PHILADELPHIA - While there may be several mitigating factors, the bottom line is that the Dallas Stars are now officially slumping.
Icing a depleted lineup and facing the Eastern Conference’s top team, the Dallas Stars battled valiantly, but still ended up dropping a 3-1 decision to the Philadelphia Flyers Saturday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
The defeat was the Stars’ third straight coming out of the All-Star break and leaves the club 1-5-0 in their last six contests, a span in which they’ve been outscored 28-13. A case could be made, however, that three of the losses came against the league’s two best clubs (two to overall leader Vancouver and this one to Philadelphia), with another coming against another top-five squad in Boston the other night.
The loss was also their fourth straight on the road, by a combined 23-9, which follows a franchise-record eight-game road winning streak. Dallas still leads the Pacific Division, but their cushion is now down to just three points, with both San Jose and Anaheim closing in after each squad won earlier in the day.
But even with six injured Stars back in Dallas and utilizing three forwards that were all in the AHL two weeks ago, no one would make any excuses.
“You’re in trouble if you start getting satisfied with losses,” coach Marc Crawford said. “Your job is to try and find a way. We knew it was going to be a close game tonight and that we’d probably have to win a game 2-1 or something like that. It was going to be tough to penetrate their defense and it was going to be tough to stop the good offense that Philadelphia has, especially with some of the guys that we had in the lineup, but your job is to do it.”
“We’re happy with our effort, we’re disappointed with the result,” added captain Brenden Morrow, who continued his hot streak by scoring the Stars’ only goal, his 10th in the last 15 games. “We put in probably four good periods in the last two games, that doesn’t add up to many wins. Part of us may be happy with the effort, but most of us is disappointed with the results.”
Kari Lehtonen was back in goal for the Stars and delivered a very strong performance, making 29 saves in a losing cause. Unfortunately, Flyers netminder Brian Boucher was just a bit better, stopping 30 shots at the other end and being named the contest’s number one star.
The Stars, trailing 1-0, entered the second period on a power play and not only were they unable to capitalize on the opportunity, they wound up surrendering a short-handed goal to Darren Powe that put Philly up by two.
About 10 seconds after Boucher made a nice stop on Brad Richards’ wrist shot from the left face-off circle, the Flyers sped back up ice on the rush into the Dallas zone and Powe launched a high wrist shot from the right face-off circle that beat Lehtonen over the glove at 1:19. That marks the ninth short-hander the Stars have allowed this season, already more than they gave up all of last season.
After some of their recent struggles, the Stars could have let things unravel at that point, but they battled back and turned the game around with some strong play at both ends.
“I think we got aggressive on our forecheck,” Morrow said of the Stars’ response after getting down by two. “They seemed to get redundant on their break-outs, they were doing the same things, so we just smelled that a little bit. We took some things away, turned some pucks over and created some chances.”
The Stars had several opportunities to cut into the deficit during another power play, but their best came after it expired, when defenseman Stephane Robidas went coast-to-coast at 6:17 before firing a high wrist shot from the right sideboards. After Philly goaltender Brian Boucher made a shoulder save, the rebound spit out front, where a charging Brian Sutherby chipped it just over the net.
Lehtonen kept the Stars in the game with another brilliant save at 9:39. Claude Giroux, the Flyers’ leading scorer, bulled his way around Jeff Woywitka in the right circle, cut across the crease and tried to slip a backhander around Lehtonen at the left post, but the Finnish netminder slid across to make a pad save.
Dallas got one back at 12:07 when Morrow jammed home his team-leading 23rd goal of the season. After Morrow fed a pass from the right corner to linemate Mike Ribeiro behind the Philly net, he headed to the net and Ribeiro skated backwards out to the left side before slipping a deceptive pass through the crease to Morrow at the right post.
“I don’t know, just trying to beat guys from the corner, like the goal there,” Morrow said, trying to explain his recent success. “Earlier in the season, I was making plays too soon, before the puck actually came to me, and I think I’ve been doing a good job of getting my stick open and Ribby’s such a good playmaker, he keeps finding me.”
Infused with momentum, the Stars applied considerable pressure and nearly got another one at 14:56, when a give-and-go between Morrow and Ribeiro resulted in Ribeiro’s deflection in front of Morrow’s wrist shot, but Boucher made the save.
Down 2-1 heading into the final period, the Stars had a chance to tie it when a Philly giveaway turned into a Dallas 2-on-1 rush, resulting in a booming Steve Ott slap shot from the top of the left face-off circle that Boucher managed to turn away.
The Stars received a huge save from Lehtonen at 5:57 that kept it a one-goal game, as he denied Jeff Carter’s point-blank shovel shot. Then the loose rebounded ended up back at the top of the left circle, where Kimmo Timonen fired a wrister that Lehtonen stopped and smothered.
Lehtonen made another key stop at 9:33 when Andreas Nodl picked up a loose puck behind the Dallas net and circled out for a wrap-around attempt at the left post, but Lehtonen slid across to make the pad save.
It was about a minute later, with the same Stars defenders caught out on the ice, unable to clear the zone, and that fatigue wound up costing them, as Carter made it 3-1 at 10:37 with his 25th of the year. Carter batted down a waist-high puck in the left circle and swatted a bouncing puck on net that managed to burrow its way through Lehtonen and in.
James Neal had a great chance to pull the Stars back to within one at 12:05 when he worked his way around Philly defender Braydon Coburn, deked Boucher out of the crease, but his sharp-angle shot rolled through the crease and out the other side.
Dallas pulled Lehtonen for an extra attacker with 1:35 remaining, but were unable to manufacture any more offense.
“We had that chance when Otter had the 2-on-1 to tie it up, but their guy makes a good save,” Crawford said of the third period. “And we had a couple of other opportunities, they put a little bit of good fore-checking pressure on our defensive pairs and found a way to solve our goalie with the third goal. When you give them a two-goal lead, it’s tough.”
The Stars escaped another early deficit at 2:53 of the opening period, when a turnover in their own zone led to Flyer captain Mike Richards’ shot from the slot that pinballed off Neal’s stick and kissed off the left goalpost.
Seconds later, Lehtonen was whistled for roughing and the Stars had to be good on the penalty kill and they did manage to kill it off.
Dallas did not register a shot on goal until 5:23, after four Philly shots, but they began to push back after that.
Philadelphia nearly got on the scoreboard first at 9:05 of the first when a long pass from Chris Pronger sprung James van Riemsdyk on a breakaway. Van Riemsdyk made a deke to his backhand and Lehtonen stayed with him the whole way, making a big save to keep it scoreless.
Less than a minute later on a power play, the Stars had a golden opportunity of their own. After Ribeiro stick-handled his way through the Flyers’ zone, curling into the right face-off circle before flinging a sweet backhand pass through several defenders to a charging Brad Richards in the slot, but Boucher made the save on the resulting one-timer.
The Flyers snapped the scoreless tie with just 1:20 remaining in the first on Andrej Meszaros’ fourth goal of the year. Seconds after a Dallas turnover gave Philadelphia possession in the Stars’ zone, Meszaros received a pass at the right point, wandered into the left circle and fired a scorching wrist shot that beat Lehtonen over the glove hand.
The Stars return home for a much-needed three days off before their next matchup against former coach Dave Tippett and the Phoenix Coyotes Wednesday night at the American Airlines Center (7:30 pm, FSSW) for a critical divisional showdown.
“I like the fact that our guys don’t quit, but we’ve known that about our guys all year long,” Crawford said. “We want to keep forging ahead. It’s somewhat discouraging that you lose, but you keep forging ahead and that’s what this team is built on.”
- Morrow now has scored a stellar 10 goals (along with four assists) in the last 15 games. He also led the club with five shots on goal, along with Brad Richards, who also had five.
- Trevor Daley earned an assist on Morrow’s goal, after recording just one assist in his last seven contests. Daley also topped the squad with four blocked shots.
- While Robidas led the club in ice time with 23:30, because of all the injuries, the Stars had five forwards log over 21 minutes of ice while no other defenseman topped 20. Loui Eriksson skated 23:16, Richards logged 22:31, Ott was on the ice for 22:08 and Neal for 21:42.
- Lehtonen has never beaten the Flyers in 10 career meetings. He entered the contest 0-8-1, all from his days in Atlanta, where he registered a goals-against average of 3.76 and an .885 save percentage.
- 21-year-old winger Colton Sceviour, who was recalled from AHL Texas Friday, made his NHL debut, the second Star in two weeks to play his first-ever big-league game, including Travis Morin, who skated in his third contest in this one.