DALLAS - The Stars aren't yet mathematically eliminated from the postseason, but unfortunately the calculators are about ready.
Needing to string some late season victories together, the injury-riddled Stars were unable to secure a second straight visit into the win column on Thursday night, as the Calgary Flames downed Dallas 2-1 at American Airlines Center.
With four games to play and 78 points, the Stars need to win the rest of their contests while receiving an inordinate amount of help. Dallas was six points behind eighth-place Anaheim heading into the Ducks game at Vancouver late Thursday night. An Anaheim win would give them 86 points, putting the St. Louis Blues in the final Western Conference playoff slot with 85 points.
"We will not roll over and die," defenseman Darryl Sydor said. "We are professionals and we will play hard for our coaches, owners, fans and for each other, our teammates. You learn and grow as a player through adversity and you find the best in people during tough times."
The Stars once again started strong against a desperate Flames team that had dropped eight of their last 12 games to fall out of first place in the Northwest division. Scoring just 3 minutes into the contest, the skeletal Stars showed the jump and energy that carried them to a nice win on Tuesday at Los Angeles.
But the gritty Flames persevered, tying the game midway through the first period on Jarome Iginla's goal then grabbing the lead with less than 8 minutes to go in the second period to clinch a playoff spot.
The Stars made a valiant attempt at tying the game in the third -- they outshot the Flames by a 10-1 margin -- but were unable to penetrate Flames goalie Miikka Kiprusoff.
In the final 65 seconds, with goalie Marty Turco off for the extra attacker, the Stars failed to get a puck on net.
Rookie Fabian Brunnstrom scored the lone goal for the Stars, who fell to 1-5-2 in their last eight games. Turco was brilliant when he needed to be, making 21 saves in the first two periods to keep the game close, and 23 overall.
"We played alright," coach Dave Tippett said. "We could've executed better at times and couldn't get the power-play goal we needed in the third. We had some guys push hard tonight, we just couldn't get another answer. You have to keep pushing every single day, you never know. You have to will yourself until someone tells you it's done."
Craig Conroy scored the winner for the Flames, who beat Dallas for the second straight time despite coming in having won just twice in the last 11 games in Big D.
Kiprusoff finished with 29 saves.
"He's one of the best," center Mike Modano said. "He's very established, but we didn't get much in terms of quality chances. It is playmaking ability and guys finding space and getting open, and knowing where to go to get a quality shot off."
The Stars opened the scoring early on, as Brunnstrom notched his 14th of the year -- and first since Feb. 19 against Edmonton -- 3 minutes into the game. After receiving a pass from Joel Lundqvist at the Calgary blue line, rookie James Neal tried to slip the puck to Brunnstrom along the left wing. The puck glanced off Flames defenseman Adrian Aucoin's feet before Brunnstrom swooped it away to go in on Kiprusoff.
The native of Sweden made a nifty move to his backhand before sliding the puck between the goalie's legs for a 1-0 Dallas lead.
"I got a good pass from Nealer and Lundy did some good work," Brunnstrom said. "I just tried to go deep on the goalie and it went in. We had a couple of chances and felt pretty good. We were just hoping we could score one more. I don't care about 14 goals, we've got a couple of games left and the whole team wants to finish the season strong. It's been tough, injuries, being in the lineup and out of the lineup. Right now it feels like I just want to be in the playoffs, I just want to be there and it's hard not to be."
Todd Bertuzzi nearly tied it 5 minutes later when he went in on a breakaway before elevating a backhand up and over Turco, but the puck clanked harmlessly off the crossbar.
The Flames did eventually get the equalizer midway through the frame when Iginla registered his 33rd. Skating into the left circle, he took a pass from Jordan Leopold along the inside edge before letting a snap shot go that beat Turco.
Iginla extended his road points streak against the Stars to seven games with the tally.
The Flames took lead for good when Conroy notched his 11th with 7:39 left in the second period. After a long rebound, defenseman Dion Phaneuf took a blast from the point that deflected a couple of times, including going off Conroy's stick, before whizzing past a screened Turco.
"Things are looking bleak, but we are going to play for pride and keep pushing every night," defenseman Andrew Hutchinson said. "I want to keep playing strong personally, and as a team, we are keeping things simple and making plays. We have so much talent out and for long periods of time, but we are not going to use that as an excuse. We will keep playing hard, no matter what."
The Stars will close out their regular season home slate with a pivotal game on Saturday night against the Blues (7 p.m., FSN). St. Louis is in the midst of a five-game road trip as it pushes towards a Western Conference playoff spot.
"Speed kills and we've had trouble with teams that are up-tempo and speedy like St. Louis and Chicago," Modano said. "They're at the top of their game right now with the run they're on."
The Stars will then close out the regular season with three straight on the road.
"The process of the whole season's been frustrating and very disappointing," Modano said. "There was never really anything too consistent this season. Three hundred--plus games (lost to injury) is a lot for any team, and the guys that are left, you're asking so much of them. Things have been very disappointing (for me) since the All-Star break. You find yourself trying to do a little too much extra and make something out of nothing sometimes. You push a little and press a little and find the frustration level gets high."
--Modano is now four games shy of 1,400 for his NHL career.
--Turco played in his 73rd game, tying a career high originally set in 2003-04. He also made his 73rd start, which eclipsed his previous high of 72 set back in that '03-04 campaign. The workhorse netminder has played in 62 or more games in each of his last five seasons.
--Injured defenseman Mark Fistric (upper body) and center Brian Sutherby (lower body) both skated Thursday morning, and both could return for the Blues game.
--Neal's assist was his first helper since Feb. 14 at Chicago.
--Brunnstrom hadn't scored in his last 13 games.
--Dallas finished with a 2-2 mark against the Flames this season.
--Center Mike Ribeiro had his three-game points streak snapped.
--Dallas was unable to garner its 20th home win of the year. The Stars have won at least 20 games on home ice in 10 of the past 11 seasons.
--There were only five minor penalties called in the game, with the Stars committing just a pair.
1 - 0 DAL
1 - 1 Tie