GLENDALE – With plenty of desperation and vigor in their game, the Stars outshot and out-chanced the Phoenix Coyotes. Unfortunately, they just didn’t out-point them when they needed to.
Ray Whitney scored the winning goal in the fifth round of the shootout, and Ilya Bryzgalov made 44 saves to give the Coyotes a 2-1 win over the Stars on Tuesday night at Jobing.com Arena.
The Stars effort didn’t go totally unrewarded, as they captured a point to pull within three of the Chicago Blackhawks for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Chicago lost to Boston on Tuesday night, and has 90 points.
Missing out on the bonus point was an opportunity lost to gain additional ground in the log-jammed postseason push in the West, but the silver lining was that the Stars displayed plenty of passion in their game that they hope will propel them to securing some big victories over their final seven contests.
“I thought we played a good enough game to get two points, but we’ll take one I guess,” said Jamie Benn, who scored the lone regulation goal for Dallas. “I think if we play like that from here on in, we’ll win some games.
Kari Lehtonen – making his 16th straight start – finished with 26 saves for the Stars, who fell to 1-3-3 in their last seven contests.
“It was a tight game,” Lehtonen said. “Those guys were just a little bit more lucky in the end. We’ll take every point we can get right now. We just need to play the same way, and we should be good.”
What made the result frustrating, though, was how the Stars dominated a Coyotes team that eventually wound up winning for the eighth time in their last 10 games. Dallas outshot Phoenix by a whopping 45-27 margin, including an 18-9 advantage in the second period alone. But Bryzgalov had all the answers, stymying the Stars at every turn, while spitting out pucks at the most opportune times.
“We did a lot of good things. We just can’t give up and we have to keep battling,” defenseman Stephane Robidas said. “We know all the teams that we can compete against, and we know we can beat them. We’ve done it this year. It’s just a matter of doing the little things consistently. We just can’t give up…that’s the worst thing.”
Perhaps no save for the big Russian goalie was as big as his stop on Jason Williams in the fourth round of the shootout. After Benn and Radim Vrbata exchanged goals over the first two rounds, Williams nearly won it for Dallas when he put a terrific fake on Bryzgalov. But before Williams could deposit the winner in with a backhand, a beaten Bryzgalov reached to his right to barely swipe the puck with the paddle of his stick.
Whitney then followed by squeezing a shot through Lehtonen’s pads, with the puck squirting through just enough to cross the goal line, and Bryzgalov iced it when he easily blocked Loui Eriksson’s final attempt.
“We deserved a win tonight, but we didn’t get it,” coach Marc Crawford said. “I told the guys after the game that you have efforts like that you’re going to win 95-98 percent of your games. Their goalie was terrific tonight, and he was the difference for them. They needed every one of the saves he made.”
Defenseman David Schlemko scored in regulation for Phoenix, which rebounded from a 4-1 loss to San Jose on Saturday.
“We played very well – we almost had 50 shots – and I think we were the better team out there,” Lehtonen said. “We just weren’t able to get many pucks past Bryzgalov. He played very well for them.”
In the overtime, Robidas had a glorious chance to cap it, but his one-timer from the high slot rang off the post.
“We had a contribution from everybody in our lineup, we just have to stay with it,” Crawford said. “These types of games, you just have to keep building on it. I like the way we played, and on the positive side we picked up a point, and that’s always important.”
Despite the defeat, the Stars are still within striking distance of the Blackhawks as well as seventh-place Anaheim, which has 91 points. Dallas will play the Ducks on Sunday to conclude a key five-game road trip.
“You have to get every point when you can get it,” Crawford said. “It’s been like that all year, and it’ll continue to be like that.”
After a scoreless first period the Coyotes struck first to grab a 1-0 lead with just under eight minutes left in the second frame on Schlemko’s fourth of the season. Just three seconds after a penalty to Mike Ribeiro had expired, the Phoenix defenseman ripped a shot from the right point that appeared to go in off a body in front of Lehtonen.
Benn netted the equalizer on the power play with 2:26 remaining in the second. From the bottom portion of the right circle, he completed some nice perimeter passing involving Robidas and Jamie Langenbrunner before shooting the puck between Bryzgalov’s legs along the ice.
“We just wanted to get shots out there, and put pucks to the net,” said Benn, who has nine goals in his last 13 games. “It’s confidence…we never want to go down in a game, but when we do we know we can come back. I think we’ve shown that a lot this year.”
The Coyotes nearly took the lead late in the second during a wild scramble in front of the net after Lehtonen stopped Lee Stempniak’s shot. The puck bounced off gloves like a pinball in mid-air before falling innocently into the net, but Coyotes’ forward Taylor Pyatt interfered with Lehtonen in the crease, and the goal was immediately waved off.
The Stars continue their jaunt out west with a meeting with the San Jose Sharks on Thursday (9:30 p.m., FS-SW). The Sharks are trying to stave off the Coyotes in the race for the Pacific Division crown. San Jose is just two points ahead of Phoenix thanks to a current 5-0-1 stretch.