DALLAS - As the injury list keeps growing to ridiculous proportions and with the fate of their season hanging in the balance, the Dallas Stars appear to be running out of gas.
In what could end up as the epitaph to their season, the Stars lost a 2-1 second period lead and fell 6-3 to the Florida Panthers Saturday night at the American Airlines Center.
After losing their sixth in a row (0-5-1), the Stars are 4-12-2 in their last 18 games, including 2-8-1 in their last 11 at home, putting their hopes to make the playoffs on life support. With seven games to play, the Stars remain stuck at 75 points in 12th place in the Western Conference, a full six points back of Edmonton and St. Louis, who are tied for the eighth and final slot.
For the third time in the last four contests, the Stars jumped out to an early 1-0 lead, had opportunities to extend the lead but were unable to, then sagged as the opposition pushed back.
“We just can’t sustain the good starts we are having, we are having a hard time keeping that level,” Stars coach Dave Tippett said. “We had a very good first period, but then we took two penalties and gave up the lead. We regained some momentum and then decided to turn it over about five times in the last minute of the second, they got a couple soft goals and that was it. We seem to have to work so hard for limited success, the other team doesn’t seem to have to work as hard and that irks me. There has never been any quit in this franchise and there won’t be any now.”
Cory Stillman scored a goal and two assists while Stephen Weiss and Nathan Horton each added a goal and an assist to lead a Panthers squad that was 2-4-3 in their previous nine and in the midst of a life-and-death battle of their own to make the playoffs in the East.
Struggling offensively, Dallas had recorded just seven goals in their previous five games and lost defensemen Mark Fistric and Stephane Robidas to injuries during the course of the night. On the ice, they were led by Mike Ribeiro, who notched a goal and an assist, while Matt Niskanen and Chris Conner also found the back of the net.
“It’s not acceptable,” Ribeiro said of the outcome. “In the second and third period, we cannot find an excuse. It’s our fault, we did not play well and that’s what happens when you don’t play as a team. We have some guys injured but the guys who are here should show some emotion, show some grit, battle for pucks, battle for the win, and we’re not seeing enough of that.”
“What do you do?” Niskanen asked. “Everyone’s got to dig a little deeper and maximize their own potential and find ways to get things done and try to get a check mark under the win column. The injuries are not helping, but we will not have any excuses. We seem to do a lot of good things early, getting leads and dictating play but then we get away from our game. We have to change that now. we don’t have time to fiddle-faddle around.”
Marty Turco made 27 saves in goal.
“The disappointing thing is when you feel pretty good and have such big letdowns with goals that the team needs you to have,” Turco said. “I did feel good and it’s my job to do that, and control rebounds and stop the ones I should. I was there for most of them and just didn’t go my way at all.”
The game turned from a hard-working, gutty performance into another gut-wrenching defeat over a two-minute span from the end of the second into the beginning of the third periods.
Holding a 2-1 lead late in the second period, the Stars suffered another meltdown and surrendered two back-breaking goals in the final minute.
First, on what seemed like an innocent rush into the Dallas zone, Weiss raced into the right face-off circle, faked a deke and then fired a quick wrist shot that beat Turco between the legs with 59.5 seconds remaining to make it 2-2.
The Panthers then stuck the knife in with another one with just 6.2 seconds to go before the second intermission. Horton took a pass from Radek Dvorak and ripped a tricky wrist shot from the high slot that Turco stopped but couldn’t hold onto. The rebound fell in front of him and after Keith Ballard poked at it, Horton came around, retrieved it and from a nearly impossible angle, lifted it up and over Turco’s pads and in for his 20th goal of the season.
Now facing a 3-2 deficit entering the final period, Dallas surrendered another crushing blow just 58 seconds into the third when Kamil Kreps struck for his fourth goal of the year. On the rush into the Stars’ zone, Kreps managed to cut between the two Dallas defensemen, pulled the puck to his backhand and beat Turco just inside the left post to make it 4-2.
“I really cannot put a finger on it at all,” Turco said of the club’s recent penchant for jumping out to early leads and then being unable to sustain that high level of play. “It seems like our game has been really strong to start out and those are must-haves, but we also must have a continuation of good play. Just seemingly, things come unraveled quick for us. It’s not a good sign - it’s going to be a tough one to chew on for a while.”
Appearing to be a little rattled, Dallas then allowed Weiss to break through the slot, splitting the defenders to come in alone, but Turco made a nice pad save 3:40 in.
The Stars gradually got back in the game and began to press offensively again, with Steve Ott getting robbed by a big glove save by Florida goaltender Craig Anderson with 9:43 remaining.
Ott then set off a little mayhem a minute later when he leveled Gregory Campbell and was immediately jumped by Panther defenseman Brian McCabe, who tossed Ott to the ice. Ott ended up with a five-minute major for charging while McCabe received a two minute roughing penalty.
During the ensuing 4-on-4 stretch, Dallas crept a goal closer on a nifty goal by Conner, his second of the season. Just 13 seconds after Florida’s Ville Peltonen’s wrist shot from the right circle pinged off the far goalpost, Nicklas Grossman had the puck just inside the blue line and spotted Conner alone in front. After receiving the pass, Conner cut across the top of the crease, waited as Anderson went down, and then lifted a wrist shot over him with 7:33 remaining in regulation.
But during the remaining three minutes of Ott’s major, Florida notched an insurance goal as defenseman Jay Bouwmeester struck with 4:54 left in regulation. Bouwmeester had the puck in the left circle, crept down low so he was shooting at a very sharp angle, and somehow squeezed a wrist shot between Turco’s pad and the goalpost.
The Stars continued to press after that, but Anderson made a series of big stops on Jere Lehtinen, Mike Modano and Ott in close with 3:20 to go.
Dallas pulled Turco for an extra attacker with 1:43 left, but the Stars could not solve Anderson again. To add further injury to the insult, the Stars lost Robidas with a lower body injury with 37 seconds left when he was taken down by Weiss in the Florida zone.
The Stars got a power play out of it, but Radek Dvorak iced it with an empty net goal with 21.6 seconds left when he blocked Brendan Morrison’s shot from the point, then chased him down and stripped him of the puck at the Dallas blue line before sliding it in for his 14th of the year.
On the aftermath of the goal, Campbell took a cheap shot at Ott, hitting him in the neck with his stick, and the two dropped their gloves, but were separated by the linesmen before any fight could ensue.
“Overall, we gave up goals that we shouldn’t on the rush, just mental mistake,” Ribeiro said. “It’s everyone, it’s not one guy. Everyone kind of let down. We should’ve won. First period, come out strong, have that one-goal lead, then it looks like we don’t have energy to finish the game and finish them. We keep teams in it. It was just a bad team effort. It’s a team game and everyone made mistakes. It’s disappointing that we don’t come out with points.”
Like they had in three of their previous four contests, the Stars got off to a blazing start and seized the early 1-0 lead, this time courtesy of a highlight-reel goal from Ribeiro at 4:23, his 20th of the season. After Ott controlled the puck in the right corner and work his way halfway up the sideboards, he directed a soft wrist shot towards the goal, where it deflected to Ribeiro. Then Ribs took over and made a series of slick moves before pulling the puck between his legs and popping an in-close wrister with his stick behind his back, up and over the prone Anderson.
The Stars continued to press, earning a power play midway through the period and coming close a couple of times. Their best opportunity came after Anderson stopped Robidas’ booming slap shot from the point and Loui Eriksson had the rebound on his stick in front, but Anderson flashed out the pad to make a huge save.
In fact, Dallas dominated the period so completely, they built up a 15-5 edge in shots on goal, not including Conner’s sharp-angle wrist shot that pinged off the goalpost with 11 seconds left.
Leading 1-0 after one, the Stars missed a golden opportunity to go up by two just 1:56 into the second period when Ribeiro fed a pass from behind the net to Ott out front, but Anderson made a sparkling skate save on the resulting point-blank one-timer.
Turco then returned the favor just over a minute later when he robbed Horton by making a big glove save on a wrist shot from the high slot.
The Panthers knotted the score at 8:04 on their second power play of the period. With rookie Tom Wandell in the box for tripping, Weiss fired a wrist shot from the right face-off circle that was deflected in front by Stillman. The puck pinged off the left post and right back to Stillman at the top of the crease and he jammed it home between Turco’s pads for his 16th goal of the season and the 250th goal of his career.
Showing impressive resiliency, Dallas regained the lead just 1:37 later on Niskanen’s sixth of the year. Stationed at the top of the left face-off circle, Niskanen received a cross-ice pass from Ribeiro and boomed a one-timer that beat a screened Anderson and ricocheted in off the far post.
“I was playing the off-side and Ribeiro really worked hard to make a heck of a nice play,” Niskanen said of the goal. “He drew a couple of guys to him and fed me for a one-timer and I just got it on net and it went in.”
Florida nearly tied it again 70 seconds after that as Stillman unleashed a scorching wrist shot from the high slot that hit high off the left post and bounced out of the crease just past the right post.
After completing a three-game homestand with a disastrous 0-2-1 record, Dallas heads back on the road for a pair of back-to-back road games, starting Monday night with a date in Phoenix (9 pm, VERSUS). The Coyotes, who had climbed as high as fifth in the Western Conference playoff race back in January, have fallen out of the race and are now sitting in 14th with 69 points.
- Ribeiro’s two-point night gives him five points (four goals, one assist) in two games this year against the Panthers, after collecting his first career hat trick in a 4-1 win in Florida on Jan. 21. He now has 18 points (seven goals, 11 assists) in his last 16 games.
- Conner, who was a healthy scratch Thursday, returned with a his first goal since Jan. 29 against Detroit, a span of 16 games for him.
- Niskanen’s goal was his first in 15 games, and his second point in three contests.
- With his assist on Ribeiro’s goal, Eriksson now has 14 points (six goals, eight assists) in his last 14 contests.
- Before his injury in the final minute, Robidas logged a team-high 28:39 of ice time and led the club with five hits. He also had three shots on goal. He is considered day-to-day.
- Fistric joined his comrades in a very crowded trainer’s room, leaving during the first period with an upper body injury. He skated just three shifts for a total 2:45 of ice time, which was still enough time for him to register one hit. He is listed as day-to-day.
- Defenseman Trevor Daley sat out with a lower body injury suffered just two shifts into Thursday’s 1-0 shootout loss to Los Angeles, snapping a team-high streak of 157 straight games played. He is listed as day-to-day.
- With Daley missing a game, that leaves just Ribeiro and Eriksson as the only Stars to skate in all 75 games this year.
- Taking Daley’s place in the lineup was Andrew Hutchinson, who had sat out the previous 20 games as a healthy scratch. In 17:58 of ice time, he registered a shot on goal, a hit, and a blocked shot.
- Winger Krys Barch also missed the contest with a lower body injury sustained Thursday night. He is also considered day-to-day.
- Filling his spot in the lineup was winger Mark Parrish, who had sat out the previous three and six of the prior seven contests as a healthy scratch. Parrish skated 8:11 and delivered one hit.
- The power play unit was 0-for-3 and is now just 1-for-32 over the last eight games.
- This was Florida’s first visit to Dallas since Dec. 7, 2005, a 4-3 Stars victory. Since the Panthers entered the league in the 1993-94 season, the Stars are now 10-7-5 against Florida, including an 8-4-2 mark in their last 14. Over the last seven against Florida at the American Airlines Center, the Stars are now 4-2-1, with Florida’s prior regulation win in Dallas a 3-2 win on Jan. 18, 2002.
Wrist shot -