After dominating the first two games of their Western Conference Quarterfinals matchup in stunning fashion, the Dallas Stars were unable to put the defending champions on the ropes, dropping a 4-2 decision to the Anaheim Ducks Tuesday night in front of a raucous sellout crowd at the American Airlines Center.
The Stars still lead the best-of-seven series 2-1, but could have taken a stranglehold on the series with a win, as the home team has now lost all three contests.
This looked more like the Anaheim team that lost just five games as it steam-rolled to the Stanley Cup last spring, and for two periods at least, the Stars more closely resembled the club that stumbled through a 1-7-0 early-to-mid March than the one that dismantled the Ducks in Games 1 and 2.
Dallas, which has now lost seven of their last eight home playoff outings, trailed 4-0 heading into the third period, but rallied to close to within two and pressured Anaheim for the entire period, but were unable to complete the comeback.
“We battled through in the third but it wasn’t meant to be tonight,” Stars coach Dave Tippett said. “The reality check came in tonight about how hard this series is going to be. We’ll take some positives from this but there are some things we need to work on.”
Once again special teams excellence were a major factor, as the Ducks built their early lead with two power play markers and Dallas fueled its comeback hopes with two extra-man goals of their own.
That was an area Dallas dominated in the first two games, when the Stars were 6-for-13 with the PP and Anaheim just 1-for-9. The Stars are now a stellar 8-for-20 in the series, best in the NHL.
Captain Brenden Morrow struck for both Dallas goals, with Mike Modano and Mike Ribeiro each collecting two assists to lead the Stars’ offense.
While the atmosphere inside the American Airlines Center, with the ‘blackout’ in full effect, was electric, especially when the rabid faithful waved their white towels, they were quieted early as the Stars fell behind 3-0 in the first period and didn’t get back into it until the third when they were down by four.
The other key for Anaheim was the back-to-normal, outstanding performance they received from goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who made 31 saves to register his 32nd career post-season victory.
For the Stars, Marty Turco faced just 15 shots, stopping 11.
“There seemed to be a little bit of hesitation early and they capitalized on the mistakes we made,” Modano said. “They took advantage of some missed coverages and scoring five goals on these guys is tough. We got some momentum built up and (Game 4) Thursday will be different. We just had some second-guessing and you can’t have those things happen in the playoffs.”
Down 4-0 going into the final period, the Stars almost broke the goose-egg 34 seconds into the frame as Steve Ott, circling behind the net, threw a backhanded wrap-around attempt right through the crease, and just past a charging Modano as well.
Dallas finally got on the board on a power play at the 5:43 mark on Morrow’s first of the night. After evading Chris Pronger in front of the Anaheim net, Morrow deftly re-directed Modano’s pass from the right face-off circle past Giguere into an open net to jump-start the Stars’ night.
Morrow struck again just 1:39 later on another power play. Modano fired a one-timer from the left circle that Giguere made a pad save on, but the rebound went right to Morrow at the right side of the crease, and he slammed it home for his third goal of the post-season at 7:22.
With the blacked-out crowd buzzing again, the Stars continued to generate opportunities and had all the momentum going their way. About 1:15 after pulling to within two, Ribeiro had a nice deflection in front off Morrow’s wrist shot from the top of the right face-off circle, but Giguere made the stop.
Then Jere Lehtinen had a point-blank wrist shot from the slot with 9:34 to go in regulation, but was denied by Giguere.
A double-minor high-sticking penalty to Mathieu Schneider gave the Stars a golden opportunity to edge closer with a four-minute power play with 9:21 left in the third, but despite constant pressure and several solid scoring chances, they were unable to cash in.
Niklas Hagman had the best chance but was unable to lift his in-close wrist shot over Giguere’s shoulder with 7:25 remaining. After four shots on goal during the lengthy power play, Dallas held a 13-3 edge in the third period and wouldn’t surrender another.
Unfortunately for them, they would only generate one more of their own, a prime chance by Lehtinen with 2:05 to go. After Modano’s slap shot from the top of the left face-off circle was blocked, Lehtinen fired the loose puck from low in the circle that Giguere got just enough of with his shoulder to send it over the net.
Even though the Stars pulled Turco for an extra attacker with 1:29 to play and controlled the puck in the Anaheim zone for much of that time, they were unable to get another quality opportunity.
“I don’t know if it was nerves or what, but we were down three before we knew it,” Morrow said. “We had some missed coverages and they came at us hard. We shot ourselves in the foot a couple times, but we battled hard, out-chanced them and outshot them. We got some momentum in the third period and you’d like to have that for 60 minutes. It was a matter of too little, too late.”
The Stars burst out of the chutes with passion, continuing the momentum from their two opening victories, immediately generating a scoring chance just 15 seconds into the contest. Stu Barnes won an offensive zone face-off back to Modano at the top of the right circle, but Giguere made a nice pad stop on the resulting wrist shot.
Dallas had a power play opportunity early, but were unable to cash in on it, although Lehtinen had an outstanding chance 4:30 into the period on the rush, firing a wrist shot from the high slot that Giguere swallowed up.
The Ducks then capitalized on their first real foray into the Dallas zone, taking their first lead of the series on a goal by Todd Marchant, who has broken the hearts of Stars fans in the playoffs before. Travis Moen fed a quick pass out from behind the net to a charging Marchant in front, and the veteran popped a point-blank shot under Turco’s arm and just inside the post at 6:39.
Anaheim then extended the lead to two midway through the period after a Stars turnover inside their own zone led to a short breakaway by Ryan Getzlaf. Getzlaf made a wide move to his backhand and slid the puck under Turco’s outstretched goal stick to make it 2-0.
The Stars very nearly got back in this one three minutes later, as Nicklas Grossman hit Hagman with a pretty lead pass to send Hagman in on a breakaway with 6:54 remaining. Hagman made a nice deke from backhand to forehand and had Giguere beaten, but was unable to complete the move and the puck slid harmlessly through the crease.
Unfortunately, later on the same shift, Hagman was whistled for hooking and the Ducks quieted the blacked out sellout crowd of 18,584 by cashing in on the man-advantage to make it 3-0. Todd Bertuzzi fed a quick pass out of the right corner to Pronger open at the back door, and the Duck captain and former Norris Trophy winner guided home a one-timer at 14:31.
At that point, Anaheim had scored three goals on five shots on goal.
“We played well at the beginning and had some chances, but I didn’t make the big saves we needed early,” Turco said. “That’s the way it goes, but it was nice to see us keep fighting later on. We still have a long series ahead of us. We can’t expect to win every game or every battle, score tons of goals and make every save. It’s hockey and that’s a really good team over there that has our full attention. We had a chance to win every game and tonight was no different. We gained some momentum in the third but it was too little, too late.”
Hagman almost got one back a minute later, but Giguere made a big save on his point-blank wrist shot to keep the Stars off the board going into the first intermission.
“A couple of turnovers and mental mistakes led to goals and that’s kind of huge at this time of year,” Modano said. “They’re magnified a great deal when those things happen, and coverage breakdowns on the penalty kill. Those were things that were really rock solid in the first two games that we need to fix quick.”
Trailing 3-0 entering the second, the Stars had a couple of chances to get back into the game 4:10 into the period. First, Barnes’ wrap-around attempt ricocheted off Ott and rolled just wide of the far post, and seconds later, Barnes fired a fierce wrist shot from the left face-off circle, but Giguere snagged it with the glove.
Dallas then got into penalty trouble, putting the Ducks on a 5-on-3 advantage for 1:14 when rookie defenseman Matt Niskanen inadvertently shot the puck out of play from his own zone and was called for delay of game. The Ducks needed just 22 seconds to strike, as Pronger scored his second goal of the game on a blazing slap shot from 50 feet out that Turco never saw. That made it 4-0 at 5:34 and the Ducks were still on the power play.
And even though the Stars ended up down two men again when Trevor Daley put the puck into the stands, it was just for 10 seconds and Dallas managed to kill the rest of the penalties, although Turco was called upon to make a big point-blank stop on Getzlaf in front first.
The Stars continued to battle and had the territorial advantage for the rest of the period, generating several prime opportunities late in the period, but were unable to break through.
Giguere got his shoulder on Modano’s scorching wrist shot from the high slot on a power play with 3:29 left in the period, and then seconds later, Giguere robbed Hagman’s point-blank shot.
The Stars had their best chance of the first two periods to find the twine with 2:07 remaining in the second, when Philippe Boucher boomed a slap shot from the point that rookie B.J. Crombeen deflected out of mid-air from the slot, but the puck clanged off the crossbar and went over.
“I’m very disappointed in losing, but we’re in fix-it mode, not get-angry mode,” Tippett said. “Let’s get after it. We’ve got some things that want to do better, we’ve got some things we want to improve, but we’re not going to whine and cry about it, we’re going to get after it. We were chasing the game early and had some penalty trouble in the second, and that was the way the game rolled out tonight.”
Now the Stars turn their attention to Game 4 on Thursday night (7 pm start, my27) in front of another rabid blackout crowd at the American Airlines Center, and will try to come out of the gates a little smoother in that one.
“We didn’t expect to win four games in a row,” Ribeiro said. “We still have the lead here and
we need to win the next one. We must re-group, stay confident and get back at it at practice tomorrow.”
“Next game we need to be ready to compete from the beginning and if we do that, we’ll be fine,” added defenseman Stephane Robidas, who fired a game-high eight shots on goal. “We do need to
play a better game at home in front of our fans. We are still up 2-1 and the next one is so important for us, so we need to put this one behind us and focus on the next one on Thursday night.”
- Morrow, with three goals now in the post-season, has already matched his career high for goals in a playoff year.
- Ribeiro has already surpassed his career-high for assists (six) and points (seven) in a single post-season.
- In addition to his two primary assists, Modano also fired five shots on goal and was an impressive 8-3 on face-offs.
- Robidas logged a game-high 28:15 of ice time in the contest and his eight shots were a career-high as well. He also delivered an incredible 10 hits in the contest, by far more than any other player on either team.
- The Stars have now scored 11 goals in the series’ three games after connecting for a total of 12 goals in their entire seven-game first-round playoff series, which included multiple overtime periods, against the Canucks last spring.
- The Stars have led best-of-seven series 2-1 on 17 different occasions in their history and are 12-5 in those series. The last time they led 2-1 was in the first round of the 2001 post-season, when they defeated Edmonton in six.