ANAHEIM - It's been a nagging problem for the Stars all season, and it showed its ugly face on Monday night in Anaheim.
For six months the Stars have been unable to solve their inconsistent nature, and it bit them once again against the Ducks in a 3-1 loss at Honda Center, a crushing defeat that may have ultimately knocked Dallas out of the playoff picture. With just six games remaining, the Stars find themselves nine points behind eighth-place Colorado, but with four teams -- Calgary, St. Louis, Minnesota and these Ducks -- to climb over.
The Stars have now alternated wins and losses for the past nine games, and finished their crucial four-game road trip with a 2-2 mark.
Kari Lehtonen finished with 43 saves in a spectacular showing, and was the single reason why the Stars stayed in the game despite allowing three Ducks goals during a game-changing 5-minute span in the second period.
"When the other team scores two or three goals in a short amount of time, it's never a good sign," Lehtonen said. "We were never able to bounce back from that."
Magnifying Dallas' up-and-down play this year was the fact that no Stars goalie had won four straight starts. Lehtonen was in search of that elusive milestone after capturing three in a row against Ottawa, Nashville and Los Angeles, but was undone by his team's performance during the first 40 minutes in which the Ducks outshot the Stars by a 31-17 margin.
"We had a couple of mistakes and had a couple of things go against us, but we had a great goaltending performance throughout the game," head coach Marc Crawford said. "There's always going to be points in the game where you're not going to have your best stuff and the other team's going to have some good momentum. In the second we had a very questionable call, and we didn't get through it. At the end of the day you have to get through those various periods of play, and for us during that 10-minute spot in the second period we didn't stem the tide."
Lehtonen fell just six saves short of his career high set last year when he turned aside 49 Washington Capitals' shots while playing for the Atlanta Thrashers.
Loui Eriksson scored the lone goal for the Stars, who dropped to 5-5-2 in their last 12 games but are still clinging to their playoff aspirations.
"It's a tough situation but I think we have lots of young guys here, and lots of older guys that are really good characters, and I don't think anybody's going to just stop playing," Lehtonen said. "It's bad, but it's the way it is and it's going to be even worse if you start losing every game. So we'll try to do our best and get some wins."
Rookie Nick Bonino, Corey Perry and Kyle Chipchura scored for the Ducks, winners of two straight overall and five straight at home. Backup goalie Curtis McElhinney got the nod after starter Jonas Hiller incurred back spasms during warm-ups, and made 30 saves.
The Stars played their best hockey over the final 20 minutes when they were down by a pair of goals, firing 14 shots on McElhinney, but they were unable to solve the netminder who won for the second straight start.
"The third period we had a lot of chances to score two goals," Lehtonen said. "Their goalie played really well in the third and I think that was the difference maker. We had a chance to come back but we weren't able to put the puck in."
After a scoreless first period, the Ducks struck first when Bonino scored his first NHL goal at 8:11 of the second period. While on the power play, Bonino, who was just signed by the Ducks last week after completing his junior year at Boston University, was able to whack home a loose and bouncing puck in the slot.
Perry stretched Anaheim's lead to 2-0 when he registered his 27th of the season at 12:41 of the second. After accepting a pass, Perry faked a shot from the slot before skating into the right circle and unleashing a wrist shot that beat Lehtonen on the short side.
The Ducks scored their third goal in just over a 5-minute span when Chipchura made it 3-0 with his fifth with 6 1/2 minutes to go in the middle frame. Standing in front, Chipchura first deflected Lubomir Visnovsky's shot from along the left boards, then deposited his own rebound into the net.
Eriksson cut the deficit to 3-1 with his team-leading 28th of the year with 5:12 left in the second. In the lower portion of the right circle, Eriksson received a pass from Brad Richards from behind the goal line, then ripped a snap shot that zipped past McElhinney's right shoulder.
The Stars return home to play the San Jose Sharks on Wednesday night at American Airlines Center (7:30 p.m., my27). The Stars were blanked by Evgeni Nabokov and the Sharks, 3-0, on Thursday night.
-- The Stars scratched center Mike Ribeiro for disciplinary reasons. Mike Modano (appendix), and right wing Kyrstofer Barch (calf laceration) were the other scratches. Dallas dressed seven defensemen.
-- These two teams will meet for the sixth and final time on April 8 in Dallas.
-- The game was delayed for a 10-minute pregame ceremony honoring Anaheim's Finnish forward Teemu Selanne, who scored his 600th career NHL goal against Colorado on March 21. Stars right wing Jere Lehtinen took the ceremonial faceoff against Selanne, with the puck being dropped by fellow Finnish great Jari Kurri, who retired after scoring 601 goals.
-- Eriksson has five goals and five assists against the Ducks this season.
-- Richards is now five points shy of his career-high of 91 set in 2005-06 with Tampa Bay.
-- Dallas came in having scored three or more goals against Anaheim in each of the four meetings between the two clubs.
-- The Stars lost in regulation for only the fourth time in the last 18 trips to Anaheim.
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