The Dallas Stars were plenty hot heading into their showdown against the San Jose Sharks. Evgeni Nabokov eventually cooled them off.
The Stars threw everything they had at the Sharks goalie, but were consistently thwarted by the league's second 20-game winner in San Jose's 3-1 win on Monday night at American Airlines Center.
Kicking aside 28 shots, Nabokov was sharp throughout, and frustrated the Stars snipers with his stoutness between the pipes. Nabokov didn't allow many rebounds, and when he did he'd effortlessly kick out a pad to stop the second chance.
"Nabokov is one of the best goalies in the league and we couldn't get pucks past him," defenseman Stephane Robidas said.
The Stars controlled the play over most of the 60 minutes, and impressively outshot the Western Conference-leading Sharks by a 28-18 margin. But Nabokov, along with the squandering of all six of their power play opportunities, wound up doing the Stars in.
Coming in, Dallas had scored at least one man-advantage goal in each of its last four games. But against the Sharks, they couldn't convert on one, and blew a chance to tie the game in the second period when they were given a two-man edge for almost a minute.
In all, Dallas recorded just six shots while on the power play.
"When we have success, our power play is working," Robidas said. "We couldn't capitalize on a 5-on-3 and some other chances down the stretch. We competed pretty well against a good team, and we are playing much better as a team. But we still have a lot of improvements to make."
Matt Niskanen scored the lone goal for the Stars, who had their four-game home winning streak snapped while losing for the first time in regulation in the last six games (4-1-1).
"You can't get more point blank chances than that," coach Dave Tippett said. "We controlled play and had some good opportunities, and that is positive. I think we played better tonight than we did the other night to be honest, and we did some good things. We held them to under 20 shots, but they got opportunistic goals and we didn't."
Marty Turco made 16 saves, and lost for just the third time in his last nine starts (6-2-1).
He also stopped San Jose captain Patrick Marleau's penalty shot attempt with 3:43 to go in the third period while Dallas was up a man. Marleau was awarded the free breakaway when he was hooked from behind by Robidas.
"It was one of those games that we have to realize we played well," Turco said. "We're not going to win every game, even when you do things well. We stayed in it the whole game and that was a great sign for our team. It's just really unfortunate we couldn't collect any points."
Ryane Clowe had a goal and assist, and Jonathan Cheechoo and Milan Michalek also scored for the Sharks, who overtook the idle Boston Bruins for the top spot in the NHL with 60 points.
Dallas had the opportunity to send the game into overtime, especially after Niskanen made it 2-1 with five minutes left in regulation. Niskanen flicked a shot from the right point that San Jose defenseman Alexei Semenov tried to glove down, but instead he changed the trajectory of the puck causing it to go past a stunned Nabokov for the defenseman's third goal of the season.
The Stars were then handed a power play when Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle closed his hand on the puck with 3:52 to go, but once again were unable to capitalize.
Almost three minutes later, Clowe scored into an empty net to seal the win.
"It found its way into the net and gave us some life," Niskanen said about his goal. "I thought we did some good things tonight, and had lot of positives. They're the best team in the league, but the way we checked tonight we were right there with them."
"We talked about winning battles and we won a lot of them," Tippett added. "We have a lot of upside on this team and we will continue to push toward what we are capable of. The effort tonight was something to build on."
Up by a goal after a scoreless second period, the Sharks increased their edge to 2-0 just four minutes into the third period. With the puck beneath the goal line near the right corner, Joe Pavelski sent a pass to Michalek, who was cruising in from the right circle. Michalek cut to the slot, and despite being hooked down by James Neal, was able to lift the puck over Turco for his eighth goal of the season.
The Sharks jumped out to a 1-0 lead on Cheechoo's sixth goal of the year with 4:50 left in the first period. After a couple of nice chances for the Stars that were turned aside by Nabokov, Joe Thornton lugged the puck along the right wing and into the Dallas zone. Stopping at the hash marks, Thornton fed Boyle at the right point, and the defenseman's slap shot was deflected by Cheechoo in front.
The Stars will conclude their three-game homestand on Wednesday when they host the New Jersey Devils during their traditional New Year's Eve game at 7:30 (FSN). The Devils, playing without injured goalie Martin Brodeur, will be ending their three-game road trip in Dallas after playing in St. Louis against the Blues on Tuesday.
"We play a big game on New Year's Eve to get some points and keep things going like we did tonight," Turco said. "It was a great year in some regards and a tough ending the way this season started. It wasn't pretty for a while. We've got one big game left to close out the year and we need the points."
--Rookie forward Fabian Brunnstrom didn't play because of a lower body injury. He's day-to-day after sustaining the injury in Saturday's overtime win over Anaheim. Veteran ark Parrish replaced Brunnstrom in the lineup.
--Center Brad Richards had his career-high tying four-game goal scoring streak snapped as well as his five-game points streak.
--Center Mike Ribeiro also had his five-game points streak stopped.
--Turco has now denied 13 straight penalty shot attempts.
--Dallas is 0-3 against the Sharks this year, and 0-2 against them at American Airlines Center, including a 6-2 defeat last month. "This one hurts, but the last time we played them it was ugly," Niskanen said. "We've come a long way since then."
--The Stars fell to 1-13-1 when trailing after two periods.
--The Stars killed off all three of San Jose's power-play opportunities.
--Center Mike Modano registered a game-high six shots.
--Dallas had 19 giveaways compared to the Sharks' seven.
1 - 0 SJS
2 - 0 SJS
2 - 1 SJS
3 - 1 SJS