DENVER - Just when it seemed like the Dallas Stars had solved their road woes, the tired and depleted club looked much like the one that had lost 10 straight away from home (0-8-2) before a dramatic victory Friday night in Edmonton.
In the final installment of a three-games-in-four-nights road trip, the Stars ran into a hot Colorado Avalanche team that struck twice on the power play and rode 27 saves from goaltender Craig Anderson to shut out the Stars 4-0 Sunday night at the Pepsi Center.
For the Stars, who are stuck in 10th place in the Western Conference standings, three points back of Calgary and Detroit for the final eighth and final playoff spot, they missed an important opportunity to gain some ground in the race.
Dallas, which was blanked for the fourth time this season and third in the last 11 outings, is now 2-11-3 in their last 16 away from the friendly confines of the American Airlines Center. The good news is they are about to begin a four-game homestand on Wednesday.
The Northwest Division-leading Avalanche, meanwhile, extended their winning streak to six games and have outscored their opponents 22-8 over that span.
Special teams in particular doomed the Stars, who were once again missing four of their top nine forwards. The Avalanche’s red-hot power play unit struck for two goals, leaving them 6-for-19 over their last three games, while Colorado killed off all four Dallas power plays and even scored one back-breaking shorthanded tally.
“The shorthanded goal play was probably the crucial point in the game,” Stars coach Marc Crawford said of T.J. Galiardi’s goal that made it 2-0 Colorado at 11:30 of the first period. “We didn’t get the penalty kill on the first power play by them and then we give up a breakaway. You do that and it’s a tough job coming back, especially when you’re playing three in four nights and the amount of travel that we’ve had lately. It’s no excuse, but we were a tired hockey club and we needed to keep it close and we didn’t keep it close tonight.”
Marty Turco got the start in goal for Dallas, his second straight game after a three-game absence, and he made 32 saves in a losing cause.
“Team defense is all about hard work and just an attitude, so if that’s our problem, we just need an attitude adjustment,” said Turco, who has had an up-and-down season so far. “We just have to trust our coaches to help us figure it out.”
The Stars fell behind early, just 10 seconds after Nicklas Grossman entered the penalty box for interference. After Matt Duchene beat Warren Peters on the ensuing face-off in the Dallas zone, the puck went back to Brett Clark at the point, and Clark’s blast from the blue line beat a screened Turco over the shoulder at 5:16 of the first period for a 1-0 Colorado lead.
The next penalty called led to Dallas falling behind 2-0, even though it was the Stars who went on the power play, when Galiardi scored his seventh of the year at 11:30. Just 15 seconds after Anderson made back-to-back point-blank saves on Matt Niskanen, Galiardi stripped the puck from Loui Eriksson and Niskanen just inside the Colorado blue line and sped in on a breakaway. Turco stopped the initial wrist shot, but Galiardi popped the rebound past him for the sixth shorthanded goal allowed by the Stars this season.
“Give credit to their player, he stayed hard on the puck and got the rebound, but it was a poor play by Loui to start with and Nisky, he’s got to be better than that,” Crawford said of the play. “They weren’t alone. We wanted to be real close, be stingy, play that classic road game, and when you give up a power play goal on the first shot in the middle of the net and then you give up the shorthanded effort when you make a couple of mistakes, those things really hurt a team that’s trying to play a tight game.”
The Avs came on strong after that, continuing to press, with Turco forced to make a point-blank stop on Chris Stewart with 6:28 left in the period, and another on Duchene and then Kyle Quincey on the rebound with 5:34 to go.
Dallas had a good opportunity with 4:42 on the clock when James Neal raced into the Colorado zone on a 2-on-1 rush with Fabian Brunnstrom. Neal opted to fire a wrist shot from the slot, but Anderson turned it aside.
Galiardi almost got his second of the period a minute later when he cut in alone on Turco from the left face-off circle, but Turco made a sparkling save.
Trailing 2-0 entering the second period, the Stars seemed to sag a bit, and Colorado controlled much of the period. Turco needed to come up with a big glove save on Wojtek Wolski’s wrist shot from the left circle at 7:20.
In a sign that this just wasn’t going to be the Stars’ night, Colorado benefitted from a fluke bounce and turned it into a 3-0 lead at 8:54 when Stewart notched his 17th of the year. On what was going to be an Avalanche icing, the puck instead hit the linesman at center ice and set up a Colorado 3-on-2 rush. Paul Stastny ended up feeding Stewart, who slid a shot from 10 feet out past Turco just inside the far post.
“We got a bad break on the third goal, but that happens when things aren’t going quite your way,” Crawford noted. “It’s the old adage, you make your own breaks and when you’re not with the energy that you need to have, you won’t have the breaks go your way.”
Turco made a scintillating stop on a Colorado power play with 7:19 left in the period, when he got his shoulder on Duchene’s floating backhander from the slot.
The Stars ended up on the wrong end of another break with 2:15 remaining when Neal curled out from behind the net and tried to stuff it in at the right post. Anderson stopped the initial thrust, but then Neal managed to slither it under him and into the net, but the referee had lost sight of the puck, assumed Anderson had it smothered, and blew the whistle a tad early, nullifying the goal.
Despite a late push, the Stars still wound up getting outshot 14-7 in the second period and headed into the final period down by three.
With a power play opportunity early in the period, Dallas not only could not generate much offense, but almost surrendered another shorthanded goal. With just center Brad Richards back, Av rookie Ryan O’Reilly carried into the Dallas zone before slipping a pass across to Galiardi, but luckily for the Stars, Galiardi could not quite get the handle on the puck.
At the 8:15 mark, the contest’s only fight erupted, as Colorado’s Chris Durno dropped the gloves with Brian Sutherby in a quick but spirited bout.
The Avalanche put the exclamation point on the contest when Stastny notched his 11th of the season on another power play at 12:36 from behind the goal line. After John-Michael Liles’ shot from the point was deflected wide, Stastny retrieved the puck behind the net and banked it off of Turco’s pad and just over the goal line to make it 4-0.
The Stars had one last good chance to break Anderson’s shutout bid with another late power play of their own, but Mike Modano’s point-blank one-timer, which appeared headed towards the far side of the net, deflected off Clark’s skate in front and bounced wide with 3:01 remaining.
It was that kind of a night for the Stars. At least the road trip is over now.
The Stars finally return back to Dallas to start their four-game homestand a date with the Calgary Flames Wednesday night (7:30 pm, FSSW). With the Flames (remember, the ‘F’ is silent) one of the teams immediately in front of them in the standings, the Stars consider this an extremely important match-up in terms of the ongoing playoff race.
- Modano and Neal each had modest three-game point streaks come to an end.
- Richards, Niskanen and Sutherby each had four shots on goal to lead the squad.
- Captain Brenden Morrow and veteran winger Jere Lehtinen each sat out their fourth straight game with upper body injuries, while rookie center Tom Wandell missed his second consecutive contest with a lower body injury. All are listed as day-to-day.
- Stastny, with a goal and an assist, extended his scoring streak to six games (two goals, six assists).