But in the second leg of back-to-back contests in the Great White North, and with several regulars missing from the lineup, the Dallas Stars wound up succumbing 7-4 to the Calgary Flames Friday night at the Scotiabank Saddledome to end their franchise-record eight-game road winning streak.
The loss also snapped their five-game winning streak overall, a span in which they’d outscored opponents 19-6 - meaning they surrendered more goals in this one game than they had in the previous five combined. It was also the Stars’ first regulation loss of 2011, as they fell to 7-1-1 since the calendar turned.
It was a strange game for the Stars, who were missing a few regulars in the lineup for their second of back-to-back contests in different cities. At times, they appeared in control and didn’t allow Calgary many opportunities, but at others, they let the Flames, who sit 14th in the 15-team Western Conference, dictate the tempo.
After falling behind 5-2 late in the second period, the Stars mounted an impressive comeback attempt, pulling to within 5-4 early in the third, but were unable to finish the task. Ultimately, the combination of odd-man rushes against, a rare sub-par goaltending performance from backup Andrew Raycroft and special teams not quite up to their recent standards doomed them.
Raycroft, making his first start since shutting out Minnesota on the road Jan. 9 and just his second appearance in nine games, faced just 19 shots, making 12 saves to drop to 8-4-0 on the season.
“It’s just a little uncharacteristic of the way we’ve played, especially on the road with this winning streak,” noted captain Brenden Morrow, who scored a goal, “making some bad reads, turning some pucks over in bad areas and not getting in shooting lanes and they put a few in because of that.”
“I give our guys credit, they battled back, they got it to 5-4,” said coach Marc Crawford. “Andrew Raycroft, who has been sensational for us this year, had a tough night, so you throw that one out because there’s not much more you can do than that. We know our goalie has been terrific all year and he probably feels worse than anybody else, and then on the other side of it, the other thing you hope you learn from it is that you just have to protect the puck as much as you can.”
Offensively, the Stars flourished despite the flu-related absence of sniper Loui Eriksson, whose career-high 10-game scoring streak ended in Edmonton the night before. Dallas was also without fourth-line grinder Brian Sutherby (lower body injury) and defenseman Jeff Woywitka (upper body injury), which forced Crawford to juggle the forward lines a bit and insert rookies Aaron Gagnon and Francis Wathier, who were each recalled from AHL Texas on Wednesday.
Dallas remains atop the Pacific Division, just three points back of Vancouver, their next opponent Monday night, for the Conference lead.
“I felt good there, I had a lot of ice time today with a short lineup, and I even played right wing a little bit with Richie, but the important thing was to get the two points here,” said Ribeiro, whose streak is now the longest in the NHL. “I’m sure (Raycroft) would like to have a couple back, but us too, we gave up 2-on-1s and it was the details of the game that we didn’t do well in today and we hope to get back on track Monday.”
“Overall, we kind of just got to get by it and look ahead to the big one on Monday,” added Richards, who fired three shots on goal and topped all forwards in ice time with 20:17. “It was a good streak, we played a lot of good games, pulled a lot of stuff out, this just wasn’t meant to be tonight.”
After surrendering two goals in a 56-second span late in the second that put them behind 5-2, the Stars entered the final period with a little momentum following Grossman’s goal 47.8 seconds before the intermission.
They almost immediately cut the deficit to one when Neal connected for his team-leading 20th goal of the season just 31 seconds in. Richards poked the puck off Calgary defenseman Robyn Regehr’s stick in the Flames’ zone, and Jamie Langenbrunner found himself alone in the slot and whipped a quick wrist shot past goaltender Henrik Karlsson, but it pinged off the left goalpost. The puck ricocheted right to a wide open Neal in front, and he drilled it into the open net to pull Dallas to within 5-4.
Infused with the momentum and feeling yet another comeback in the works, the Stars surged over the next several moments, but an unfortunate turnover in their own zone ultimately ended their dreams of a heroic rebound.
Calgary’s Alex Tanguay harassed Trevor Daley behind the Dallas net, turning the puck over and it went right to Jarome Iginla at the left goalpost. The Flames’ captain quickly pulled it to his backhand and swept it around Raycroft, banking it off the far post and in at 4:20.
“After the second, we still believed we could come back and then we scored on the first shift there, but they came back and made it 6-4 and that one hurt us,” Ribeiro said.
“You certainly can’t turn pucks over in and around your net and that sixth one is one maybe you can learn a lesson from tonight,” Crawford said.
Morrow had perhaps his fifth glorious chance of the game at 8:42 and a key moment to pull the Stars back to within one when he stripped Calgary’s Mark Giordano of the puck in the left face-off circle and burst in alone on Karlsson, but the netminder made a sprawling save on Morrow’s deke attempt.
“I think the one I did score, it was probably my worst opportunity, considering the other ones,” said Morrow, shaking his head. “I hit a post and had some good chances in tight, but it was just not going in for me.”
The Flames then put the game away just nine seconds into a power play when David Moss collected his second of the game at 12:12. After Raycroft stopped Moss’ deflection in front, Olli Jokinen got the rebound at the left side of the net and rang it off the near post, but it bounced behind Raycroft into the crease and Moss buried it.
Some of the frustrations from a difficult night bubbled over with 2:55 remaining, when multiple shoving matches resulted in Steve Ott dropping the gloves with Calgary’s Cory Sarich.
“We were right there,” said Ribeiro. “Mistakes that we made went in the net today and we had a few power plays there where we could have gotten the lead in the second, and they just scored on the chances they had.”
Calgary got the start they wanted when Tanguay staked them to an early 1-0 lead just 3:40 into the opening period. Former Star (and broadcaster Daryl Reaugh’s brother-in-law) Brendan Morrison retrieved a rebound at the left side of the crease and slid a nifty backhand pass in front to a wide open Tanguay, who jammed it home into the open net.
Dallas evened it up on Morrow’s 19th goal of the season at 8:34, seizing the momentum for the next 10-plus minutes after that. Ribeiro controlled the puck behind the Calgary net and slipped a deceptively quick pass out to Morrow below the left face-off circle for a sharp-angle one-timer that beat Karlsson over the shoulder.
The Stars made it 2-1 less than four minutes later on Richards’ 19th of the year at 12:12. Leading the rush into the Calgary zone, Richards wired a lethal wrist shot from the right circle over Karlsson’s shoulder and just under the crossbar.
The Flames tied it back up, though, on an odd-man rush at 15:10. Carrying the puck into the Dallas zone on a 2-on-1, Jokinen fired a fierce wrister from the right circle that found the net over Raycroft’s shoulder.
Heading into the second period tied 2-2, the Stars had multiple opportunities to jump back on top during an early power play, but were unable to find the back of the net, as Karlsson made a nice shoulder stop on Daley’s wrist shot from the left face-off circle at 3:12.
Then, Morrow nearly had his second of the night at 4:06 when he rifled a slap shot from the slot that pinged off the post.
Several minutes later, Morrow had another, even more glorious chance after Ribeiro drew several defenders to him in the right face-off circle before feeding a wide open Morrow in front, and the Dallas captain shoveled it into a sliding Karlsson.
After Dallas completely controlled the first half of it, the Flames connected on their second shot of the period, as Mikael Backlund’s fifth goal of the year put them ahead 3-2 at 11:51. Tim Jackman lugged the puck into the Stars’ zone and whipped a pass into the middle from the right sideboards, and Backlund, driving the net, re-directed it up and over Raycroft’s shoulder.
Moss connected for his first of the night with 2:50 left in the period when he pulled a loose puck out of some legs in the right circle and whipped a wrist shot that somehow squeezed through Raycroft and in.
Then 56 seconds later, the Flames made it 5-2 when Morrison scored his sixth of the year on a 2-on-1. Racing into the Dallas zone, Morrison let loose from the right circle and beat Raycroft just inside the far post.
The Stars got some life back in the final minute, though, when Grossman recorded his first goal of the season and just the third of his career, launching a high wrist shot from the point that whizzed right past Morrow’s screen in front, almost hitting him, before clanking off the left post and in.
The Stars conclude their Western Canadian road trip with a visit to picturesque Vancouver, where they get two days of rest before facing the Conference-leading Canucks Monday night (9 pm start, FSSW), the last team they’d lost to in regulation (on New Year’s Eve) before this one.
“We felt comfortable all game, even going into the third, and when we made it 5-4 early in the third, we really did feel comfortable,” Richards said. “We didn’t feel like we were in trouble or anything. It’s disappointing, but we’ve got to nip it quick, regroup, and it’s going to be a real tough battle on Monday, and we’ve got to clean it up a little bit and get ready for that one.”
- In addition to a career-high, Ribeiro’s 11-game scoring streak, during which he’s compiled (4-10-14), is also the longest current streak in the league.
- Grossman’s goal was his first since March 14, 2009, a span of 130 games. He has been contributing more offensively lately, though, because he now has four points (one goal, three assists), though, in his last six games.
- Morrow’s goal gives him 11 points (six goals, five assists) in his last 11 outings. He also led the Stars with four shots on goal.
- Richards’ two-point night leaves him with a stellar 14 points (two goals, 12 assists) in his last nine contests.
- With his assist on Morrow’s goal, Jamie Benn extended his career-high scoring streak to six games, a span in which he’s totaled nine points (four goals, five assists).
- With all the players out of the lineup, at least the Stars got one back, as defenseman Matt Niskanen returned following a six-game absence due to a hand laceration.
- The Dallas power play, which was a stellar 7-for-13 over the previous three games and 12-for-27 over the previous eight, went 0-for-2 on the night. The Stars’ penalty killing, meanwhile, which had nullified 23-of-24 opposition power plays over the previous eight games, allowed 1-of-2 in this one to Calgary’s 26th-ranked PP unit.