After a slow start, it looked like the Dallas Stars were on their way to their fourth straight victory.
Unfortunately for the Stars, they then lost a 2-0 second period lead and ended up dropping a 4-2 decision to the Columbus Blue Jackets Tuesday night at the American Airlines Center.
Thanks to the first two career goals from Columbus rookie defenseman Kris Russell and Nikolai Zherdev’s three assists, the Blue Jackets scored three in the third period to snap the Stars’ three-game winning streak.
It was just the third all-time win by Columbus in this building, and while the Stars remain atop the Pacific Division, they are just one point ahead of Anaheim.
Dallas got goals from captain Brenden Morrow and Steve Ott to jump out to the two-goal lead, but squandered seven power play opportunities that could have given them more of a cushion. Their top-ranked penalty killing unit also gave up two goals, although one was an empty netter with 2.5 seconds left.
“Disappointing, we had opportunities there in the second to take control and never did and they fought back and got their points,” Morrow said.
“Our margin for error is very slim,” coach Dave Tippett said. “We have to keep percentages in our favor and putting the other team on the power play, especially a desperate team that’s lost two games in a row, it’s not a good recipe.”
Three days after making 29 saves to defeat the Blue Jackets 3-1, Mike Smith got the start in goal again, and played very well, especially in the first period when he made 14 of his 26 saves.
“You get leads in this league, you’ve got to keep going,” Smith said. “You can’t sit back, you can’t watch, you’ve got to react, you’ve got to get pucks deep, and you’ve got to keep working. You can’t sit back and let skilled teams like that get after you. It’s a disappointing loss.”
Ahead 2-1 heading into the final period, the Stars got a big save from Smith just 24 seconds into the third, as he denied Rick Nash’s point-blank backhander in front.
Rookie Matt Niskanen’s long wrist shot through a screen 35 seconds later was deflected in front by Mike Modano, but Columbus goaltender Pascal Leclaire made a nice pad save. Leclaire was excellent, making 31 saves including 12 in the third period.
Niskanen had another opportunity two minutes later, but his wrist shot from the blue line was denied by Leclaire, despite a screen in front of him.
Columbus got the equalizer at 8:03 of the third, as rookie Andrew Murray scored his third goal of the season. After Smith stopped Jan Hejda’s shot from the blue line through a screen, Murray got the rebound in the left face-off circle and fired it past a prone Smith to tie it 2-2.
The Stars were upset at that play, contending that there was an icing call earlier on the play that wasn’t called, so instead of a whistle and a face-off at the other end, they got scored on.
“Their second goal is clearly an icing call that’s not called, ends up in our net,” Tippett noted. “Things like that let momentum go the other way and it’s hard to grab it back. We took another penalty, they score on the power play, their goaltender makes a couple of big saves and we lose.”
“I think the icing that was called icing but no whistle was kind of the start of it,” Morrow said. “I think our frustration after that kind of got the better of us.”
Ott nearly put the Stars back ahead about a minute later, but Leclaire turned aside his one-timer from the top of the left face-off circle after he received a nice pass from Jeff Halpern out of the left corner.
Russell collected his second goal with 6:15 remaining to give the Blue Jackets their first lead of the game. With Joel Lundqvist in the penalty box for high-sticking, Zherdev feathered a beautiful pass from the top of the right circle through Stephane Robidas’ legs to a charging Russell to the left of the crease, where Russell slammed it into the empty side of the net.
“The last one, I think Zherdev fed it through a couple of our bodies, I didn’t really see it, what was going on back-door, but you make one or two saves here or there, and it’s a different game,” Smith said. “We got to find ways to win games like that, and we got to play 60 minutes, not just 30 minutes.”
The Stars had a few chances late as they desperately tried to send it into overtime, but Leclaire came up big. First Daley fired a fierce wrist shot from inside the blue line that Leclaire saved through a screen with 1:31 to go.
Then with Smith on the Dallas bench for an extra attacker with 1:02 left, Niskanen boomed a slap shot from the blue line, with both Ott and Niklas Hagman hacking at the loose rebound, but the puck went wide.
The Stars then dug themselves another hole when Modano, in the process of deflecting Fredrik Modin’s attempt at the empty net, inadvertently sent the puck into the crowd and was whistled for delay of game, with 52.5 seconds on the clock.
Dallas actually had one more good opportunity, but Leclaire made the save on Morrow’s re-direction in front after Niskanen passed out of the left corner with 20 seconds left.
“Going into the third with a 2-1 lead and all of a sudden it’s a 4-2 game,” Ott added. “Definitely we’re a team that likes to play in tight games and we know how to win in tight games and tonight, we just didn’t bring enough to win in that third period.”
Following a scoreless first period in which they were outplayed and outshot 14-5, the Stars raised their level early in the second, culminating in the contest’s first goal at 3:51.
Mike Ribeiro, who was named to the Western Conference All-Star team earlier in the day, started the play by curling to the right sideboards before feeding Antti Miettinen in the high slot. Miettinen drilled a one-timer that Leclaire made a nice pad save on, but Morrow, camped right in front, managed to sweep the rebound in past a lunging Leclaire for his 20th goal of the season.
“He’s been around it,” Tippett said of Morrow. “I thought their line really struggled in the first period. Their line needs to find a way to get it done on the power play for us, that’s dropped off a little bit. But he’s always battling around the net, he’s going to find a lot of goals that way.”
“Just trying to keep things simple and go to the net,” Morrow said of his fourth goal in three games. “Tonight, it was another two-footer, you shouldn’t miss too many of those. I don’t know if I got away from that before and was playing away from the net and looking for that fancy play. I’m finding the net right now, things are working, they’d feel a lot better if we won toinight.”
Less than a minute later, the Stars almost struck again, but Leclaire made a huge stop on Morrow’s re-direction from the top of the crease of Ribeiro’s pass out of the right corner.
With the Stars continuing to press, Hagman nearly connected for another when he cut into the slot all alone and fired a point-blank wrister that Leclaire thwarted with a pad save.
Dallas extended the lead to 2-0 about a minute later, as Ott notched his career-high sixth goal of the year at 8:38. Jeff Halpern ripped a slap shot from the top of the face-off circles that Leclaire stopped, but once again, couldn’t control the rebound. With a loose puck in the crease, there was a mad scramble for it, as Trevor Daley whacked at it before Ott managed to swat it in.
“It was just a scramble for the puck, Halpy shot it, it went off Dales’ stick and I put it in about six inches from the crease, so it really wasn’t much of a tally,” Ott said.
Smith made a big save with Dallas shorthanded with 7:50 remaining in the second, as Jason Chimera sped in on a breakaway. Chimera came into the zone down the right side, cut across the top of the crease, and with Smith sprawling to keep up with him, lifted a shot that appeared to go off the tip of Smith’s skate about a foot off the ice.
Columbus then got one back with 5:34 left in the period, as Russell - playing his 46th NHL contest - scored his first NHL goal. After Zherdev carried the puck around the back of the Dallas net and curled along the boards up to the blue line on the left side, he fed a brilliant cross-ice pass that found Russell alone in the right circle. Russell then lifted a quick wrist shot past Smith’s blocker and just inside the far post.
The Stars had the game’s first scoring opportunity while on a power play 3:10 in, as Niskanen ripped a slap shot from the blue line that Halpern re-directed in the slot, but Leclaire made a nice pad save.
Smith answered that with a big save on a Columbus power play 8:30 into the first, turning aside former Colorado defenseman Adam Foote’s wrist shot through a screen.
Russell had a good chance with 7:30 left in the period, as he launched a quick wrist shot from the slot as he trailed the play on a rush into the Dallas zone, but Smith made the save.
The night’s only fight occurred with 1:48 to go, as Krys Barch squared off with Jared Boll in a relatively quick bout that Boll got the better of.
About 35 seconds later, Smith smothered Foote’s slap shot from the right circle and another scrum erupted in front of him, with Ott and Chimera - and most other players on the ice - getting involved.
Overall, the Stars were fortunate to go into the first intermission tied, as Columbus clearly had the better of the play and outshot Dallas 14-3 before the Stars had two shots on a power play in the final 30 seconds.
The Stars complete their four-game homestand on Thursday with a date against the Buffalo Sabres at 7:30 pm (FSN), their final contest before the All-Star break, with the 2008 NHL All-Star Game Sunday in Atlanta (5 pm, VERSUS).
The Sabres are already in the Metroplex and most of their management team, including GM Darcy Regier and head coach Lindy Ruff, watched the game from the press box.
“That’s going to be our focus, we can’t let a couple of more points slide,” Morrow said of the upcoming Buffalo game. “It’s still early to scoreboard watch, but it’s critical, every point. It’s huge for us right now.”
- Morrow’s goal was his fourth in the last three games and marked his fifth season of 20 or more goals. Morrow had four shots on goal in the game, and also delivered a team-high three bodychecks.
- Ott’s sixth goal - his second in three games - allowed him to surpass the five he collected in 2003-04. He also fired three shots and registered two hits.
- Ribeiro’s assist on Morrow’s goal gives him five assists in his last four outings.
- With an assist on Ott’s goal, Halpern extended his point streak to a season-long four games (one goal, three assists).
- With defenseman Sergei Zubov missing another game with a foot injury, the rookie Niskanen again led the Stars in ice time, skating 24:55. Niskanen also fired a game-high six shots on goal.
- In going 0-for-7 on the power play, the Dallas man-advantage struggles continue. They now have gone 1-for-22 over their last five contests.
- With the loss, the Stars are now 21-4-3 all-time against Columbus, including 14-2-3 in the last 19, and finish the season series with a 3-1-0 record.
- Former 1980 U.S. Olympic team goaltender Jim Craig dropped the ceremonial first puck and also signed autographs on the main concourse at the American Airlines Center during the third period. He was in town promoting awareness of the “silent killer,” abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA), to which he lost his father years ago.
1 - 0 DAL
2 - 0 DAL
2 - 1 DAL
2 - 2 Tie
3 - 2 CBJ
PPG - EN -
4 - 2 CBJ
Interference - Goalkeeper