SAN JOSE - A strong start against the Pacific Division-leading San Jose Sharks wasn't enough to stop the Stars unfortunate slide.
Opening with plenty of energy, the downtrodden Stars couldn't keep up with the Sharks in a devastating 5-2 loss at HP Pavilion on Saturday afternoon.
Dallas again failed to gain ground on Nashville for the final playoff slot in the Western Conference, and remains three points behind the eighth-place Predators. But the Stars will now have to climb over three other teams if they want to continue playing a month from now.
The injury-riddled Stars got a boost with center Brad Richards' return from a fractured wrist that forced him to miss the last 15 games. But incredibly, in this bizarre season that has seen the Stars lose over 300 man-games because of various ailments, the playmaking center, who wore a brace to help protect his right hand, broke a bone in his left one in the third period and will likely be lost for the rest of the season.
"It's do or we're done now for us," feisty winger Steve Ott said. "It's tough, but we have a lot of pride. It's been a tough year, a roller coaster for us, injury-wise, but we are not going to give up."
Loui Eriksson and Stephane Robidas scored for Dallas, which lost all three games on its ugly three-game western swing. Marty Turco made 25 saves in goal.
With their playoff lives hanging by a thread, the Stars have accumulated just a 4-6-1 record during the critical month of March.
"We didn't play like we did the first few minutes of the game," said Robidas, who netted his third goal of the season in the third period. "We tried to come back, but we were chasing the game. We have to be smart defensively, but we have to spend time in their zone and create scoring chances also. It's a big two points that we gave up tonight, but we have to keep pushing."
Richards' insertion into the lineup seemed to give the team a positive jolt of energy, as they came out of the gate strong. Dallas forechecked with plenty of intensity, and the Stars forwards won plenty of puck battles along the boards that put the Sharks on their heels early on.
That hard work and aggressiveness was paying off, as Dallas recorded eight of the first 10 shots in grabbing a 1-0 lead on Eriksson's goal 7 minutes in.
But after Robidas was whistled for a hooking penalty at 12:28 of the first period, the Sharks suddenly grabbed the lead and the momentum with a power-play goal by Joe Thornton followed by an even-strength tally by Devin Setoguchi 29 seconds later.
"We were very good early, but had to chase the game after those two quick goals," coach Dave Tippett said. "We could never regain the momentum, and that's the way things are going for us."
Up by a goal through the first 34 minutes of the game, the Sharks eventually broke the game open with a pair of goals by Joe Pavelski and Milan Michalek just 19 seconds apart late in the second period, propelling them to their third straight home win.
Evgeni Nabokov made 23 saves for the Sharks to win his fourth straight decision.
The Stars were able to cut the deficit in half to 4-2 when Robidas' blistering slap shot from the left point 5:17 into the third whistled past Nabokov, but Patrick Marleau iced it for the Sharks with an empty-net, shorthanded goal with a minute left in regulation.
Ultimately, the quick-strike San Jose offense was too much for the Stars to overcome.
"The only way we are going to make a run and win games is to play the way we did early on today," Ott said. "We didn't capitalize on any of the chances, and then they seized momentum with their two quick ones."
Pavelski gave the Sharks a 3-1 lead with his 21st of the season with 5:43 left in the second period. Off the draw in the left circle, the puck squirted toward the slot before defenseman Trevor Daley kicked it back into the direction of the faceoff dot. Pavelski corralled the loose puck and wristed a shot past Turco.
Nineteen seconds later Michalek stretched the lead to 4-1 with his 21st of the season. From the right circle, Michalek sent a cross-ice pass through the slot in the direction of Setoguchi, but the puck ricocheted off Richards' skate and in.
"It was a big game for us today," said Pavelski, who also added two assists. "We had good time in the offensive zone in that (second) period and created a lot of chances."
Eriksson scored his team-leading 33rd of the year to open the scoring at 7:30 of the first period. In the right circle, Eriksson made a nifty move around San Jose defenseman Rob Blake, then went around the net and tucked the puck in on a slick backhand wraparound.
Thornton's power-play goal tied it with 6:55 left in the first period. After accepting a pass at the bottom of the right circle from Marleau, Thornton waited a couple of seconds before slipping a shot past Turco along the ice.
Just 29 seconds later, Setoguchi gave the Sharks a 2-1 edge with his 26th of the year. Turco was able to handle defenseman Brad Lukowich's shot from the slot, but Setoguchi banged home the rebound from the side of the net.
Of Setoguchi's 37 career NHL goals, six have come against the Stars, the most against any opponent.
The Stars return home to begin a stretch of three games played at the friendly confines of American Airlines Center, where they've posted a 19-13-4 mark this season. Dallas kicks the homestand off on Tuesday night when they host the Vancouver Canucks (7:30 pm, FSN).
The Canucks downed the Stars 4-2 in Vancouver this past Tuesday.
"You have to get back at it, find a way to get points and regroup at home," Tippett said. "We have big ones at home that we need to get ready for now."
--Richards got over 15 minutes of ice time before leaving for good with 13 minutes left in the game. "It's not good news there," Tippett said about Richards' new injury.
--Center Brian Sutherby was scratched because of a lower body injury sustained in the loss to Calgary on Wednesday, while center Mike Modano returned after a one-game absence because of a lower body injury.
--The Stars were just 5-9-1 while Richards was sidelined, and averaged just a tad over two goals per game during that time. Richards' return sent Landon Wilson to the press box.
-- Eriksson played in his 200th NHL career game, and now has points in nine of his last 11 games.
--Robidas extended his points streak to three games.
--Brendan Morrison picked up an assist on Eriksson's goal, and needs only one more point for 500 in his NHL career.
--The Sharks won all but one of the six-game season series.
--Dallas fell to 9-4-1 in its last 14 games in San Jose.
--The Stars went 0-for-4 on the power play, and were able to cash in only once on 14 man-advantage opportunities on the three-game road trip.
1 - 0 DAL
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 SJS
3 - 1 SJS
4 - 1 SJS
4 - 2 SJS
SHG - EN -
5 - 2 SJS