DALLAS - It’s getting down to desperation time for the Dallas Stars.
The Stars’ task got a lot tougher after Henrik Sedin scored two goals and an assist and his twin Daniel scored one goal and one assist to lead the Vancouver Canucks to a 5-2 victory over struggling, injury-decimated Stars Tuesday night at the American Airlines Center.
It was a big blow to the club’s playoff hopes as they fell to 4-11-1 in their last 16 games, including 2-7-0 in their last nine at home, and remained stuck in 12th place in the Western Conference standings with 74 points. They are now four points back of Anaheim in the eighth and final post-season slot.
It’s been a frustrating run to the depleted club, but they continue to battle and press, they’re just not getting the Ws they need to keep pace with the other clubs also in the post-season hunt.
“As troubling and as frustrating as its been, we’re still right there,” noted center Mike Modano. “It put us in a position to make it quite interesting down the stretch. There’s no sense hanging back playing safe or playing scared, you have to initiate, you have to throw it at them so at least you know when all is said and done, you did everything you could offensively and defensively. You don’t want to use anything as excuses but you do feel a little shorthanded out there.”
Special teams were the Stars’ undoing in this one, as they failed to score on four power plays while surrendering three man-advantage goals to the Canucks.
Newcomer Brendan Morrison staked the Stars to an early 1-0 lead while rookie James Neal showed that the future will be bright in Dallas by scoring a highlight-reel goal in the third period as the Stars tried to mount a late comeback.
“I think the effort is there, I think it’s been there the last little while, it’s just the results haven’t been there,” Morrison said. “Execution at times is hurting us. It’s a fine line, a real fine line and right now, we’re not on the right side of that line.”
Marty Turco made 17 saves in goal.
In a rough-and-tumble contest in which the Stars were shorthanded seven times, they put forth a solid effort during even strength situations, but had a difficult time solving Canucks All-Star goaltender Roberto Luongo, who stopped 35 Dallas shots.
“They have a good power play, but we made them look awfully good,” Stars coach Dave Tippett said of the Canucks, who entered the day with the NHL’s 17th-ranked PP unit. “Discipline was at the forefront of our preparation, but we didn’t have it tonight. You have to be able to kill a penalty - our PK was bad and we needed some more saves. We played hard and had guys working, 5-on-5 wasn’t bad, but the special teams killed us. We kept shooting ourselves in the foot.”
With the game’s first power play, the Stars also had the game’s first good scoring chance, as Luongo made a scintillating save on Morrison 3:07 in. After Luongo made a pad save on Mike Ribeiro’s long shot, the rebound bounced right to a wide open Morrison in front. Facing an open net, Morrison fired what appeared to be a sure goal, but Luongo lunged back with goal stick to make the unbelievable save.
Morrison quickly redeemed himself, though, giving the Stars an early 1-0 lead at 4:44 with the clubs back at even strength. After Mark Fistric’s slap shot from the left point went wide, it ricocheted off the back boards and out the right side, where Morrison jammed it with a backhander past the scrambling Luongo into the open side of the net.
“I should have scored earlier on the rebound there,” Morrison said, “but Luongo just waved at it with his paddle there, got it out of the air. It was a great save. I was fortunate on the next one, just got a carom off the end boards there and was able to put it in.”
Less than a minute later, the Stars had a glorious opportunity to go up by two, when Ribeiro found himself all alone in front of the net, but Luongo thwarted him with a pad save.
The Canucks tied it at 11:06 on their first man-advantage opportunity of the night. Just 34 seconds after rookie Fabian Brunnstrom was whistled for holding in the offensive zone, Ryan Kesler netted his 22nd goal of the season. Mats Sundin controlled the puck at the top of the right face-off circle before sliding a deceptive pass to Kesler in the high slot. Kesler spun and quickly fired a low wrist shot past Turco, who had been anticipated a pass across to the left side and had slid over.
Luongo made a sparkling save on James Neal with 4:08 left in the period, after the rookie made a nice move cutting in front from the right circle.
Vancouver went up 2-1 with 1:33 left in the first on another power play goal. Fistric was off feeling shame for four minutes for high-sticking Daniel Sedin and not only drawing blood but also likely knocking out a tooth or two, but Sedin made it back on the ice during the man-advantage. With blood still on his jersey, Sedin was in front and managed to angle his skate to re-direct Sami Salo’s slap shot from the left point past Turco.
So despite playing really well and outshooting Vancouver 14-7, the Stars trailed by a goal after one.
The Canucks capitalized on another power play early in the second period to go up by two. This time it was the other Sedin twin, Henrik, who struck, just 1:38 into the period. Henrik cruised across the high slot and executed a nifty deflection of Kevin Bieksa’s slap shot from the right point to beat Turco.
“We want to be aggressive and we did that early 5-on-5, we pushed the game, dictated the game, but kept allowing them power plays,” Tippett said. “We have too many breakdowns right now. We have to take each game in our own hands and we still have lots of drive in that locker room. Our effort, I don’t have a problem with. We are not channeling that effort into winning hockey games.”
The Stars continued to battle, though, generating scoring chances and getting involved in some rough stuff late in the period. Steve Ott riled up the opposition and fired up the crowd upon stepping out of the penalty box with 5:04 left and immediately leveling Taylor Pyatt and setting off some mayhem on the ice that resulted in two players from each side, including Ott, being sent off.
Then with 3:50 remaining, Turco wandered out to the left sideboards to play the puck and Vancouver enforcer Darcy Hordichuk checked him, which led to Trevor Daley taking Hordichuk out with a check and more mayhem.
Turco made a big save on Henrik Sedin’s fancy spin-around move in front with 1:10 to go in the second after an incredible, no-look, facing-the-boards pass between his own legs pass from Daniel in the right corner.
Down 3-1 heading into the final period, Turco kept Dallas in the game with two sparkling saves in the first minute of the third. First he made a nice pad stop on Kesler’s uncontested re-direct in front 26 second in and then he made a larcenous stop 30 seconds later when he lunged across the crease to rob Burrows’ backhander with his goalstick along the goal line.
Still, the Canucks managed to go up 4-1 at 2:27 on a nice individual effort by Kesler. He raced into the Stars’ zone on the left side, worked his way around defenseman Darryl Sydor, cut into the crease and beat Turco with a point-blank shot for his second of the night and 23rd of the season.
Then, as he has done several times this season, Neal took over the game for several minutes, pulling the Stars to within two with 11 minutes left in regulation on a fantastic effort. After receiving a nice lead pass at the Vancouver blue line from Matt Niskanen, Neal blew past Canuck defender Willie Mitchell and in on Luongo, flinging a backhander that squeezed through Luongo’s pads for his 24th goal of the year before slamming into the end boards.
“It was a good pass from Niskanen,” said Neal, who tied Anaheim’s Bobby Ryan for the most goals by a rookie this year. “I was coming with good speed from the middle.”
Just 37 seconds later, Neal showed impressive discipline himself as he drew a roughing penalty on Mitchell without retaliating. Unfortunately for the Stars, they were unable to cash in on the man-advantage, but Neal looked good, helping generate several chances.
“I think Nealer, that’s flashes of what you’re going to see for in a long time in this league,” Ott said of his 21-year-old teammate. “He’s come in and he’s had a hell of a rookie season - I think he’s leading the rookie scoring. He’s been a young guy with a lot on his shoulders in this dressing room, with the guys we have lost and he’s took the opportunity and he’s run with it. It’s going to be a lot to come and a lot of good years in the league for a bright future.”
The Stars continued to press but misfired on a couple of opportunities, with Loui Eriksson unable to get his stick on a cross-ice pass from Daley in front and with Stephane Robidas’ booming one-timer from the left circle going just wide and hitting Ribeiro just beyond the far goalpost.
With Turco on the bench for an extra attacker over the final minute and a half, Dallas still couldn’t beat Luongo and Henrik Sedin tossed some salt in the wound by sliding a shot from center ice into an empty net with 16.5 seconds left to account for the final score.
“We’ve got to try and hang in there and lean on each other as teammates and friends and get through this,” Modano said. “We just feel we had a great start to the game and we deserved a better fate for this game. Their power play is just clicking at such a high rate and they have tons of options. It’s been death for us against these guys and it shot us in the foot. You get down two or three against them and it’s tough.”
The Stars continue a three-game homestand with another crucial battle Thursday night against Los Angeles (7:30 pm, FSN). The Kings remain on the fringes of the West playoff race, in 13th place with 70 points. You can be sure the Stars’ desperation level with be at its peak, because the fate of their season will be at stake.
“You hate to even think of yourselves out of a playoff spot and right now we’re out of a playoff spot,” Ott said. “The reality is we have to win games and collect points to make a playoff push. We have nine games left and we’re going to have to start Thursday night and start getting points. If not, we’re going to be dreaming about this and having a hell of a long summer.”
- With 24 goals as a rookie, Neal has the seventh-highest total ever by a Stars rookie. He led the team with five shots on goal in the contest.
- Morrison’s goal, his second in a Dallas uniform since he was claimed off waivers from Anaheim on March 4, gives him a modest three-game point streak, during which he’s notched two goals and an assist. It was also his 500th career NHL regular season point. “It just means you are old,” Morrison said of the milestone. “It’s the last thing on my mind right now.”
- With an assist on Neal’s goal, defenseman Nicklas Grossman now has four points (one goal, three assists) in his last six outings.
- Center Steve Begin returned to the lineup to skate in his 400th NHL regular season game after missing the previous two contests with an upper body injury and collected his first assist as a Star on Morrison’s goal. He now has two points (one goal, one assist) in his last four games played.
- Center Tom Wandell was also on the ice for the Stars, after getting recalled from Timra IK of the Swedish Elite League on Sunday. In 10:49 of ice time, he registered three shots on goal.
- To make room for Begin and Wandell, the Stars scratched Krys Barch for the second time in the last three games.
- After going 0-for-4 on the power play, the Stars are now a paltry 1-for-24 over their last six contests.
- Ott’s surgically-repaired right hand must be feeling better, since he dropped the gloves and fought Vancouver’s Alex Burrows midway through the first period.
- The Stars are now 16-7-2 against Vancouver in their last 25 regular season meetings, including an 8-2-0 in the last nine at the American Airlines Center. Meanwhile, Turco entered the day with a 17-5-1 lifetime record against the Canucks, with two shutouts and a 1.82 goals-against average.
1 - 0 DAL
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 VAN
3 - 1 VAN
4 - 1 VAN
4 - 2 VAN
5 - 2 VAN
Delay of game