DALLAS - They came agonizingly close, but in the end, the Dallas Stars let another point in the standings slip away.
After battling back from a third period deficit to send the game into overtime, the Stars eventually succumbed in the sixth round of the shootout, falling 2-1 to the Los Angeles Kings Friday night at the American Airlines Center.
While they did gain one point for reaching the shootout, the Stars, who entered the day 11th in the Western Conference standings, a full seven points behind Calgary for the eighth and final playoff spot, have just 15 games left to make up a lot of ground.
The Stars came out with their best total effort since the Olympic break, although they have now lost all five games this season to the Kings (0-2-3), getting outscored 19-9 in the process, including a 5-1 thumping on March 2.
The hard-luck Stars hit a crossbar in the third period and then clanked shots off a goalpost and another crossbar in the shootout, but LA took the victory when Jarret Stoll fired a quick wrist shot past Marty Turco’s glove in the sixth round of the shootout, the only goal to beat either netminder.
“I could probably say ‘no, it’s not frustrating,’ but I’d probably be lying,” said Stars coach Marc Crawford of the loss. “We played a lot better tonight. That’s probably the easiest game Marty’s had maybe all year. I thought our guys battled hard. We got the net presence that we needed in the third period and it ended up resulting in the goal. I thought that we deserved a power play in the overtime - we didn’t get it. In the shootout, we hit a post and we hit a crossbar. You just look for the positives in the game. We had a hard-working effort throughout. Guys played with a sense of desperation, the way that we’ve needed to and we just kept persevering.”
Turco put forth another outstanding effort in goal, making 27 saves, as well as another five in the shootout, and deserved a better fate.
“It’s not frustrating, it’s part of playing in this league,” Turco said of the defeat. “Even though our game was a lot better than it has been since the Olympic break, it’s still tough to score in this league. You’ve got to pay the price in front, which our guys did at times. They did a great job of holding guys up and grabbing rebounds. Sometimes, you got to try to will it in, and I saw that in the third period, that type of desperation, and some great plays, close calls. I don’t think it’s all that frustrating, the overall disappointing thing is just not getting two points when we’re fighting for our lives.”
At the other end of the ice, 21-year-old Kings goaltender Jonathan Bernier, who was making his first appearance in the NHL this season and just the fifth of his career, was just as impressive, denying 29 Dallas shots, as well as all six in the shootout.
In the first match of a season-defining six-game homestand, with the clock ticking and teams ahead of them continuing to pile up points, the Stars’ playoff plight has reached the critical stage.
“We’re in a fight for our playoff lives, we have been for awhile,” said captain Brenden Morrow, who scored the Stars’ only goal. “We’re certainly living in a do-or-die situation every night and looking at this six-game homestand, we’d like to think we’d need at least 10 points out of the 12 - we let one slip tonight - to make that last week of the season meaningful. We’re still in a position, I think we can take care of our own lives. If we let too much slip, we’re going to have to get some help from other people against those teams. Right now, they’re collecting points and we’re not keeping pace.”
They hope the home cooking will continue to be to their liking, as they are still 7-3-1 in their last 11 contests at home, and 15-5-3 in their last 23, despite losing the previous two by a combined score of 11-2 last week.
“I thought that we were really solid in our game tonight,” added Crawford, who remains stuck on 499 career coaching victories. “I thought we had the better of the scoring chances all night. Their goalie played pretty good. We got some traffic in front, we just missed a couple of scrambles. We had a lot more chances to put the game in our bag and we just have to keep moving forward. We didn’t lose at all tonight - we got a point. Now we’ve got to get ready for the next two that are available on Sunday.”
Down 1-0 entering the final period and desperately in need of a comeback, the Stars nearly tied it 3:28 in when Brad Richards bombed a one-timer from the right face-off circle over Bernier’s glove, but it pinged off the crossbar.
Morrow got the equalizer at 6:29, his 15th goal of the season, finishing off a pretty passing play that featured consecutive backhand passes from Mike Modano and Stephane Robidas in the slot after Mike Ribeiro had set it all up by circling with the puck from behind the LA net all the way out to the point.
“It’s been awhile, a big weight off my shoulders,” said Morrow, who had gone 18 games without a goal and had recorded just one assist in his previous six outings. “I’ve been thinking about it for awhile, not helping the team in that way. It’s been frustrating, but those were just two head’s-up plays, by Mike to tap it back to Robi and then Robi found me back door. It was a pretty easy tap-in.”
Los Angeles pushed back after that, but Turco came up with a nice save on Fredrik Modin’s wrist shot from the left face-off circle about a minute later.
After the Stars killed off a James Neal hooking penalty with about six minutes left, he nearly got a breakaway as he exited the penalty box. He did manage to feed the puck to a wide open Steve Ott in the slot, and Ott fed it back to Neal at the right side of the net, but Bernier dove out and a quick whistle by the referee ended the opportunity even though the puck was still loose.
Dallas ended up with a power play of their own shortly afterwards, and Bernier was forced to come up with a big save on Loui Eriksson’s wrist shot from the left circle with 4:34 to go in regulation, as well as long slap shots by Jamie Benn and Trevor Daley over the next minute.
The Stars had a couple of good opportunities in overtime, but again, were unable to solve Bernier, setting the stage for their second shootout in their last three games.
“It’s an improvement, I guess, coming back,” Morrow said of the third period. “We were just down a goal, I still would have liked to find a way to get that second one. When you have a good solid effort like we did, you’d like to capitalize on our opportunities and we fell one short.”
There were some technical difficulties in the building early on, as the scoreboard clock remained frozen at 19:32 for the next 11 minutes of the first period, with PA announcer Bill Oellermann giving the time left at each stoppage.
The Stars controlled the action for the first half of the opening period, building a 6-1 advantage in shots on goal by the eight-minute mark.
Their best chance came at 4:44 when veteran Jere Lehtinen unleashed a quick wrist shot from the slot that Bernier got a piece of, but the puck trickled behind him. There was a mad scramble for the loose puck in the crease for several moments before LA finally managed to clear it out of danger.
Bernier came up with a big glove save on Ott’s tricky shot from the slot at 6:21.
At the other end of the ice, Turco came up a nice stop on Anze Kopitar’s point-blank shot with 8:26 remaining and then again on Stoll’s uncontested wrister from the right face-off circle a minute later.
Dallas came close with 3:02 left, but Bernier came up with a huge stop on Ribeiro’s one-timer from the slot.
Shortly afterwards, Turco was whistled for a holding penalty, putting the Kings on the power play. (When was the last time you ever heard of a goalie getting a holding penalty?) The Stars nearly killed it off, but the Kings finally broke through with just six seconds left in the advantage, as recently-acquired veteran Fredrik Modin recorded his fifth of the year. Modin, set up in front of Turco, executed a nifty back-to-the-net deflection of U.S. Olympian Dustin Brown’s slap shot from the left point, re-directing it just inside the far post with 34.8 seconds left in the period.
So the Stars headed into the first intermission trailing 1-0 while even in shots at 11 each.
Dallas went on the power play just five seconds into the period, and then had a seven-second 5-on-3 advantage, but their best chances to score came during the second advantage, as Modano slid a cross-ice pass to a wide open Neal at the left side of the crease, but Neal, facing an open net, missed it and the puck ended up in the corner.
Shortly afterwards, Bernier made a nice stop on Benn’s point-blank chance in front at 2:45.
The Stars continue their big homestand with a Sunday afternoon matinee meeting with the Colorado Avalanche (2 pm start, KTCK-1310 The Ticket). The Avs currently sit in the Western Conference’s sixth spot with 82 points, three back of Vancouver for the Northwest Division lead and five up on seventh-place Nashville.
“We have to take care of our next game,” Crawford said. “The next game is huge, we have to build off our confidence we generated here and use a formula that is similar. We did a lot of good things in the defensive zone. We really protected well. We blocked a lot of shots, we were in lanes. They didn’t get anything easy, which is really positive. And on the other side, I think our offense will be better as we move forward.”
“We’re fighting for our lives,” Robidas said. “It’s like game seven of the Stanley Cup playoffs every night, and that’s the approach we’ve got to have every night. It’s a tough one tonight, and we’ve got to get ready for Sunday afternoon.”
- Modano’s assist was his second in as many games, after going eight games without any points. The assist is the 799th of his illustrious career, while the point moves him past Brendan Shanahan into sole possession of 23rd on the NHL’s all-time points list with 1,355.
- Robidas now has three assists in his last four outings. As usual, he led the squad in ice time, logging 25:45, but he also topped the Stars with five shots on goal, blocked a club-high three shots, and tied Morrow and defense partner Mark Fistric for the team lead with five hits.
- Richards’ five-game point streak, during which he compiled one goal and six points, was snapped.
- The Stars’ power play unit was 0-for-4, leaving them 2-for-18 over their last five outings.
- Forward Brian Sutherby returned to the lineup after sitting out the last 11 games with a shoulder injury.
- Defenseman Nicklas Grossman missed his third straight contest with a back ailment.
- Former Star Pat Verbeek, a key member of the club’s only Stanley Cup championship in 1999, was in the press box scouting for Detroit.
- With the win, LA is now 26-0-0 this season when leading after two periods.
- The Kings’ Anze Kopitar, who fired three shots on goal, saw his eight-game point streak end.
Deflected shot -