western Conference-leading Red Wings (6:30, FSN), opening a short two-game road trip. It'll be the teams first meeting of the season before they play again this Saturday at American Airlines Center.
The Red Wings lost 2-0 to St. Louis on Monday, snapping their four-game winning streak. They still lead the conference, though, with 61 points, 11 more than the second-place Stars.
"We need to go on the road with some confidence since we know every game is going to be a challenge," Halpern said.
"Detroit (is) the powerhouse in the league, so we have to put this behind us and be ready for the next challenge," Ott said.
--Defenseman Mattias Norstrom returned after missing the past three games because of a leg injury.
--Forward Chris Conner debuted his new No. 25 after switching from No. 65.
--Left wing Jussi Jokinen missed his first game after sustaining a leg injury in Dallas' shootout win over St. Louis on Saturday.
--Turco has now stopped eight straight penalty shots after he allowed Ottawa's Mike Fisher to score on Turco's first-ever penalty shot situation in Dec. 2001.
--The Predators were missing second-leading scorer David Legwand, who bruised his torso in the first period of Nashville's loss to San Jose Saturday.
--The Stars dropped to 14-3 at home all-time against the Predators, and were defeated for the second time overall this season by Nashville.
--Turco is now 2-3-1 lifetime on New Years Eve.
--The Stars killed off all five Nashville power-play attempts, extending their streak to 20 straight man advantage denials.
--Both Morrow and Ribeiro had their five-game point-streaks snapped.
1 - 0 NSH
Delaying Game - Puck over glass
Holding the stick