An early three-goal hole proved to be a tad too deep for the Dallas Stars to emerge from.
After squandering that three-goal first-period lead, the Vancouver Canucks snuck out of American Airlines Center with a 4-3 win over the slumping Stars on Saturday night in a Hockey Night in Canada telecast.
Joel Lundqvist, Mike Modano and Brad Richards scored for the Stars, who lost for the fifth time in the past six games. Dallas was also unable to gain any ground on idle San Jose for first place in the Pacific Division, and remain three points behind the Sharks, who now also have three games in hand. The Stars currently sit in fourth place in the Western Conference, one point ahead of Anaheim pending the result of the Ducks game late Saturday against St. Louis.
Matt Pettinger, Markus Naslund and Brendan Morrison each had a goal and two assists, and Ryan Kesler also scored for the Canucks, who snapped a two-game losing streak.
Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo made 35 stops in his 21st consecutive start in goal, and preserved the win when he robbed Modano from a certain goal with an outstretched glove save with five minutes left in regulation.
"Right now, we have to get going in the right direction," Richards said. "There are some things we need to clean up. We have to keep concentrating how little things can change the way a game goes. We have to grab momentum and keep it."
After a lackluster opening 19 minutes in which they fell behind 3-0, the Stars were as shocked as surprise starting goaltender Johan Holmqvist, who allowed all three goals on 12 shots in his Dallas debut before being pulled in favor of Marty Turco at the start of the second period.
"Johan's been here a while and we are trying to get him integrated into our team," coach Dave Tippett said. "We only play twice in the next 11 days, and didn't want him to sit that long. I feel bad for him. We didn't give him much of a chance."
Lundqvist's late first-period goal gave the life-support Stars some momentum heading into the pivotal second, and Dallas channeled that into one of their best periods of play this season. Utilizing a relentless forecheck, the Stars buzzed around unmercifully in the Canucks zone to pepper Luongo with shot after shot, eventually tying the contest on goals by Modano and Richards.
Dallas, though, was unable to get over the hump in the third, as Morrison broke the stalemate with his ninth of the year three minutes in after Naslund's centering pass went off Morrison's body while he crashed the net.
Turco finished with 17 saves in relief, and lost to the Canucks for only the second time in 11 home games. He also denied Naslund's penalty shot attempt that occurred nearly 30 seconds after Luongo's robbery of Modano.
"You can't make the kind of mistakes we're making and expect to win," Tippett said. "Giveaways, odd-man rushes, getting beat to the net...we can't expect to be a good team with the kind of mistakes we made tonight. The schedule is hurting our rhythm because we can't get going. We have some work to do, that's for sure. You can't allow four and expect to win hockey games."
But even with those mistakes, it was the sluggishness out of the gate that ultimately ended up dooming a Dallas team that has struggled since a 13-2 spurt put them to within three points of the top spot in the league.
"It was a big goal at the end of the first by Lundy, and we were hungry in the second, but we expended so much energy playing catch-up," Richards said. "The second period shows what we are capable of, but we can't keep having starts like that."
Down by a pair of goals after the first period, Dallas knotted the game thanks to its special teams. Modano started the ball rolling with his 19th of the year soon after the Stars' two-man advantage had expired. After drifting to the left with the puck, Modano sent a rising wrist shot from the top of the left circle that elude Luongo's glove at 7:35.
Richards then made it 3-3 with a shorthanded goal on a breakaway with just over six minutes left in the middle frame. Jere Lehtinen sprung Richards when he was able to swoop the puck past pinching Vancouver defenseman Alex Edler and onto Richards stick in the neutral zone. Richards deked Luongo with a nifty move for his 20th goal.
"We have been at a high level all season and haven't had too many dips until this," Modano said. "It's not going to get any easier."
The Canucks opened the scoring just 2:32 into the first period, as Pettinger scored only his fourth of the year on the second shot of the game. Pettinger's wrister from the right circle went off defenseman Mark Fistric's stick before squirting past Holmqvist's pads to give Vancouver the early 1-0 advantage.
Kesler potted his 20th of the season nine minutes in while the Canucks were on the power play. With Vancouver getting the puck to the net, Kesler scored from in tight when his second whack at a loose puck got past Holmqvist.
Vancouver capped its first-period surge nearly two minutes later when Naslund scored his 23rd of the year. Pettinger started the play when he stole the puck from Fistric at the Dallas blueline, and immediately bore down on Holmqvist along with Naslund on a mini 2-on-0 break. Pettinger eventually slid the puck to Naslund, who one-timed a shot along the ice from about eight feet out.
Lundqvist stopped the bleeding with his third goal with just 13.3 seconds left in the opening stanza. Luongo stopped Loui Eriksson's hard slap shot from the left circle, but was unable to corral a juicy rebound that Lundqvist chipped in.
"We didn't give Johan much help at all," Stu Barnes said. "If you have slow starts like that, you are behind the eight-ball already, and that's going to catch up to you."
The Stars will continue their three-game homestand on Wednesday when they host Anaheim (7:30 p.m., FSN). It'll be the seventh meeting between the two teams, with Dallas capturing five of the first six games, and might be just what the struggling Stars need to rid themselves of the funk they're in.
"There is no magic formula to get out of this," Barnes said. "We have a few days away and we need to reflect on where we need to be heading towards the end of the season and come back on Tuesday ready to work."
--Forward Steve Ott served the second game of a three-game suspension handed out by the NHL following Ott's hit on Colorado defenseman Jordan Leopold last week.
--Lundqvist's last goal came on Oct. 10. He now has three points over the past two games to give him 12 on the year.
--Holmqvist was making his first start since allowing five goals in a loss to Boston on Feb. 23 when he was a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning. He was acquired at the trade deadline as part of the Richards blockbuster deal.
--Richards' short-handed goal was Dallas' 11th this season.
--Richards is now one point shy from 500 career NHL points.
--Defenseman Stephane Robidas left briefly in the third period after he sustained a gash near his lip when he went face-first into the post on Morrison's winning goal.
--The Stars had won seven straight home games against the Canucks coming in.
--The teams split the four-game season series.
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