If these are the two points that determine the Dallas Stars’ fate this season, then it will be a shame.
After surrendering a power play goal with just 27.2 seconds remaining in the third period, the Stars dropped a 2-1 heart-breaker to the Anaheim Ducks Wednesday night at the American Airlines Center.
The loss was the Stars’ sixth in their last seven games - after a 13-2-0 run that followed the All-Star break - and allowed the Ducks to pull three points ahead in the standings, which as things stand right now, would be the difference between home ice advantage in the post-season and opening on the road.
Each of the last eight games of the season, starting with this one, are against divisional foes, including one more against Anaheim and two with San Jose, so the Stars have some chances to make up some ground, but not many.
After squandering seven power plays and giving up two on four Anaheim man-advantage opportunities, the Stars felt like they let one slip away, especially after captain Brenden Morrow was sent to the penalty box on a very questionable interference call with 1:13 remaining.
“We’re finding ways to lose right now rather than finding ways to win,” Stars coach Dave Tippett said. “There were some real strong points of that game for us - we were playing a real hard, solid game, and it’s a break here or there you’re going to get, but some of those breaks you got to make. It’s timing of it, it’s taking a penalty late, it’s not capitalizing on our power plays, it’s giving up a bad goal late, those are factors - when you have as many of those in check as possible, it gives you a better chance to win.”
Morrow, who scored the Stars only goal while short-handed in the first period, was beside himself with anger over the way things ended, expressing particular bewilderment that his accidental collision with Ducks’ winger Todd Bertuzzi resulted in a penalty.
“I’m in a pretty bad mood right now,” Morrow said. “I don’t know what word would describe it best. All the stuff they let go, I think that was kind of middle-of-the-road. I think with the exception of (Scott) Niedermayer, every one of their defenseman I could have called a penalty on every shift. If it’s a penalty, it’s a penalty. I don’t like to see a game decided by something that light. I’m in a lane, he’s in a lane, we ran into each other. That’s the way I saw it.”
“I’m not going to comment on the refereeing,” Tippett said tersely. “I thought both teams had lots of chances on the power play, right or wrong.”
Even more galling was the fact that it was Bertuzzi who scored the game-winner, and that his backhander from low in the right face-off circle, which slipped through Dallas netminder Marty Turco, was somewhat of a ‘soft’ goal.
“It was just a shot at the net, bad angle, I got a piece of it and lost it and it went in,” described Turco, who made 15 saves. “There are certainly ones you’d like to have back, but you can’t. I always try to give my teammates a chance to win, I felt like I was doing that, but that’s a save that needs to be made. That last one stings.”
Tied at 1-1 entering the final period, the Stars had the first big opportunity of the period 8:40 in when Modano ripped a slap shot from deep in the right corner that whizzed past Giguere and through the crease and out the other side.
With 9:25 left in the third, Travis Moen fed a short pass from the left side of the net to Samuel Pahlsson in front, and Turco made a spectacular sliding stop on Pahlsson’s point-blank one-timer to keep the game even.
That play resulted in a four-minute Dallas power play after Rod Niedermayer was penalized for high-sticking Mike Ribeiro and drawing blood, but the Stars did not even register a shot on the advantage.
“I think our support was kind of standing around watching,” Morrow said of the power play unit. “Our puck carrier didn’t get a whole lot of help on dumps, you need to outnumber them. I think there was more of us standing around. They probably outworked us.”
Just after that power play ended, with 5:10 to go, Anaheim’s Chris Kunitz nearly gave the Ducks the lead when he swiped the puck off defenseman Matt Niskanen’s stick in the right face-off circle and then barreled into Turco with the puck. Turco somehow managed to keep a bouncing puck out of the net as he barricaded himself against the post and kept his pad even with the goal line.
Dallas had another brief power play opportunity later in the period, but again did not generate any significant opportunities before Morrow ran into Bertuzzi and was sent to the box for what would become the game-winning goal.
“I think it’s frustrating, obviously,” key penalty killer Stu Barnes said. “We played a pretty good game. Two power play goals for them is disappointing, PK’s got to do a better job. I think special teams, obviously, were an issue in both directions, giving up a couple of goals and having a few opportunities to score and we couldn’t. I think any time you play a good team like Anaheim, you really got to play a complete game and we couldn’t come up with it tonight.”
Leading 1-0 heading into the second, Dallas nearly made it a two-goal lead just 15 seconds in when Mike Modano, in the slot, deflected Niskanen’s wrist shot from the point, but Giguere made a nice shoulder save.
Anaheim evened the score at 4:08, just five seconds after Mattias Norstrom was banished to the penalty box for tripping. Ryan Getzlaf beat Barnes on the ensuing draw in the offensive zone, worked it back to Teemu Selanne at the blue line, and Selanne fed Scott Niedermayer, who blasted a one-timer from the top of the right face-off circle that squeezed through Turco’s pads and trickled over the goal line.
With Dallas on a power play midway through the period, the Ducks nearly collected their own short-hander, as Todd Marchant led a 2-on-1 rush into the Stars’ zone. Marchant fed a charging Niedermayer in the left circle, but Turco snagged Niedermayer’s wrist shot with the glove.
The contest began with tight defensive play from both sides, as the Ducks didn’t even register their first shot on goal until the 11:37 mark, when Turco stopped Doug Weight’s long wrist shot and then denied Selanne’s deke attempt alone in front on the rebound.
Before that, however, the American Airlines Center sellout crowd of 18,584 was treated to one of the best fights we’ve seen in quite awhile, as Krys Barch squared off with Brad May 6:12 into the first period. In a long, drawn-out brawl, each player landed multiple haymakers, although May probably had more. Both players were thoroughly exhausted by the time the linesmen stepped in to separate them.
Dallas jumped on the board first with 7:16 remaining in the first on Morrow’s second short-handed goal of the season. Turco started the play by throwing the puck along the boards, and as it skipped past Mathieu Schneider at the Dallas blue line, Morrow darted past him. After collecting the puck at center ice, Morrow raced in on a breakaway and then beat Giguere with a quick shot between the pads.
“I had quite a bit of time to think about it, but the puck just wouldn’t sit down for me,” Morrow said, “so once I finally had it settled down, I wasn’t sure if there was going to be somebody on my back, I kind of took a lot of time to cradle it. I just wanted to make sure I got it on net and I saw a little hole five-hole and tried to beat him there.”
Turco kept the Stars ahead when he made a nice sprawling save with 2:10 remaining on Selanne in front.
The Stars continue the home stretch against divisional opponents on Saturday afternoon, when the face the last-place Los Angeles Kings (2 pm start, my27). Then they will be off until next Thursday when they open a four-game road trip in San Jose.
“Saturday’s game is huge for us to continue to build on from today,” Turco said. “We need points, that’s all.”
But despite the doom and gloom aura, the team is remaining positive.
“We believe that it’s going to start going our way again,” winger Niklas Hagman said. “Definitely, we’ve had some tough losses in the third period, you just got to believe. And we know that it’s in here, we know that we haven’t played as well as we can. I don’t know what the solution is, we just got to work hard. You got to believe that it’s going to change. We don’t have too many games to get it on the right track.”
- Morrow’s goal, his team-leading 28th of the season, gives him a career-high 66 points, surpassing the 65 he registered in 2005-06. It was also his sixth career short-hander.
- Turco’s assist on Morrow’s goal was his third of the season and 13th of his career.
- Center Brad Richards, who was acquired from Tampa Bay on Feb. 26, faced the Ducks for the first time since Dec. 9, 2006 when he scored a goal in a 4-3 Lightning loss.
- Dallas is now 5-2-0 this year against the Ducks, having outscored them 22-12, and are now 8-2-1 in their last 11 against Anaheim. The Stars’ power play had connecting at a stellar 9-for-26 (34.6 %) rate with the man-advantage over the season series’ first six contests.
- Reserve members of the FC Liverpool soccer club attended the game as special guests in owner Tom Hicks’ suite. The players also got a tour of the American Airlines Center, AT&T Plaza and ate dinner in the Platinum Club before the game.