Following a script that we’ve seen too many times already this season, the Dallas Stars battled back from a third period deficit, had several chances to put home the go-ahead goal, but in the end, fall in 3-2 in a shootout to the Phoenix Coyotes Sunday night at the American Airlines Center.
It was another gut-wrenching defeat for a team desperate to remain on the fringes of the Western Conference playoff race, but has struggled this season in shootouts, falling to 5-10 in those contests. Dallas has now lost a league-high 14 games that have gone beyond regulation.
“It’s always tough situation in shootouts,” said winger Loui Eriksson, whose goal in the third period tied the game. “We could have gotten a lot of points from winning, so that’s something we have to work on and get better at. We lost a point again today and that’s bad.”
The Stars did still gain a point in the standings, but because other teams in the hunt also won tonight, Dallas is in a three-way tie for 11th in the West, seven points back of eighth-place Detroit. Time is running out, though - there are just 10 games left in the regular season.
“If you look at the standings, it’s pretty frustrating,” said defenseman Stephane Robidas. “We need points desperately, we can’t afford to let those points go. You look at the standings, there’s not too many games left and we’re still pretty far behind, so it’s definitely disappointing. We had the chance to come back and get closer tonight and that one point could make a difference there.”
In the final outing of a six-game homestand in which they finished 2-2-2, Dallas eventually succumbed to a red-hot Coyotes club, led by former Dallas coach Dave Tippett, when Adrian Aucoin fired a sizzling wrist shot past goaltender Marty Turco’s glove in the fourth round of the shootout.
The win was the ninth straight for Phoenix, who jumped over San Jose into the Pacific Division lead.
Once again, the Stars displayed impressive resiliency, bouncing back from a 2-0 second period deficit, giving up both goals on the power play, eventually tying the game on Eriksson’s goal, but it just wasn’t quite enough.
“We got it back in the third, and we tied it up there,” Eriksson said. “It was good to do that, but it’s too bad we lost the game. We need all the points we can get, and we lost one today. We got one point, but it’s still not good enough.”
In the shootout, the Stars scored on the first attempt as Brad Richards beat Phoenix goaltender Jason LaBarbera with a quick wrist shot from the slot, but the Coyotes evened it when Radim Vrbata connected on their third attempt.
LaBarbera then stopped Steve Ott’s chance, and Aucoin clinched the Coyotes’ fifth straight shootout win.
“It’s just one aspect, it’s part of the game,” Robidas said. “For us, when we struggle like that in the shootout, the best thing we can do is win in regulation. It’s something we haven’t been able to do too often.”
“The shootout, we scored, we got the lead. It comes down to the third shot - the guy scored the same shot three nights in a row,” Stars coach Marc Crawford noted. “It’s not that we don’t scout them, it’s not that we don’t know what’s going on. Their fourth guy scored and ours didn’t. But the game’s not about the shootout, it gets too much attention. The game’s about the game. It’s about what happens in overtime and in regulation. We’ve got to be better than them there.”
In addition to Eriksson’s team-leading 26th goal of the season, rookie Jamie Benn continued his recent hot streak for the Stars, scoring his eighth goal in the last 15 games.
Turco returned to the Dallas crease after sitting out the last three contests, and looked sharp, making 33 saves and two more in the shootout.
“I thought Marty was good,” Crawford said. “He gave us a chance. He made a great save in overtime. The only goals that beat him were on the power play.”
Trailing 2-1 entering the final period, the Stars almost tied it just 1:22 in while on a power play as James Neal charged the net from out of the left face-off circle that squeezed under LaBarbera and rolled slowly through the crease. Despite a map scramble in front, the Stars were unable to bang it home, but another Coyotes penalty was called on the play, giving Dallas a 5-on-3 for 26 seconds..
Just as the first penalty was expiring, Richards boomed a slap shot from the right point that LaBarbera made a nice pad save on, and Eriksson was right there for the rebound, but the puck bounced over his stick.
Turco made a sparkling save on Vern Fiddler’s high backhander from the slot.
Dallas got the equalizer at 7:11 while on another power play, as Eriksson struck for his team-leading 26th goal of the season. Richards blasted a slap shot from the left point, and as he cruised through the slot, Eriksson managed to deflect the puck about waist-high, beating LaBarbera over the shoulder.
The Coyotes nearly went back on top with 6:51 left in regulation when Petr Prucha unleashed a quick wrist shot from the left circle that beat Turco over the shoulder, but pinged off the crossbar.
LaBarbera’s diving stop on Benn’s rebound chance in front with 2:52 remaining was a big one, keeping the game tied.
The Stars nearly got the winner just before the final buzzer, but Richards’ slap shot from the right sideboards ricocheted off Phoenix defenseman Ed Jovonovski’s skate in front and rolled just wide of the far post, sending the game into overtime.
Phoenix had the best opportunity in overtime, but Turco stopped Wojtek Wolski’s shot in front with 35 seconds left, and made a spectacular diving stop on Shane Doan’s rebound chance, setting the stage for the shootout.
“We showed a bit of character coming back and getting that tying goal, had some chances to put it away and just didn’t do it,” Benn said.
Dallas had the first opportunity just 1:05 into the contest, as Neal’s fierce wrist shot from the right circle was stopped by LaBarbera, but it squeezed through him and sat loose in the crease for a tantalizing moment before the Coyotes defense cleared it out.
Brad Richards nearly snapped the scoreless tie at 7:23 when he slipped around Jovonovski in the right circle off the rush and fired a wrist shot that LaBarbera got just enough of to send it off the near-side post and into the corner.
Phoenix came close with 9:11 remaining in the period when Lee Stempniak picked up a loose puck all alone in front of the Dallas crease, and while trying to sweep it around Turco, the Stars netminder shot out a lizard tongue-like pokecheck to knock the puck away.
For the second consecutive game, the Stars ended up surrendering a goal with less than two seconds left in the first period. This time, with captain Brenden Morrow in the box for an offensive zone slashing penalty, Vrbata fed a slick pass from the left sideboards in front, where Prucha roofed it over Turco’s shoulder just as time expired. Following a video review during which most of the players for both teams left the ice, it was determined the puck entered the net with 0.9 seconds left.
Following that incredibly deflating goal, Dallas came out for the second period and promptly gave the Coyotes another power play when Neal inadvertently bonked Keith Yandle over the head with his stick at 1:49. The Coyotes needed just 34 seconds to capitalize, as Vrbata received a nice cross-ice pass from Adrian Aucoin and fired a lethal wrist shot from the left circle that beat Turco over the shoulder.
The Stars answered just 1:22 later, as Benn notched his 19th goal of the season. After receiving a long pass from Robidas at the Phoenix blue line, Benn sped in on a breakaway. LaBarbera stopped his initial wrist shot, but the rebound bounced up in the air and Benn swatted it out of the air and into the net.
“I just tried to go five-hole there, it came up and I just smacked it down,” Benn said of the play. “A lucky goal, I guess, but we needed it at the time.”
Turco made a difficult shoulder save on Vrbata’s sharp angle wrist shot from the right corner just prior to the midway point of the period to keep Dallas within 2-1.
“It’s a game tonight that unfortunately did come down to shootout,” Crawford summed up. “And that’s our problem. We didn’t do a good enough job killing penalties, although we did get a couple of big kills late in the game. That one at the end of the first period is inexcusable, which has happened two nights in a row. It’s the old story, ‘Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.’
“Give our guys lots of credit. No quit in them. They kept fighting. They battled hard. We got a point out of it, but at the same time, those things just crush you. It takes so much energy to get back from those types of happenings.”
After fashioning a 2-2-2 record on their season-long homestand, the Stars now head out of town on a four-game road trip, beginning with a visit to Nashville to play the Predators Tuesday night (7 pm start, my27). Nashville defeated St. Louis 3-2 Sunday to move into fifth in the West.
“It’s pretty simple, we just got to win games, get the two points and go from there,” Robidas said. “We can only control what we can control. We can’t control if other teams win or lose, the only thing we can control is how we play, how we prepare ourselves for every game. We just got to be ready to play our next game.”
- Benn now has goals eight goals in his last 15 games and six points (four goals, two assists) in his last seven outings, following a four-game pointless streak. His 19 goals on the year represent the second-most by a rookie in Dallas Stars history, trailing just Neal’s 24 from last season.
- Eriksson scored his first goal in eight games, but still has five points (one goal, four assists) in the last four games. After missing his shootout attempt, Eriksson is now 3-for-9 on the season.
- Richards now has 14 points (four goals, 10 assists) in the last 11 games, including a five-game point streak. His shootout goal leaves him 4-for-14 this year in that category. During the game, he also led the Stars with five shots on goal and was named the game’s first star.
- Defenseman Nicklas Grossman’s assist on Benn’s goal gives him three assists in the last four games after going 25 games played without a point.
- Morrow’s assist on Eriksson’s goal gives him six points (two goals, four assists) in the last four games after gaining just one assist in the previous four.
- Center Mike Ribeiro is now 1-for-12 this year in shootouts after missing on his attempt.
- Turco had shut out the Coyotes in the last two meetings between the clubs, stopping a total of 74 shots in those contests. The first Phoenix goal ended Turco’s personal goalless streak against them at 158:07, dating back to Nov. 27.
- Defenseman Jeff Woywitka was back in the lineup after sitting out as a healthy scratch Saturday. In his place, Matt Niskanen sat out for the third time in the last four games. Forward Fabian Brunnstrom was also scratched, sitting for the sixth straight game and for the ninth time in 11 games since the Olympic break.
- The Coyotes, coming into the day with the NHL’s 29th-ranked power play unit, went 2-for-6 with the man-advantage.
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Wrist shot -