RALEIGH, NC - The Dallas Stars continue to struggle with consistency.
After gaining three out of four points against two of the NHL’s top teams in their last two games, the Stars fell flat against the league’s worst. Despite gamely digging their way out of an early three-goal hole, the Stars ended up dropping a 5-3 decision to the Carolina Hurricanes Wednesday night at the RBC Center.
Facing the NHL’s worst team, which entered the day 11 points back of the next team in front of them, the Stars were victimized by a Tuomo Ruutu hat trick, as well as a goal and two assists from Eric Staal. Former Star Jussi Jokinen also had a goal and assist.
In their fourth straight game away from the friendly confines of the American Airlines Center, although they did stop home for a couple of off-days, Dallas saw their five-game point streak (2-0-3) come to an end, while falling to 14-9-10 on the year. The Stars, who began play sitting ninth in the Western Conference standings, one point back of idle Detroit, missed an important chance to move back into a playoff position.
“We’re having a hard time playing 60 minutes,” said center Mike Ribeiro, who finished the night with three assists. “Something has to change. Sometimes we get off to a good start and tonight it was the first (period in which we struggled). We have to be better.”
“I think it’s a little bigger than one game,” added captain Brenden Morrow regarding the club’s consistency issues. “We put ourselves into tough positions and got into overtimes and have gotten points at times but not tonight. It’s frustrating. We need to be better. We have no consistency and we have to find it.”
Meanwhile, the Hurricanes, which started the day without one player on the roster with a positive plus/minus rating and six regulars worse than -10, snapped a three-game winless skid (0-2-1).
“It doesn’t matter who we play in this league, everyone is good,” defenseman Nicklas Grossman said. “They played well tonight, especially in the first period.”
The Stars surrendered three power play goals on the night, including two in the first period and one empty-net goal in the final seconds, while scoring two with the man advantage themselves.
Morrow scored a goal and assist, while Steve Ott and Loui Eriksson also found the back of the net for Dallas. At the other end of the ice, Marty Turco was solid in net, making 24 saves in a losing effort.
After battling back from a 3-0 first period deficit, the Stars still trailed 3-2 heading into the final period.
The Stars’ hole would increase to two again when Ruutu scored his second goal of the game on a fluke bounce at 4:47. Ruutu carried the puck into the Dallas zone along the right sideboards and into the corner before sending a backhand pass out front, but it deflected off of the backchecking Eriksson’s skate and ricocheted past Turco to make it 4-2.
From that point on, the Hurricanes grabbed the momentum and wouldn’t let up, forcing Turco to be at his best to keep the score close. Turco came up with a couple of big saves just before the midway point of the period, denying Brandon Sutter on a wrap-around attempt at the left post and then turning aside Patrick Dwyer’s snap shot from the high slot seconds later.
On the next shift, Turco then thwarted Staal’s wrist shot from the slot to keep it a two-goal deficit as Carolina built up a 10-1 advantage in shots through the first 15 minutes of the third.
The Stars had one golden opportunity to inch their way back into it with 7:24 left when defenseman Karlis Skrastins found himself alone in front of Carolina goaltender Cam Ward, but his wrist shot sailed just wide.
Dallas finally began to make a more concerted push in the final minutes, but Ward made a nice pad save on Eriksson’s point-blank wrist shot from the right face-off circle with 2:27 left.
The Stars pulled Turco for an extra attacker with two minutes to go, and after a determined effort from Mark Fistric and Jamie Benn prevented an empty-net goal against, Dallas pulled to within 4-3 when Eriksson scored his 10th of the season with 1:04 remaining. Mike Modano’s slap shot from the left point was blocked in front, but the puck bounced right to Eriksson in the slot, and after kicking the puck up to his stick, beat Ward between the pads with a backhander.
Dallas pulled Turco again after that, but Modano was forced to take an interference penalty to deny Ruutu an empty netter with 26 seconds left. In the end, Ruutu ended up getting an empty netter anyway, sliding the puck in off the rush with just 5.3 seconds to go to seal the game and prompt many hats to litter the ice.
“I think we knew they were going to come out hard,” said defenseman Stephane Robidas, who once again led the team in ice time, logging 24:47. “They have a good team, they got a pretty good group of skilled forwards.”
The Stars jumped out of the gate quickly, firing the game’s first five shots, but things turned when Eriksson was whistled for high-sticking at 2:49 of the opening period. It seemed like the Stars would kill off the power play, especially when Turco made a sparkling sliding save on Matt Cullen’s one-timer, but Carolina broke through with just one second left on the penalty.
Jokinen scored his eighth goal of the season on a breakaway, receiving a nice long pass from rookie Bryan Rodney at the Dallas blue line and blowing past Robidas into the slot before flipping a wrist shot just past Turco’s glove to make it 1-0 at 4:48.
“Personally, I got caught on Jokinen, I know he’s pretty good at cutting behind the D, and that’s exactly what he did,” Robidas said. “I was aware of it, I was just sleeping a little bit on that play.”
That was the first goal the Stars’ penalty killing unit had allowed in seven games, having nullified 14 straight opposition power plays over the previous six contests.
The Hurricanes struck again just 1:44 later on Ruutu’s first of the night. After taking a cross-ice pass from Staal, Ruutu made a slick spin-around move in front before sliding a backhander under Turco’s pad and in for a two-goal Carolina lead.
The Hurricanes just kept coming in waves, but Turco kept the deficit at two with a scintillating stop on Jokinen’s one-timer from the high slot at 10:31.
Another Dallas penalty, this one to Tom Wandell for hooking, led to another Carolina power play goal when Staal notched his fifth at 12:35 to make it 3-0. Jokinen had the puck in the left corner and sent a crisp cross-crease pass to Staal just beyond the right post, and Staal entombed a one-timer past Turco.
“I think we put ourselves in trouble early with the penalties and didn’t get the kill and when you do that you dig a hole,” Stars coach Marc Crawford said. “We dug ourselves too deep of a hole this time. We had some poor clears and some other mistakes on the PK and it cost us.”
The Stars got one back on a power play of their own when Ott registered his fourth goal of the year at 15:09, just 16 seconds after Jokinen entered the penalty box for hooking. About a minute after he flubbed a backhander wide on a breakaway, Ott was the recipient of a pretty pass from Morrow. Off to the left side of the net, Morrow fed a spinning no-look backhand pass in front to Ott, who just shoveled it into a wide open net.
Down 3-1 entering the second period, the Stars capitalized on another power play opportunity to pull to within one on Morrow’s 13th goal of the season at 8:32. After Ribeiro’s wrist shot from the top of the left face-off circle was stopped by Ward, the rebound bounced right to Morrow in front, and he immediately slammed it home into the open side of the net.
The Stars clearly got their game back on track through the second, outshooting Carolina 12-4 through the period, but one of those four shots was a crucial save by Turco with 2:52 remaining when he denied Rod Brind’Amour’s one-timer from the left circle.
“We need to work on our preparation and attention to details,” Grossman said. “That’s how we get better. We got off to a slow start. We tried to push late but we couldn’t get over the hump.”
The Stars finish up their season-long five-game road trip Thursday night with a visit to Atlanta to face the Thrashers (6:00 pm start, FSSW). The surprising Thrashers are currently 17-11-3 and rank sixth in the Eastern Conference.
- Eriksson’s goal was his first in 13 games, although it did extend his scoring streak to four games, during which he’s scored one goal and four assists. Eriksson led the squad with five shots on goal.
- Ott’s goal gives him three points (two goals, one assist) in his last six games after going 13 without a point.
- Morrow’s two points snap a three-game pointless drought, which followed a seven-game scoring streak in which he compiled five goals and two assists.
Lehtinen’s assist on Morrow’s goal gives him assists in consecutive games after going scoreless in his previous five games and notching just one goal in the previous 15.
- Modano’s assist on Eriksson’s late goal was his third point in the last four games (two goals, one assist) after going the previous four without any.
- Defenseman Trevor Daley left the game with a shoulder injury after receiving a hard check from Ruutu late in the first period. Daley skated just nine shifts, for 7:14 of ice time, forcing the other defenders to pick up the slack the rest of the game. His condition will be further evaluated on Thursday morning.
- The Stars had killed off 14 straight opposition power plays over the previous six games and had successfully nullified their previous 28 opponent man-advantages on the road, and 42-of-44 on the road, dating back to Oct. 11. Carolina’s power play unit, which entered the day ranked 28th in the league (out of 30 teams), was 3-for-5.
- Dallas, which had been 2-for-22 on the PP themselves over their previous six outings, was a stellar 2-for-3 on the night.