LOS ANGELES - The Hockey Gods are not being kind to the Dallas Stars.
For the second time in five games, the Stars were victimized by a crazy sequence of events that led to crucial goals against, resulting in devastating losses.
This time it was a strange goal by Matt Greene that pinballed off Alex Goligoski’s skate late in the third period that was the crushing blow, leading the Los Angeles Kings to a 2-1 victory over the Stars Saturday afternoon at the Staples Center.
It was another punch to the gut for the Stars, who are teetering on the periphery of the Western Conference playoff chase. This was a game they absolutely had to have, and they were unable to pick up a point.
Now, with a 0-3-3 record in their last six contests, during which they’ve been outscored 22-9, and a 1-5-3 mark in the last nine, Dallas remains in 10th place with 87 points, five points back of defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago for the eighth and final playoff spot.
Meanwhile, with the win, Los Angeles, despite missing their two top scorers (Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams), moves into fifth with 96 points, solidifying their post-season chances.
With only five games left in the regular season, time is running out on the Stars’ fading playoff hopes.
“It’s just finding ways to win, and we’ve found ways to lose,” said center Brad Richards, who scored the Stars’ only goal, tying the game 1-1 in the second period. “It’s not from a lack of care or our heart in here. Sometimes it wears on you to lose a lot of one-goal games in a row and shootouts, but we still come out and play these teams tough - road games where we have to find a way to win. We’re 1-1 in the third, both Phoenix and LA, and both goals go off of us in front, and we throw pucks at the net and the same thing isn’t happening for us, but you can’t look at that. It’s life.”
“We’ve probably got to win out to have a chance,” noted defenseman Alex Goligoski, who was involved in the fluky game-winner. “There are five games, take them one at a time. We really haven’t been getting the bounces we’ve needed, but you just take them one at a time. I think we’ve got to run the table here.”
Dredging up memories of the Stars’ crushing loss to Anaheim back on March 23, when a puck bounced off the referee to help set up the Ducks’ game-tying goal with just 5.4 seconds remaining, this one turned on a play Dallas could hardly comprehend.
With 7:10 remaining in regulation, Matt Greene fired a slap shot from the right point just as LA’s Kyle Clifford momentarily stunned Goligoski at the left post with a high stick, and as Goligoski paused for a moment gripping his face, the puck ricocheted off his skate and into the net.
So not only wasn’t a high-sticking penalty called on Clifford, but the results of his high-stick was the game-winning goal against. In fact, there wasn’t a power play called for either team in the game, the first time this season the Stars have been involved in a game like that.
“I was at the side of the net with the guy and felt the puck hit my skate,” Goligoski said. “You hope it doesn’t go in. I didn’t see it happen, but I definitely got hit in the face. But stuff happens. That’s the way it goes, I guess.”
“It was old-time hockey out there, we kind of sensed that early in the game,” captain Brenden Morrow said. “They let a lot of things go, both sides, we got away with some stuff early too, but taking away a scoring chance and giving scoring opportunities, those ones are tough when they’re not called.”
While the Stars did have plenty of time to reply, their energy clearly sagged after that and while they battled to the end, they were unable to get the equalizer. An empty netter in the final seconds by Dustin Brown accounted for the final score, leaving the Kings 9-2-2 in their last 13 and 21-5-5 in their last 31.
Dallas received a bit of a boost when defenseman Karlis Skrastins returned to the lineup after missing five games with a leg laceration, and gave a much better account of themselves than in their 6-0 loss to San Jose Thursday.
Kari Lehtonen was back in goal for his 18th straight start after getting pulled early in the third period in San Jose after surrendering four goals on 33 shots, and put forth a strong effort, making 29 saves.
“I think defensively, we played well and Kari was great. We put two in our own net, basically,” Goligoski said. “It’s frustrating. Goals are tough to come by now, teams are tightening up, so it’s just keep working and now we’ve got to win out.”
“We put both goals in our net tonight, so that puck luck or whatever you want to call it, has not been going our way,” coach Marc Crawford said. “But if we keep persevering and continue to work hard and do those things, then hopefully it’ll change. We started the season off with five wins in six games and we have to end the season off with five wins. We’re still alive here and still kicking. You have to believe your luck is going to change. That was a very even game. They got the break and we didn’t, end of story.”
Entering the final period tied 1-1, the Stars had a golden opportunity to take the lead at 3:19, when a nice cross-ice pass from Mike Ribeiro set up Trevor Daley with a wide open, point-blank shot to the left of the crease, but, Daley fired it wide.
The Kings had a chance to pull ahead at 7:28 when LA captain Dustin Brown, on the rush into the Dallas zone, fired a scorching wrist shot from the left face-off circle, but Lehtonen made a nice shoulder/neck save.
Then Dallas was victimized by yet another fluky goal against when Greene’s goal gave LA a 2-1 lead.
The Stars continued to press down the stretch, pulling Lehtonen for an extra attacker with 1:02 to go, but were unable to solve Quick, and Brown’s empty netter, which came after he intercepted a Dallas pass in his own zone and eluded several Stars to escape to center ice, sealed their fate with 7.4 seconds remaining.
“We’ve got to work harder and maybe the breaks will come,” Morrow said. “We felt pretty confident as the game went along, going into the third with a tie game that it was a game we could get, but we just didn’t have that extra step to get to many of those loose pucks. It stings.”
The Kings had the game’s first good scoring chance just 1:26 into the opening period, when LA’s Brad Richardson raced into the Dallas zone along the right sideboards before feeding a pass in front for the charging Clifford for a point-blank deflection, but Lehtonen made the stop.
Dallas generated their own flurry 7:40 in, culminating with Morrow’s one-timer from the slot, off a pass from Ribeiro behind the net, but Quick made the save.
Los Angeles almost got on the board with 3:35 left in the period when Wayne Simmonds retrieved a high flip pass low in the right circle and directed a point-blank shot that Lehtonen stopped. The rebound spit out front, where Richardson poked at it and finally Lehtonen smothered it.
The Stars answered just 30 seconds later when Jamie Langenbrunner received a pass out of the right corner from Tom Wandell and fired a rising snap shot from the right circle that whizzed past Quick’s head, but pinged off the crossbar.
After a scoreless first period, the Kings broke the goose egg at 4:15 of the second when Willie Mitchell drilled a slap shot from the right point that was deflected in front by Simmonds and squeezed through Lehtonen and trickled towards the goal line. Mark Fistric had a couple of swipes at it, but the puck ended up rolling into the net anyway.
Dallas showed impressive resiliency though, responding with a goal of their own just 1:13 later when Richards notched his 26th goal of the season. On the rush into the LA zone, Richards fired a quick wrist shot from the right circle, which slipped between Quick’s pads and in.
The Stars complete their season-defining Pacific Division road trip Sunday night across town against Anaheim (7 pm start, FSSW). The Ducks, who stunned the Stars in Dallas last week when they tied the game with 5.4 seconds left and won in overtime, entered their contest with San Jose later Saturday night with 93 points, seventh in the West.
Things look grim now for Dallas, but the guys in the room haven’t lost faith.
“We’ve still got five games to go, we’re probably going to need some help with some teams,” Morrow acknowledged. “But while we worry about that, we’ve got to worry about our own games and we’ve got a big one tomorrow against a hot team. We got our work cut out for us. We’re going to have to worry about that 60 minutes and go from there.”
“Nothing else but plug away,” Richards added. “We’ll try to win tomorrow and keep our hopes alive. There’s really nothing else to say.”
- Richards equaled his career-high in goals with his 26th, matching the total he recorded for Tampa Bay in 2003-04. He also hit 70 points on the season, marking the sixth time he’s reached that plateau. The goal snapped a mini three-game point drought for Richards, who fired four shots on goal, which was tied with Brandon Segal, who was back in the lineup after sitting out two games as a healthy scratch.
- With his assist on Richards’ goal, Jamie Benn now has 17 points (nine goals, eight assists) in the last 15 games.