DALLAS - There must be something in the water, because suddenly the Dallas Stars just can’t win on home ice.
After returning home from a successful 2-0-1 California road trip, the Stars struggled on the power play and watched a 1-0 lead evaporate in the second period on their way to a disappointing 3-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens Sunday evening at the American Airlines Center.
After going 13-2-1 in their previous 16 games at home, the Stars have now lost six in a row in the friendly confines of the AAC by a combined score of 18-7.
Dallas remains in a three-way tie for the seventh spot in the Western Conference standings with Edmonton and Nashville, but missed another golden opportunity to solidify their place in the crowded playoff race.
Against a Montreal squad coached by former Star Guy Carbonneau that had lost two straight by a combined 7-1 margin and were 2-11-1 in their previous 14 road games, the Stars bolted out to a 1-0 lead in the first period. But with multiple power plays, including about three minutes of 5-of-3 advantages, Dallas could not build on the lead and watched it slip away as the Canadiens got momentum from killing them off.
“We came out with great energy and had a great start,” Stars coach Dave Tippett said. “We pushed on the power play but didn’t extend the lead. Our execution in the second was terrible - it sucked the life out of us.”
Despite outshooting Montreal 31-19, the Stars could only muster the one goal by the red-hot Loui Eriksson, who now has five in his last five games and a team-leading 32 on the season.
“It’s frustrating not to win, we need the points and we had our chances on the power play and we didn’t capitalize, so it’s a tough loss,” said Eriksson, whose goal also came on a 5-on-3 advantage 4:52 into the game. “We thought we had some good chances on the power play, we just couldn’t score on the opportunities we got on the 5-on-3. We got the one but that’s not good enough.”
Marty Turco made 16 saves in goal and an unfortunate gaffe on the third Montreal goal early in the third period.
“We just need points,” Turco said. “We’re just not in a position to let them slip away - we had a great start, we had good opportunities to extend the lead and didn’t capitalize.”
With winger Jere Lehtinen sidelined for the third straight game by an upper body injury, Eriksson against skated on the top line with Mike Ribeiro and Steve Ott. While that line excelled, but Tippett was disappointed in the offensive output of the rest of the lineup, singling out veteran center Mike Modano and newcomer Brendan Morrison specifically.
“If we don’t get something out of Modano and Morrison soon, we are going to be in trouble,” Tippett said. “We need scoring from more than one line and our margin for error is so slim. We expect more from Modano than what he gave tonight and without that, it’s going to be bad for us. When you have the ability to make plays, you better do it and we just have one line doing that right now.”
To make matters worse on the injury front, rookie Fabian Brunnstrom suffered an upper body injury and is now listed as day-to-day.
Dallas dominated the early going of this one, thanks to four power plays in the first half of the opening period. That included a 5-on-3 advantage for 16 seconds after Roman Hamrlik was sent off for tripping at 4:43, but the Stars capitalized on the brief opportunity to take an early 1-0 lead.
Stephane Robidas drilled a slap shot from the top of the right face-off circle that ricocheted off Canadiens defenseman Mike Komisarek’s skate in front right to Eriksson off to the left of the crease, and Eriksson buried it into the open side of the net at 4:52.
“I’ve been playing on the good line lately with Ribs and Otter and I’ve been getting some good passes and the puck has been going in,” Eriksson said of his recent hot streak. “I don’t know why the puck is going in, I’ve been trying to go in front of the net more.”
Ott, who suffered at least one broken tooth when high-sticked by Mathieu Schneider earlier in the period, induced the Canadiens to take some more penalties shortly after he leveled Josh Gorges and Andrei Kostitsyn on consecutive checks in the corner. Seconds later, with 1:09 left in the period, Gregory Stewart nailed Ott with an open ice hit away from the play, then started punching away at him as Ott got back to his feet.
Darryl Sydor tried to step in to help, but the linesman pulled him off, but the end result was that Stewart was banished to the penalty box for four minutes (interference and roughing). Dallas ended up with another lengthy 5-on-3 shortly afterwards when Alex Kovalev was called for roughing.
But even with all the power plays, the Stars couldn’t get another one, heading into the second up 1-0 and outshooting Montreal 9-3. Another penalty on Saku Koivu as the first period ended left the Stars with another two full minutes of two-man advantage, but they hardly even generated any offensive pressure and failed to cash in again.
“When you’re going into a 5-on-3 you just want to keep your head,” Montreal goaltender Carey Price said. “I think they only had one shot in that 5-on-3. When we killed that, that helped us get the momentum. Our guys did a good job on the PK.”
Montreal, flush with the momentum of killing off all the power plays, then struck back on Kostitsyn’s 23rd goal of the season at 5:00 of the second. Koivu had the puck at the right post and drew both Turco and Robidas over to him, then fed a pass out to Kostitsyn in the slot, and Kostitsyn drilled into the open net to tie it.
“The difference was, I think we could have put the game away in the first with all those power plays,” Robidas said. “We kind of gave them momentum back after they killed all those power plays, they were pretty pumped up and they came back. I thought we came out pretty strong in the first, but we couldn’t capitalize on our power play, and that’s it.”
“They survived that first period and we couldn’t generate nothing on that power play in the second period and they came back the next shift and scored and tied the game,” Ribeiro added. “I think the first period, if we could have extended the lead, it would have been a different game. We just couldn’t score on the power play. The power play has been struggling and once again tonight. We score a goal but with those amount of power plays, you need to create more, at least create some shots and momentum and we couldn’t generate nothing.”
Turco made a larcenous save four minutes later to keep the game even, making a save with his outstretched skate on Tomas Plekanec’s wraparound attempt. At the next whistle, the play was reviewed by the officials, but it was determined the puck never completely crossed the goal line.
Turco then denied Alex Tanguay at the left post with an arm save while lying on his side with his back to the shooter, with 7:14 left in the period.
The Canadiens went on a 51-second 5-on-3 advantage of their own, and Turco came up with another big stop on Plekanec’s slap shot from the slot with 6:25 to go. But although Montreal did not score on the power play, they did take the lead just three seconds after Modano’s hooking penalty expired.
Kovalev blasted a slap shot from the top of the left circle that appeared to bounce off Turco’s chest and find the top corner to give the Canadiens a 2-1 lead at 14:50.
“I’d love to have that second one back,” Turco said. “I feel like I got jammed. Any time you get a piece of it, you want to stop it.”
Trailing 2-1 entering the final period, the Stars nearly went down by two 4:35 into the third when Tanguay and Kostitsyn sped into the Dallas zone on a 2-on-1 rush. Tanguay fed a nice pass across to Kostitsyn in the slot, but his one-timer went wide.
Less than a minute later, however, Montreal would connect for another one on a frustrating Turco miscue. Canadiens defenseman Ryan O’Byrne sent a dump-in from center ice around the boards that Turco tried to cut off behind the net, but missed. As he got caught up in the boards, however, Christopher Higgins stopped it on the left sideboards and ripped a slap shot into the open net for his ninth of the year and a 3-1 Montreal lead at 5:27.
“I just went out to stop it on the glass,” Turco explained. “Usually I just like to skate through it and just make a turn and just got jammed up right at the boards and couldn’t make my turn, stumbled into the boards. By the time I pushed off and turned around, it’s on its way into the net. You don’t see that very often, but that’s the way it goes. You live and die like that and that’s how my game is.”
The Stars had a good chance to cut into the advantage, but Price made a nice glove snag of James Neal’s fierce wrist shot from the left circle with 10:32 remaining.
With Turco on the bench for an extra attacker, the Stars had a golden opportunity to make things interesting when Komisarek was sent off for slashing with 1:38 left in regulation. On the ensuing power play, essentially a 6-on-4 advantage, Dallas was unable to get anything past Price and time ran out on them.
“We need to find ways to win at home but we find ways to lose,” Ribeiro said. “We need to regroup. We’ll be here next week for a few games, but it’s one game at a time.”
The Stars next jet right out on the road again to face the St. Louis Blues Tuesday night (7:30 pm, FSN), in another crucial contest against a Western Conference playoff bubble team. The Blues are currently four points back of Dallas in 12th place in the West and defeated the Stars 3-1 here on Feb. 26, so it will be another tough battle.
“We just played them a week ago and we lost to them,” Robidas noted. “It’s not going to get any easier. Every game is huge for us, every point is really important, we got to bear down and stick together as a team and play like we played on the road.”
- Eriksson extended his point streak to five games and now has seven points (five goals, two assists) over that span.
- With his assist on Eriksson’s goal, Ribeiro now has 10 points (four goals, six assists) in his last seven contests. Skating in his 499th career regular season game, Ribeiro led all players in ice time with a whopping 28:31. In a statistical oddity, the Stars fell to 0-7-0 this season in games in which Ribeiro logs over 22 minutes of ice time.
- Robidas snapped a four-game pointless streak with his assist. He led the Stars with five shots on goal.
- Overall, the Stars went 1-for-9 on the power play.
- Montreal had not won in Dallas since March 4, 1998, going 0-4-1 over that span and scoring just five goals, until this contest.