ST. LOUIS - Just when it started to seem like the impossible task was back within their grasp, the Dallas Stars let it slip away again.
With a chance to put together their first three-game winning streak of the season and move within three points of the final Western Conference playoff spot, the Stars came up just short Saturday night, dropping a nail-biting 2-1 decision to the St. Louis Blues at Scottrade Center.
With eighth-place Colorado stumbling and the Stars winning their previous two contests by a combined score of 11-4, the door was ajar for 10th-place Dallas to push themselves further into the mix. Instead, the Blues, now 4-1-0 in their last five, jump over them in the standings by a point and Dallas remains five back of eighth place, with just three games left.
A tired team playing its second contest in back-to-back nights in two different cities, the Stars just didn’t seem to have the same jump they did in their 6-3 win over Edmonton Friday. Still, the opportunity was there, as captain Brenden Morrow lifted them into a 1-1 tie late in the second period, but a third period power play goal by Blues defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo proved to be the difference.
Kari Lehtonen was back in goal, starting back-to-back games for the first time since his return from two off-season back surgeries. In his eighth start in the last 11 contests, Lehtonen once again put forth a strong performance, making 21 saves.
Tied 1-1 entering the final period, the Stars fell behind at 8:14 of the third on Colaiacovo’s power play goal. After Lehtonen stopped Andy McDonald’s shot from the slot with his mask, there was a mad scramble for the loose puck in front. Colaiacovo pulled it loose, and while diving, managed to sweep a backhander past Lehtonen just inside the right post.
Dallas nearly tied it on the very next shift, as Mike Modano, in his second game back after missing nine with an appendectomy, uncorked a scorching snap shot from the high slot that forced Blues netminder Chris Mason to make a good save. Jere Lehtinen knocked the rebound out of the air in front and swatted another shot on goal, but Mason denied him.
Lehtonen kept the Stars in it with a spectacular arm save with 5:25 remaining when he thwarted Alex Steen’s uncontested wrist shot from the high slot.
The Blues kept the pressure on, and Lehtonen came up with another big save with 2:33 left, denying Paul Kariya’s one-timer from slot.
With Lehtonen on the bench for an extra attacker, the Stars pressed for the equalizer over the final 1:25, but had difficulty setting up in the offensive zone. Their best chance came with 17 seconds to go, when Brad Richards unleashed a one-timer from the left point that sailed through a screen and hit Mason on the pad. James Neal got to the rebound in front, but backhanded it wide.
The Blues had the contest’s first good scoring chance just 1:30 in when Kariya burst through the Stars’ defense and sped into the left face-off circle, but Lehtonen made an important pad save on the resultant wrist shot.
Dallas nearly snapped the scoreless tie at 7:39 when Morrow chased down a loose puck in the St. Louis zone and swept in alone on Mason. Morrow made a wide backhand-to-forehand move before attempting to stuff it inside the left post, but Mason got his pad on it.
The Stars dodged a bullet while shorthanded with 3:30 remaining in the period when David Backes found himself alone with the puck in front of Lehtonen, but as Backes tried to make a move to his backhand, he lost the puck.
Dallas responded with a chance at the other end a minute later when Modano boomed a one-timer from the top of the right face-off circle, but Mason came up with the save.
Following a scoreless first period in which they outshot St. Louis 7-5, the Stars had two glorious opportunities in the first 1:10 of the second, but were unable to solve Mason.
First Loui Eriksson drilled a one-timer from the left face-off circle at the 58-second mark, but Mason made the stop. Then, 10 seconds later, Richards sped in on a breakaway and fired a wrist shot from the high slot, but Mason got just enough of his glove on it to deflect it over the net.
About 30 seconds after that Dallas flurry, Brandon Segal and former Star B.J. Crombeen squared off in the 15th fight between the teams in the four-game season series.
The Blues struck first not long after that, as T.J. Oshie registered his 17th goal at 4:12. Lehtonen stopped Roman Polak’s slap shot from the point, but Oshie was alone in front and slammed the loose rebound home to make it 1-0.
Dallas evened it up on the power play with just 1:49 left in the period, as Morrow connected for his 19th goal of the year. Immediately off a Richards face-off win in the offensive zone, Morrow fought off Blues defenseman Mike Weaver for the loose puck in front, and snapped a quick shot past a surprised Mason.
Having just completed an arduous stretch of 18 games in 33 nights since the Olympic break, the Stars actually have two days off before their next contest, Tuesday night at home against Chicago (7:30 pm start, FSSW). The Central Division-leading Blackhawks are currently second in the Western Conference and still have an outside chance to catch San Jose for first. Let’s hope the Stars are still alive in the race by then.
- Morrow’s goal gives him 10 points (four goals, six assists) in the last 11 games, after recording just one goal and one assist in the previous eight contests.
- Richards’ assist on Morrow’s goal gives him 66 on the season, pushing him into a tie for third on the franchise’s single-season assist list with former Minnesota North Star Tim Young (1976-77). It was also his 90th point of the year, just one shy of his career high set in 2005-06 with Tampa Bay. Richards tied with rookie Jamie Benn for the team lead with five shots on goal.
- Defenseman Mark Fistric left the contest in the second period with an upper body injury, logging just 9:57 of ice time, and did not return.
Wrist shot -