DALLAS - They almost pulled off another dramatic comeback, but this time, the Dallas Stars fell just short.
After rallying from a 3-0 second period deficit, the Stars roared back, tying the game midway through the third period, but ultimately ended up falling in a shootout, 4-3, to the Colorado Avalanche Saturday night at the American Airlines Center.
With the shootout even 1-1, Stars forward Steve Ott, their fifth shooter, drilled a scorching slap shot from the slot that beat Avalanche goaltender Peter Budaj high but pinged off the crossbar and landing about 20 rows into the seats at about center ice.
Then the Avs’ fifth shooter, Kevin Porter, skated into the slot and fired a wrist shot that slipped past Dallas netminder Kari Lehtonen just inside the left goalpost to clinch the game.
Ott took the loss, which ended the Stars’ five-game home winning streak, probably a little harder than he should have.
“It’s tough,” he said. “You never want to be the goat, that’s for sure, but not scoring there, they come down and score on you and lose the game that you definitely had a chance to win in the third period.”
Still, Dallas emerges from the contest with a point in the standings, and considering where things stood midway through the second period, that’s pretty remarkable, especially when placed alongside Thursday night’s dramatic 5-4 overtime triumph over San Jose, when the Stars rallied from a 4-2 deficit in the final 2:35 of regulation.
“It was a gritty effort for our group tonight,” Stars coach Marc Crawford said. “They went ahead there, and a lot of times, you’d be extremely worried, but almost like we did the game before, it was almost a carbon copy of the third period comeback. In the second, getting ourselves back to within a goal, and then I thought we pressed real hard in the third period, had a number of chances. I thought we had a lot more good chances in the game.”
“The character, we could have packed up our tent early and shipped this game out and regroup for next game,” Ott acknowledged. “I truly believe this is the hardest-working team I’ve ever played on, in eight years as a Dallas Star. When you have a team that doesn’t quit, you’re always going to be in games at the end of it. We find a way to scratch and claw and rip some skin apart, but we find a way to definitely get in there and we did that again tonight and we made a pretty good game of it and got a huge point out of the deal.”
James Neal scored the equalizer at 10:02 of the third period and added an assist for the Stars, who fall to 10-7-1 on the season. Captain Brenden Morrow and winger Adam Burish also found the back of the net for Dallas, while Lehtonen delivered another sharp performance, making 23 saves and another three in the shootout.
“We got the firepower to be able to come back in games, but at the same time, we don’t want to be down goals and always have to claw our way back into games,” Neal said. “We just got to keep doing the little things and we’ll be all right. It’s always tough when you get down three goals. You don’t want to be in that situation.”
One of the keys to the comeback was that, after David Jones’ rebound goal at 5:30 of the second period put Colorado up 3-0, Crawford opted to shuffle the Stars’ forward line combinations in an effort to shake things up. His plan succeeded, as the Stars struck twice within 23 seconds late in the period to close to within one.
“I just felt that we needed something,” Crawford said. “I felt that by changing the chemistry in the group, that maybe it would wake everybody up. I didn’t want to just change one person, because it wasn’t just one person. I felt that everybody had to pick it up and they did.”
Burish got things started at 13:33, drilling a slap shot from the top of the right face-off circle off the rush that beat Budaj on the short side. It was a goal that Budaj felt he should have had and it definitely gave the Stars a boost.
“I would like to take Burish’s goal back, I don’t think that should have gone in,” said Budaj, who ended up with 26 saves. “We had the momentum and as soon as I let that goal in, they got back on the horse and started playing real well.”
Then on the next shift, Mike Ribeiro outbattled Colorado defenseman Ryan Wilson behind the Avs’ net and, as he was falling to the ice, managed to slip a pass out front to a wide open Morrow, who buried it for his eighth goal of the season.
Colorado had a golden opportunity to go up by two again 4:06 into the final period when Paul Stastny and Jones sped into the Stars’ zone on a 2-on-1 rush. Stastny fed a pass into the middle for Jones, who cut in alone on Lehtonen, but the Stars netminder’s pokecheck attempt disrupted the play and the puck rolled into the corner.
Two and a half minutes later, Loui Eriksson almost tied it, but his wrist shot from up between the tops of the circles clanked off the left goalpost.
Dallas got the equalizer just past the midway point of the period, as Neal benefitted from a fortunate bounce during a Stars power play to claim his third goal in the last two games and eight of the season. As he cut through the high slot, he received a pass from Ott in the left corner, then curled into the left circle and slid the puck into the crease, where it ricocheted off Wilson’s skate and past Budaj.
“The one guy that really seemed to have legs and some jump was James Neal,” Crawford said. “It didn’t matter who he played with, he was good all night, even into the overtime. He was a dominant force tonight and that’s what we should expect from him - a guy that finishes checks, is in down deep, gets his shots away and really creates a lot of imposing traffic at the net.”
The Stars put on tremendous pressure over the final five minutes of regulation, peppering Budaj with shots and controlling the puck in the offensive zone for most of the time, but were unable to get another one.
Budaj made nice stops on Morrow’s wrist shot from the left face-off circle with 4:55 remaining, then denied Neal’s point-blank backhander from in front with 3:01 left, sending the game into OT.
Lehtonen made the best save of the extra period, thwarting Chris Stewart on back-to-back chances at the left post 3:20 into overtime.
Dallas had another opportunity to put it away when Avs defender Scott Hannan cross-checked Stephane Robidas into the Colorado net, giving the Stars a 4-on-3 power play for the final 39 seconds. Brad Richards had the best chance on that advantage, booming a slap shot from the point with 10 seconds left that Budaj made a nice shoulder save on.
The Stars got into penalty trouble during the first period, putting Colorado on the power play five times, and getting burned twice.
Long-time Star-killer Milan Hejduk staked Colorado to an early 1-0 lead, 4:05 into the opening period, just 14 seconds after Karlis Skrastins was whistled for tripping. Kevin Shattenkirk fed a beautiful cross-ice pass to Hejduk in front, and the 34-year-old veteran had an easy tap-in.
Dallas clearly was getting frustrated with the officiating late in the period, after back-to-back questionable calls on Brian Sutherby and Morrow. In fact, Morrow argued his tripping penalty with 38 seconds left in the period so vociferously, that he was slapped with an extra two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct.
“That’s their interpretation,” Crawford said of the unsportsmanlike call. “It’s funny, referees have different interpretations at different times. Brenden Morrow will usually get the benefit of the doubt. I don’t know how the guy could have heard him from the corner of the rink and Brenden’s got the glass in front of him. Brenden must really have a strong voice.”
And it was with just 20 seconds left in that power play, at 3:02 of the second period, that the Avalanche went up 2-0 on Hejduk’s second goal of the game and seventh of the season, which came off a nifty re-direct from the right side of the crease of Shattenkirk’s wrist shot.
Colorado kept the momentum going in their favor on Jones’ ninth goal 2:28 later. As Stewart carried the puck wide on the left side, he went below the goal line and flung the puck on net, where Lehtonen stopped it, but left a rebound in front and Jones jammed it home to make it 3-0.
After completing their three-game homestand with a solid 2-0-1 record, the Stars now head out on the road for two games in Ontario, starting with the Toronto Maple Leafs Monday night (6 pm start, FSSW). With both the Leafs and the Ottawa Senators, who Dallas plays Wednesday, in somewhat of a tailspin, it’s an opportunity for the Stars to snap their three-gam road losing streak.
“These are a couple of teams that are struggling, Toronto and Ottawa, I think they’ve been struggling the last little while,” Ott said. “But these aren’t going to be easy - you’re kind of going into a bee’s nest and our road performance hasn’t been so great lately. This could be good - we had a great homestand and if we can take that same kind of presence onto the road, hopefully, we can pull some big points out of there.”
- Neal’s two-point night gives him an impressive four-game scoring streak in which he’s compiled seven points (three goals, four assists). He fired five shots on goal, second to Richards’ team-leading six, and now has 13 in the last two contests.
- Eriksson’s assist on Morrow’s goal extends his assist streak to four games, during which he’s totaled five assists.
- Ribeiro scored in the shootout, leaving him 3-for-3 in shootout attempts this year.
- It was the Stars’ first loss of the season in games that have gone beyond regulation, leaving them 4-1 in those contests - two wins decided in OT, 2-1 in shootouts.
- The loss gives Dallas a 1-4-1 mark in their last six outings against Colorado, getting outscored 24-9 in those contests.
Wrist shot -
1 - 0 COL
2 - 0 COL
Backhand shot -
3 - 0 COL