With four games to win one, the Stars took their first mulligan.
Their playoff lives on the line, the San Jose Sharks staved off elimination for at least a couple of days with a 2-1 come-from-behind win over the Stars in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinal series on Wednesday night at a revved up American Airlines Center. Dallas still leads the best-of-seven series 3-1, and will have another chance to polish off the Sharks when the series shifts to San Jose for Game 5 on Friday night (9 p.m., Versus).
Only two teams in NHL history have ever fought back to win a seven-game series after falling into an 0-3 hole like the Sharks have done.
Jere Lehtinen scored the only goal for Dallas, which had its four game playoff winning streak snapped, while goalie Marty Turco played another stellar game, finishing with 22 saves in the loss.
"We knew they were going to come hard and they got a couple late goals," Lehtinen said. "We have to play better and get our game to the next level in Game 5. Both teams played tight defensive hockey, and they just got one more goal than we did."
Dallas was looking to sweep a series for the first time since rolling over Edmonton in the first round in 1999, the year the Stars won their first Stanley Cup.
"We smelled the blood but we certainly didn't plan on sweeping them coming into the series," Turco said. "It doesn't matter who scores the goals, it's about playing as a team and sticking to our game plan. We are going to continue to stick to our game and look for heroes. We like the way we are playing, limiting their opportunities."
Milan Michalek scored the winner early in the third period, and Patrick Marleau scored a short handed goal to help the Sharks live to see another day. San Jose has been swept in a series only once in its franchise history.
Down by a goal and thoroughly being outplayed, the Sharks turned the game around on Marleau's goal midway through the second. San Jose soon began to ride the surge, and finally capitalized on Michalek's power-play goal at 3:26 of the third.
Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov denied Dallas' last gasp attempt to send the game into overtime when he slid across the crease to stop Niklas Hagman's wraparound attempt with 55 seconds to go. Nabokov, playing his best game of the series, made 17 saves for the win.
"It's a game of inches and they ended up capitalizing on their chances," forward Brad Richards said. "We won two of the games in overtime, and it's just a fine line. We have to get pucks in deep and try to limit what they're doing."
Ironically, it was the third period that doomed Dallas. Coming in, the Stars had dominated the final period of play, outscoring their playoff opponents by a 19-5 margin over the final stanza and overtime.
On Wednesday, it was the Sharks that scored the lone goal in the last 20 minutes.
"We were still knocking on the door in the third," Turco said. "It was another tight game in the third, and this is playoff hockey."
The news, though, isn't all bad for the Stars, especially since they've enjoyed plenty of success at the Shark Tank. They've won eight of the past nine there, including the first two games in this series by a combined score of 8-4.
In addition, Dallas has won four of its past five road game this postseason.
"I still like where we are, and we're still in a good spot," Richards said.
A big reason why the Stars were able to vault to a three-game lead was their ability to neutralize Joe Thornton. But the big center made a slick pass to Michalek in tight, and Michalek tapped in the feed to give the Sharks their 2-1 edge.
It was just Thornton's second point of the series.
After a scoreless first period, the Stars grabbed a 1-0 lead on Lehtinen's 26th career playoff goal at 5:25 of the second. After being harassed by Brenden Morrow in the left corner, Sharks forward Devin Setoguchi carelessly sent an errant clearing attempt through the slot. Lehtinen gladly accepted the miscue and neatly snapped off a shot that was deposited into the top-right corner.
San Jose tied it at 9:29 of the second, as Marleau scored on a goal that was nearly a carbon copy of his tally in Game 3. The Sharks captain picked-off Dallas defenseman Sergei Zubov's pass at the San Jose blueline and went in alone on Turco before wristing a shot off the post and into the net for his fourth postseason goal.
He scored a similar goal on Tuesday night, capitalizing on another Zubov turnover to score on a breakaway.
The Sharks nearly took the lead late in the second, but Stars defenseman Stephane Robidas swatted away a loose puck before San Jose center Jeremy Roenick could shovel it into an empty net.
Turco helped keep the game scoreless in the first period with a brilliant save on Sharks forward Mike Grier five minutes into the contest. Skating hard to the net, Grier neatly tried to chip the puck over Turco on a redirect attempt, but was denied.
Nabokov also came up big for the Sharks, making key saves on Lehtinen and Hagman.
The Stars once again found themselves in penalty trouble in the first 20 minutes, as the Sharks were given three power plays. However, Dallas' stellar penalty killing continued, thwarting the Sharks popgun man advantage attack.
The Sharks are a mere 1-for-12 on first-period power plays thus far in the series, and were 1-for-6 overall in Game 4.
"They did a good job creating turnovers, and the shorthanded goals are tough," Morrow said. "That's something we need to clean up. We knew they weren't going to quit on us."
"It was a tight game," coach Dave Tippett added. "The turnover by Zubie was uncharacteristic, but something we need to clean up. We gave the momentum back with that after we took the lead."
The game also completed a rough three games in four nights stretch for both teams. But with some time now to regroup, the Stars won't be in any mood to let the Sharks off the hook again on the west coast.
"We do feel like we can win on their home ice, but we still have to be ready for a big challenge," Robidas said. "We have to stay more disciplined next game."
"We'll go out and play a simple road game in San Jose, stay out of the box and play smart," Richards added.
All the ingredients that have made the Stars so successful this spring.
--The Stars were without forward Stu Barnes, who was held out after absorbing a check by Sharks forward Jonathan Cheechoo in the third period of Game 3. Toby Petersen replaced Barnes.
--Dallas once again dressed seven defensemen.
--Lehtinen tied Bobby Smith for sixth on the all-time playoff goal scoring list.
--Center Mike Ribeiro was held pointless for only the third time in 10 playoff games, and fell a point behind Philadelphia's Daniel Briere for the league lead.
--The Stars were looking to earn only their third sweep in franchise history. In addition to sweeping the Oilers in '99, Dallas also steamrolled St. Louis in four straight in the 1994 Western Conference quarterfinals.
--The Stars dropped to 27-19 against teams facing elimination.
--Dallas was 0-for-3 on the power play.
--Scratched for Dallas were defensemen Philippe Boucher (lower body) and forwards Krystofer Barch, Brad Winchester, and Brandon Crombeen.
1 - 0 DAL
1 - 1 Tie