DENVER - Perhaps it was the mile-high altitude, or the fatigue that accompanies the third game in four nights. But whatever the reason, it was a vastly different Dallas Stars squad Saturday than the one from the night before.
One night after a dominating 6-3 win over Phoenix, the Stars seemed a step slow all night and were shut out 5-0 by the Colorado Avalanche, who received 31 saves from goaltender Peter Budaj and three goals from their fourth line, at the Pepsi Center.
It’s just the second blanking this season for Dallas, who entered the day leading the NHL with a 3.40 goals-per-game average, as the Stars dropped to 8-5-0 on the year.
Playing their third game in four nights, a weary Stars team didn’t have anywhere near the same jump they showed in putting together a three-game winning streak, in which they outscored their opponents 15-5, over the past week.
Their power play unit, which exploded for four goals on six chances a night earlier, went silent, going 0-for-3 and even allowing a short-handed goal in the second period that put them down 3-0.
“We knew it was going to be a tough outing,” coach Marc Crawford said. “We got behind and it just didn’t seem like we had an awful lot going for us once we did get behind. The key goal was obviously the shorthanded one, that kind of sealed our fate and the guys kind of recognized, ‘Okay, maybe we are playing three in four.’ We’ve got to continue to try and get better in these games. I know there are a lot of disappointed guys in there. We didn’t get it done tonight, but we can still learn from it. Full marks to them for the win, their fourth line was the difference for them.”
Overall, the Stars were outshot by a 45-31 margin on the night, including 20-8 in the third period when the Avalanche scored goals 31 seconds apart to turn a still-somewhat-competitive 3-0 game into a 5-0 blowout.
“I think they outworked us, they came at us really hard right from the first shift,” said defenseman Stephane Robidas, who entered the day ranked second in the NHL with a +12 plus/minus rating, but ended up -2 on the night. “They had a really hard forecheck there, they’re a good-skating team and they used it to their advantage. We had trouble tonight, we couldn’t match their speed and that’s why they came out on top. They forced a lot of turnovers just by their work ethic, they were just relentless and we just couldn’t get anything going.”
Backup goaltender Andrew Raycroft got the start, just his second of the season, and it didn’t go quite as well as his first one a week ago when he shut out Buffalo 4-0. Still, despite the five goals against, he did put forth a solid performance, making 40 saves in a losing cause.
“I think our goaltender, even though he gave up five, played really good,” Robidas said. “He played solid, made a couple of good saves, but we didn’t really help him. We didn’t have our A game tonight and they basically outworked us.”
Budaj, the usual Colorado backup, was making his fifth straight start with top goalie Craig Anderson out with a knee injury, and was strong in net, but didn’t have to be spectacular.
“He played strong, had a good game,” Stars defenseman Nicklas Grossman said of Budaj. “We got to find a way to execute, but he had a good game tonight. They took advantage of their scoring chances and we didn’t and that was the difference in the game.”
The Stars dodged a bullet right off the bat, as the Avs nearly scored just 21 seconds into the opening period. Chris Stewart stripped Matt Niskanen of the puck behind the Dallas net and quickly whirled out front on his backhand, and Raycroft made a nice sliding pad save, then a better stop on the rebound. Another rebound spit out in front, where Colorado’s T.J. Galiardi, looking at an open half of the net, shanked it wide.
The Avalanche did get one just past the midway point of the period, as Kevin Porter notched his first goal. Toby Petersen beat Colorado’s Philippe Dupuis on a face-off in the Stars’ zone, but Avs rookie David Van Der Gulick dug the puck out of a few legs in the circle and Raycroft made the save on his wrist shot. Van Der Gulick had another shot on the rebound next to the left post, but then Porter swept in, pulled the loose puck to his backhand and curled it around Raycroft and in at 10:02.
That goal was the first one scored on Raycroft this season, ending his scoreless streak at 85 minutes.
While the Avalanche controlled the play for most of the first 12-plus minutes or so, outshooting the Stars 14-5 over that span, the Stars started to push back with a few chances of their own. turned aside Trevor Daley’s wrist shot from the right sideboards, and then made a sparkling save on Steve Ott’s point-blank rebound with 6:24 left in the period.
Dallas got the last four shots of the period, but still trailed 1-0 heading into the second.
Just after a power play expired for them, the Stars had a great chance to tie it 48 seconds into the second when Daley, on the rush, flipped a backhander into the crease. It bounced off an Avs defender and James Neal, racing in on the other side and drilled the loose puck off the near-side post.
Colorado then extended their lead to 2-0 at 4:53, when longtime Avs winger Milan Hejduk collected his fifth goal of the year. Matt Duchene emerged from behind the Dallas net and backhanded the puck into the crease where Raycroft made the save and it pinballed off several legs before Hejduk got to it and lifted a backhander up and over the prone Raycroft.
The Stars hit another post with 7:44 left in the period, when Karlis Skrastins’ snap shot from the left point sailed past a screened Budaj but clanked it off the far post.
It was less than a minute later when the Avalanche went up by three with a shorthanded goal by Dupuis. After Dallas turned the puck over in the neutral zone, Colorado sped into the Stars’ zone on a 2-on-1 rush. Dupuis carried into the right circle and then unleashed a scorching wrist shot over Raycroft’s glove just under the crossbar at 13:04 for his first NHL goal.
“The power play’s been good for us in recent games,” noted defenseman Jeff Woywitka. “It’s won us a lot of hockey games and tonight it was a battle getting shots through, just getting sustained pressure to gain momentum. We weren’t able to do that for the most part tonight and it reflects in the score.”
Entering the final period down 3-0, the Stars surrendered two more within a 31 second span early to go down by five. First, Dupuis intercepted a wayward pass from Woywitka in the left circle, then cut to the net, where Raycroft poked it off his stick, but it went right to Porter in the slot and he one-timed it into the open side of the net at 5:39.
On the very next shift, with Dallas pressing in the Colorado zone, the Avalanche launched a counter-attack the other way, as Duchene carried over the Dallas blue line on a 2-on-1 rush, before feeding a pass into the slot, where the charging Brandon Yip re-directed it past Raycroft for his third of the year.
The Stars never really threatened down the stretch, and as frustration set in, Brian Sutherby took on Yip in a fight with just 6.9 seconds left in regulation that ended with one of the linesmen taking down Sutherby.
“I think we knew coming into this building it’s going to be a tough game,” Grossman said. “We know they play with a lot of pace here, a lot of skill up front, a lot of grit, a lot of tough players, so we knew it was going to be a tough game, but we weren’t totally prepared for it, I think.”
The Stars will return to Dallas, get a little rest, have a few days of practice, and then head out again to California to face the Los Angeles Kings Thursday night (9:30 pm start, FSSW) and Anaheim next Friday.
“I thought that we kept the game close, we wanted a close game,” Crawford said. “Even at 2-0, we still generated some energy, we had a couple of decent shifts, but nothing really sustained tonight. It’s a work in progress, we have to learn the lessons that we can from this game and keep advancing them forward. We’re going to be in games where it’s three in four nights again. We didn’t pass tonight and there’s lot of reasons we didn’t but one encouraging sign is how disappointed the guys are because they want to be good in these areas.”
- Third line winger Adam Burish led the Stars with five shots on goal, while Eriksson recorded four.
- One other area where the Stars struggled was in face-offs as the Avalanche won that battle 32-20 on the night, with Mike Ribeiro winning just one of 15 draws on the night.
- Center Tom Wandell was back in the lineup after sitting out Friday night’s win over Phoenix as a healthy scratch. In 13:19 of ice time, he fired one shot on goal, recorded two hits and was the only Star to emerge from the contest without a negative plus/minus rating.
- Woywitka also found himself back on the ice after sitting out the previous five contests as a healthy scratch. Despite his giveaway on the Avs’ fourth goal, he played a strong game, firing three shots on goal in 18:11 of ice time.
- With Wandell and Woywitka in, Krys Barch and Mark Fistric served as the healthy scratches in their place.
- The loss leaves the Stars winless in Denver in their last three visits, being outscored by a wide 13-1 margin in those contests, and 1-6-0 in their last seven trips.
David Van Der Gulik
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