DALLAS – For the Dallas Stars, past winning streaks are just that -- in the past. What’s more important is living in the present, and capturing coveted points that become available on game day. They heartbreakingly missed out on at least one, and possibly a pair, on Sunday afternoon.
Michal Handzus snapped a third-period tie with 21 seconds to go in regulation after Jamie Langenbrunner appeared to have put the game into overtime when he tied it with under a minute to go in the Stars 3-2 loss to the Los Angeles Kings at American Airlines Center.
The Stars (37-24-8) fell to fifth place in the Western Conference with 82 points, one behind fourth-place Los Angeles, which leaped over both Dallas and Chicago in the log-jammed West standings.
Brad Richards also scored, and Kari Lehtonen finished with 27 saves for Dallas, which is now 1-1-1 in its season-long seven-game homestand.
“It’s tough to take,” captain Brenden Morrow said. “You battle for 59 minutes and get back to even, and then they score a late one. It’s tough. We’re going to let it sink in here for the next 10 or 15 minutes and then push it aside to get ready for the next game.”
After garnering at least a point during a stretch in which they won six of eight, the Stars were handcuffed for most of the matinee by a stingy Kings defense that made it nearly impossible to penetrate the offensive zone, especially in the third period when the Stars were able to muster just six shots on goal.
“It was reminiscent of the ’99-2000 Stars,” Morrow said about a Kings team that was content in just dumping the puck in on offense, and clogging up the neutral zone on defense. “Pretty boring hockey. They do a good job of taking the middle of the ice away. They have big, strong defensemen that box you out so you can’t get any rebounds. They played a pretty strong game.”
But with Lehtonen on the ice for the extra attacker, the Stars were able to get control of the puck in the Kings end before Jamie Benn slid a pass to Alex Goligoski at the left point. The defenseman boomed a shot on net that stunned Los Angeles goalie Jonathan Quick, and Langenbrunner was able to pounce on the loose puck in the crease to tie it at 2-2 with 43 seconds left.
The goal gave the Stars a new life, and got everyone in the building ready for the extra session. The Kings, though, had other ideas, and quickly began putting pressure on the Stars following the tying tally. Handzus capped things when he shoveled home the winner from in front 22 seconds after Langenbrunner’s goal following a backhand pass from Alexei Ponikarovsky from below the goal line.
“There wasn’t a whole lot of open ice, and it was a battle for us,” Langenbrunner said. “We didn’t get the result we wanted, but we did a lot of good things. We’re gaining confidence in ourselves and in our team and playing good third periods. There’s no doubt in our locker room. We know if we’re down one or two goals we can come back. It’s a good feeling to have.”
Drew Doughty and Dustin Penner also scored, and Quick made 21 saves for the surging Kings (39-25-5), who improved to 7-2-1 over their last 10 contests.
“That was very much a playoff game,” coach Marc Crawford said. “It had the hitting of a playoff game, it had on our side guys sacrificing their bodies to block shots. On the bright side, these types of games are exactly what our team needs. It’s showing us that we can play in these hard, physical playoff-style games. We just have to focus in on making the subtle improvements that we can.”
Up by a goal after the first period, the Kings extended their lead to 2-0 with just under six minutes to go in the second on Penner’s 23rd of the season. Penner slipped to the right of Lehtonen before getting a feed from Anze Kopitar from the right circle, and then easily tapped the puck in.
Richards cut the deficit in half with his 25th of the season with exactly two minutes to go in the middle frame. Loui Eriksson sent Richards in alone on Quick from the blue line with a long pass from the Dallas zone, and Richards snapped a shot in that Quick was able to get a piece of.
Doughty staked the Kings to a 1-0 lead just 3:04 into the first period with a power-play goal. From the right point and with the puck on edge, the defenseman sent a fluttering shot towards the net that knuckled past Lehtonen.
“We’ll probably look for some positives, but we don’t want anyone in here to accept (losses) easily,” Morrow said. “Our best hockey has been usually when we’re down. It’s living on the edge, and we don’t want to do that every game but we’re confident we can come back in games.”
The Stars continue their season-long seven-game homestand on Tuesday night at American Airlines Center against the San Jose Sharks (7:30 p.m., FS-SW). The Pacific Division leaders have lost two straight games, with both coming in a shootout. The Sharks play at Chicago on Monday night.
“It’ll be another tough game, and one of many that we have in the next 14 or 15 games left,” Morrow said. “We’d like to get out, especially here at home, and push teams around and get out to early leads.”