A day after one mystery was solved, another was unveiled for the playoff-bound Dallas Stars.
After finding out they'd be playing the defending Stanley Cup-champ Anaheim Ducks when the postseason starts next week, the Stars now know that if they want to advance past the first round they'll have to win at least one game out on the west coast.
Dallas' slim opening to vault over the Ducks and into fourth place was slammed shut in its 4-2 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes on Friday night at American Airlines Center. The loss secured home-ice advantage for the Ducks in the upcoming playoff series while solidifying the Stars fifth-place finish in the Western Conference.
The Stars ended up being undone by Phoenix's resident pest Daniel Carcillo, who recorded his first career hat trick to help give the Coyotes only their second win in the past 10 games. Goalie Mikael Tellqvist also made life miserable for the Dallas shooters, making 30 saves to win for the first time since shutting out Los Angeles on Feb. 18.
Martin Hanzal scored the tie-breaking goal in the second period for the Coyotes, who snapped their three-game losing streak.
Trevor Daley and Philippe Boucher scored for the struggling Stars, who squandered an opportunity to build off their win over the Coyotes the night before to fall to 3-8-2 in the month of March. Marty Turco finished with 17 stops, and dropped to 2-8-2 in his last 12 appearances.
"We know we have to play better and address some of the stuff going on in our game," Boucher said. "I personally need to focus on all the games because I've missed some time and I need to get my game back. With that being said, it's nowhere near what we're going to show our fans come playoff time. We always want to win every game and any time you lose, you're going to be disappointed."
The Stars were once again shorthanded on the frontline, as Mike Ribeiro and Brad Richards both missed their second straight game because of illness and soreness. They then lost Steve Ott, who missed most of the game because of the flu after playing five shifts in the first period.
Still, Dallas was able to generate plenty of offensive chances, and outshot Phoenix 12-4 in the final period, but was consistently thwarted by Tellqvist. The Swedish goalie stood tall throughout the night, and was also helped in the second when Mike Modano rang a shot off the post.
"We aren't real happy with this effort tonight," captain Brenden Morrow said. "We were shorthanded tonight and it is game No. 81, but we better find something in our tank because that's not going to work. We should all know how to prepare ourselves. We need to find something."
With Phoenix up by a goal heading into the final period, Carcillo foiled any third-period comeback thoughts by Dallas with an empty-net goal with just three seconds remaining in regulation.
The loss was Dallas' fourth straight at home, and comes at a time when the Stars need to start gathering momentum for their showdown against the Ducks.
"We have to look at what we have accomplished this season and know what we are capable of," defenseman Mattias Norstrom said. "This is the wrong time of year to try and form our identity. We have to go into this playoff series with confidence and believing in ourselves…that is the key."
Tied at 1 after the first period, the Coyotes took a 2-1 second-period lead when Carcillo scored his second of the game, and 10th of the year, on the power play at 3:39. Steven Reinprecht sprung Carcillo with an outlet pass from his own blueline, and Carcillo went in alone on Turco before tucking the puck in.
Six of Carcillo's 11 goals this season have come against the Stars.
Dallas tied the game on Boucher's short-handed goal a minute later. After accepting Stu Barnes' pass, Boucher scored his first goal since Halloween -- and second overall -- by letting go a wicked wrist shot goal from the right circle that went top shelf on Tellqvist's glove side.
"The defensemen are finding ways to get involved and they've been around it the last couple nights," coach Dave Tippett said. "Boucher is a guy we need to play some solid minutes from here on and he has to be a rock for us back there. It was great to see him score, but he has some things in his game to clean up."
Hanzal restored Phoenix's one-goal advantage with his eighth of the season at 13:13. Like Carcillo, Hanzal was sprung by a long pass, this one by Zbynek Michalek, to go in alone and beat Turco with a deke to make it 3-2.
"Regardless of the schedule and injuries, we have to battle," Barnes said. "We had some opportunities to score some goals and make some things happen but we didn't do that tonight. We have to focus and prepare for the challenges that are ahead of us."
"We dominated the game, we just didn't score," Tippett added. "We had some bouncing pucks and not finishing off plays. We didn't allow a lot of chances, but we shouldn't be giving up breakaways. That's the bottom line."
The Coyotes jumped on the board first when Carcillo netted his ninth of the year just under three minutes into the opening stanza. Carcillo jumped on a loose puck in the neutral zone before skating untouched into the Stars zone, and let go a wrist shot from the top of the right circle that eluded Turco.
Daley tied it with his fifth late, converting a nifty tic-tac-toe passing play that also involved Ott and B.J. Crombeen. Off a 3-on-2 break, Daley skated hard toward the crease and jammed home Ott's pass with just 1:50 left in the first.
"We've gotten some goals from defensemen the last couple nights, and it's a must to get goals throughout the lineup," Norstrom said.
The Stars will put the finishing touches on their season Sunday afternoon when they close things out against the Pacific Division-winners San Jose Sharks at 2 p.m. It'll be the final tune-up before the real fun begins.
"San Jose is obviously a dangerous offensive group with great goaltending, but we've seen them seven times already, so we know what to expect," Barnes said.
--Forward Krys Barch has a slight concussion and was held out of the game.
--Daley's five goals are a new career high, eclipsing the four he notched last season.
--The Stars have scored 13 short-handed goals this season. They came in ranked fifth in the league in that category.
--Dallas hasn't won two straight games since stringing together four in a row in late February.
--The last time the Stars lost four straight at home was in Feb. 1996 when they played at Reunion Arena.
--Dallas was 3-5 against the Coyotes this year, including going 1-3 on home ice.
--Morrow had his six-game point streak snapped.
1 - 0 PHX
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 PHX
2 - 2 Tie
3 - 2 PHX
4 - 2 PHX