DALLAS - Things are starting to look desperate now for the Dallas Stars.
Despite another solid effort in which they outshot the Colorado Avalanche 51-22, the Stars again ran into a hot goaltender and ended up dropping a disappointing 5-3 decision Sunday afternoon at the American Airlines Center.
Entering the day 11th in the Western Conference standings with 71 points, seven behind Detroit in the eighth and final playoff slot, the Stars are desperate for every point they can amass, so not being able to come away with any hurt. A lot. With just 14 games left, time is running out for them to make up that much ground.
“Every night that you don’t pick up points, it gets tougher and tougher,” conceded defenseman Stephane Robidas, who fired a career-high 10 shots on goal. “But I think in the end, you can’t give up. We’ve just got to keep plugging away and find a way to win games. That’s the bottom line.”
Dallas held a 3-2 lead at one point, midway through the second period, but Colorado’s Craig Anderson made a whopping 48 saves and Paul Stastny scored twice, including a hugely-deflating tally late in the third period to sink the Stars again.
“Our guys battled hard today. There was nothing wrong with our effort,” said coach Marc Crawford, who remains stuck on 499 career coaching victories. “We’ve played extremely well, we haven’t given up a lot. We just came up against a very, very hot goaltender on the other side tonight and he was the difference-maker. I thought our guys did everything they needed to do against that kind of performer - you need to keep getting traffic in front of the net, you need to be hard in those hard areas and we were. But he was equal to the task.”
The Stars have now lost their last four home games (0-3-1), even though they’re 7-4-1 in their last 12 at the friendly confines of the American Airlines Center, and 15-6-3 in their last 23 there. Worse, the club is a very damaging 1-5-1 since the Olympic break.
While it must be frustrating to play as well as they did, both in this game and in their 2-1 shootout loss to Los Angeles Friday night, the Stars are trying to remain upbeat and battle through it.
“You have to keep persevering and I know it’s hard,” Crawford said. “It’s hard for our players to hear that, it’s hard for the coaching staff and the organization to keep saying it. But it is the answer and it is the right answer. We did many good things tonight and we have to keep building on that.”
“Nobody’s coming in feeling sorry for us, and if we have that attitude, we’re good as dead in those games,” captain Brenden Morrow added. “It’s frustrating, disappointing. The bit of a roll we had on that last road trip leading up to the break was a bright spot for us, and then to come out and be 1-5-1 - it’s not good enough. We’re watching those teams that are on that playoff bubble all collecting points, and we’re not getting them. It’s going to be an early summer for us if we don’t start two days from now. It’s frighteningly close to our playoff picture evaporating.”
Besides running into a hot goaltender, the Stars were undone by special teams play. Colorado converted on 2-of-3 power play chances and the Stars couldn’t capitalize on any of the five PPs that they enjoyed, including three in the third period.
“They scored two power-play goals,” Robidas pointed out. “We didn’t score one on our power play, and if you look at the score - they won 5-3, but if we score two and they don’t score (on their power plays), it’s a different game. It’s details in the game that make the difference. That’s what we’ve got to look at.”
“It was really the difference in the game, besides our strong goaltending, the fact that we had good special teams tonight, because 5-on-5, they outplayed us,” Colorado coach Joe Sacco said. “But special teams, we were able to capitalize on some power plays and kill off some big penalties.”
While the Avalanche goaltending was stellar, Dallas didn’t get a strong game from its netminding.
Marty Turco, making his fourth straight start and 11th in the past 12 games, was pulled after in the second period after surrendering four goals on 18 shots in 33:46. Recently-acquired backup Kari Lehtonen took his place and faced only four shots, giving up one goal, in 24:29.
Trailing 4-3 entering the final period despite outshooting Colorado 33-19 to that point, the Stars continued to press, nearly tying it again just 45 seconds in when Segal, going for the hat trick, fired a wrist shot from the slot, but Anderson made the save.
While on a power play less than a minute later, Dallas had another golden opportunity, as James Neal deflected Robidas’ flip shot from the right point, but Anderson made the stop. With a rebound loose in the crease, Neal and Loui Eriksson whacked away at the bouncing puck, but Anderson finally managed to smother it.
The Avalanche sealed the win when Stastny collected his second goal of the day and 16th of the season with 7:36 remaining. It seemed like an innocent play, as he raced into the Dallas zone and fired a wrist shot from about 40 feet out that beat Lehtonen inside the right goalpost.
Dallas wouldn’t give up, though, and continued to pelt Anderson with shots. Mike Ribeiro had an outstanding chance with 2:01 left, but Anderson got his glove on Ribeiro’s quick wrist shot from the slot.
The Stars pulled Lehtonen for an extra attacker with 1:42 left and then had a late power play for the final 1:04, but still were unable to solve Anderson again.
Anderson robbed Benn in front with 52 seconds left, then made a nice save on Robidas’ slap shot from the point with 37 seconds to go. The ensuing rebound went right to Benn at the right side of the crease, and his shot slid under Anderson, but Avs defenseman Kyle Cumiskey cleared the puck off the goal line.
In the end, Dallas outshot Colorado 18-3 in the third period, but were outscored 1-0.
“You’ve got to stay focused, you can’t dwell on it,” Segal said of the frustrating loss. “We’ve got to move forward and look at some adjustments that we’ve got to make.”
The Avalanche struck first, as Milan Hejduk connected for his 18th goal of the season at 10:19 of the opening period on a goal that Turco would undoubtedly like to have back. Hejduk sped into the Dallas zone and fired a wrist shot from the right face-off circle that Turco got a piece of, but it somehow squeezed through his blocker and rolled into the net.
Dallas kept pressuring over the next couple of minutes, forcing Anderson to make several big saves, as he denied Ribeiro in front and Robidas’ slap shot from the point moments later.
The Stars then tied it up with 5:29 remaining in the period on Benn’s 17th goal of the season. It was set up by a spectacular play from Neal, who controlled the puck behind the net, and then as he was knocked down tot he ice by Avalanche defenseman Scott Hannan, still managed to swipe a perfect pass in front, while lying on his stomach. With three other Colorado defenders in front watching, the puck slid through all of them to Benn, who buried it into the open side of the net.
Just seven seconds later, off the ensuing face-off, Steve Ott obliged the request from Colorado’s Matt Hendricks to fight and the two squared off.
With the Stars holding a 12-4 edge in shots on goal entering the final three minutes of the period, the Avalanche began to push back and Turco was called upon to make a larcenous save on Hejduk with 1:08 left. As Hejduk let a quick backhander go from the slot, Turco stacked the pads and came up with a sparkling stop.
Tied 1-1 despite a 14-7 shots advantage, the Stars came out firing again in the second, as Benn set up Neal for a one-timer from the slot just 39 seconds in, but Anderson came up with a blocker save.
Less than a minute later, while on the power play, Brad Richards ripped a slap shot from the right point off the goalpost.
At 2:36, with Dallas still on the man-advantage, Benn launched a wrist shot from the left circle that Anderson had to make a big shoulder save that caused him to go down and lose his stick. Benn wrestled the rebound free, curled around the net and then back out front, where a stickless Anderson denied him again.
The Avalanche went up 2-1 on Darcy Tucker’s sixth goal at 4:28 while on a power play of their own. Hejduk carried into the Dallas zone, then fed a perfect cross-ice pass to the slot, where a charging Tucker one-timed it over Turco’s glove.
Dallas responded just 1:31 later as Segal netted his first of the day. As Ott leveled Cumiskey in the Colorado crease, Richards fed a pass from behind the net to Segal in the high slot and the recently-acquired first-year forward drilled it through a maze of bodies and legs to make it 2-2.
The goals kept coming as the Stars struck again 1:22 after that to take their first lead of the day. Ribeiro carried into the Colorado zone, pulled up in the right circle, then left a drop pass for the oncoming Segal, who blasted a slap shot from the top of the circle past Anderson’s glove for his second of the game and fifth of the season.
“When you get a couple of goals, it always feels good, but obviously we need the wins right now most importantly,” Segal said. “This is a do-or-die situation right now for us. We would have liked a better result tonight but we played well and we’ve just got to take what we learned out of this game and move forward.”
Segal then completed the trifecta by taking on Hendricks in a rather one-sided fight (in Segal’s favor) just past the midway point of the period, but the fact that Segal picked up an extra roughing penalty in the process came back to bite the Stars.
Just 29 seconds later, on the ensuing power play, Paul Stastny tied it up again with his 15th goal of the year. Stationed just to the right of the crease, Stastny executed a nifty deflection of Peter Mueller’s slap shot from the point to beat Turco and make it 3-3.
Colorado made it 4-3 with 6:14 left in the second, when Chris Stewart notched his 26th of the season and ninth in his last 11 games. After Turco denied Tucker’s point-blank chance near the right post, Stewart retrieved the loose rebound, circled the net and stuffed it just inside the left post before Turco could make it all the way across.
At that point, Crawford opted to pull Turco and insert Lehtonen in goal.
“It wasn’t for a change of pace. Oftentimes when you do it, it provides that,” Crawford said of the decision. “They had I think only five or six shots from that point on. I think our guys need to know that we going to persevere and keep moving forward. I thought that was the call that needed to be made.”
Things don’t get any easier for the Stars as they continue their crucial homestand Tuesday night with a date against Western Conference-leading San Jose (7:30 pm start, FSSW). The Sharks play Anaheim later today and will arrive in Dallas for the second installment of a six-game road trip.
- Segal’s two goals marked the first multi-goal game of his brief NHL career. He also accumulated a career-high six shots on goal. He now has six points (four goals, two assists) in six games with the Stars since he was claimed off waivers from Los Angeles just prior to the Olympic break.
- Benn now has three points (two goals, one assist) in the last three games and six goals in his last 11 contests. He also fired seven shots on goal, matching a career high.
- Fistric registered the first multi-point game of his career, snapping an eight-game point drought.
- Neal’s assist gives him eight points (five goals, three assists) in his last 11 games.
- Richards now has seven points (one goal, six assists) in his last seven outings.
- Ribeiro’s assist on Segal’s second goal gives him 10 points (five goals, five assists) in the 10 games since he returned from a throat injury last month.
- Robidas led the team once again in ice time with 25:41. He also topped the squad with his career-high 10 shots on goal, while also dishing out five hits, one shy of Ott’s club-leading six for the day.
- The game was not televised locally, snapping a streak of 1,101 Stars games, including playoffs, that have been on TV in the Metroplex dating back to April 1997. The contest was originally set to be part of NBC’s flex coverage, but they opted to televise the Washington-Chicago game and none of the local carriers picked up the telecast.
- The Dallas power play unit went 0-for-5, leaving them 2-for-23 over the last six games.
Wrist shot -