In a game that the Dallas Stars seemed to control most of the first two and a half periods, rallied from a two-goal third period deficit to tie it, everything slipped away late in the contest as the Anaheim Ducks rode a Saku Koivu hat trick to defeat the Stars 5-2 Tuesday night at the Honda Center.
The disappointing outcome leaves Dallas with a 23-17-1 mark after 41 games, completing the first half of the season ranking ninth in the Western Conference standings, two points back of Los Angeles, their next opponent, for the eighth and final playoff spot.
After steam-rolling to two big victories in a row, by a combined score of 8-2, the Stars were undone by a Ducks team that sits 14th in the West and which has now won three straight games by a combined score of 16-8 after suffering through a 1-6-1 skid.
“I look at some of the trends in our game and even though we lost and are disappointed, we’re outshooting teams, which is a change,” noted Stars coach Glen Gulutzan. “We’re a lot more disciplined than we were the first part of the season. We’re getting better as a group, so our second half here, we have to be a little bit better than we were in the first half.”
The Stars did control much of the play through the first two periods, outshooting Anaheim 20-13, but still found themselves trailing 2-0. After battling back early in the third, scoring goals 1:04 apart to tie it, the Ducks gradually wore them down and seized command late to pull away.
“Pretty much the whole game we played the way we wanted to, up until we tied it there and then we turned a few pucks over and we didn’t get back quick enough,” said defenseman Alex Goligoski, whose fourth goal of the season tied the game at 2:43 of the third period. “It was a disappointing way to end the game. We scored enough to get back into the game and we just kind of handed it right back to them. You can get as many scoring chances as you want - if you give them a few in the last 10 minutes there, it’s not a good recipe for success.”
“We stuck with the game plan and we saw the result early in the third, we came back,” said blueliner Stephane Robidas. “Then they called timeout and they came back very strong, they put a lot of pressure at us. They just came back harder, a few breakdowns there and that’s what happened. I think overall, we played a pretty good game through the first two periods and early in the third, but after that, they just took over.”
In addition to Goligoski, Steve Ott scored a goal and an assist for Dallas.
Missing center Mike Ribeiro due to a lower body injury suffered during his two-goal performance Saturday against Edmonton, the Stars did welcome blueliner Sheldon Souray back after missing the last six games with a sprained ankle.
And back after missing the previous game with a case of the flu was top goaltender Kari Lehtonen, who made 21 saves as his record dropped to 2-3-0 since returning on Dec. 29 from a 12-game absence due to a groin injury.
“This wasn’t a top game for Kari, for sure,” Gulutzan acknowledged. “He’s an elite guy and this isn’t his regular level, but I thought he gave us a chance to win and we were tied 2-2. We just couldn’t get anything to sink there, and I thought they took it to us a bit.”
Trailing 2-0 heading into the final period, the Stars first needed to kill off the final 1:15 of an Anaheim power play and did so without too much difficulty, before notching the two quick ones to pull even.
First, it was Ott collecting his seventh goal of the season at 1:39, as he entered the Ducks’ zone on the rush and boomed a slap shot from the top of the left face-off circle that whizzed past the glove of Anaheim goaltender Jeff Deslauriers, playing his first NHL game of the season after being recalled from AHL Syracuse earlier in the day.
Then 1:04 later, with the same personnel on the ice, Ott fed a pass out of the right corner to a charging Goligoski, who unleashed an emphatic wrist shot from the top of the right circle that beat a screened Deslauriers over the shoulder for his fourth of the year.
“We just kept putting pucks at the net, got some traffic, and you never know,” Robidas said of the quick comeback. “Steve Ott came from the side with a good shot. You never know, you can’t score if you don’t shoot, and we try to create offense that way and you saw the result early in the third.”
The Ducks began to press a bit after that and it culminated in Koivu’s second goal of the night and eighth of the season at 9:32. Veteran Teemu Selanne, skating in his 1,300th career regular season contest, made the play racing into the Dallas zone on the rush, dropping a pass back to Koivu in the left face-off circle. Selanne continued towards the net and dragged both Stars defensemen, Adam Pardy and Sheldon Souray, out of the way while Koivu skated in and slipped a backhander past Lehtonen.
Anaheim then restored their two-goal lead at 14:40 when a 3-on-2 rush resulted in Lehtonen making a pad save on Andrew Cogliano’s wrist shot from the right circle, but the rebound bounced out front to Matt Beleskey, who swatted it out of the air past Lehtonen for his first of the year.
The Stars pulled Lehtonen for an extra attacker with 1:35 remaining, but were unable to muster much of an attack before Koivu found the empty net with 53.7 seconds on the clock to complete his second career hat trick.
The Ducks got a quick jump on the Stars, as Koivu connected on the contest’s first shot, just 1:30 into the opening period. Stationed in the slot, Koivu niftily deflected Toni Lydman’s slap shot from the left point, re-directing it past Lehtonen just inside the right post.
Dallas had a prime opportunity to tie it at 4:07 on the first power play of the night, when Benn received a pass from the left sideboards by Loui Eriksson and snapped a one-timer that beat Deslauriers’ glove but clanked off the left goalpost.
The Stars had another big chance at 7:20 when Michael Ryder bolted out from behind the Anaheim net, but Deslauriers denied his point-blank backhander.
More scoring chances for the Stars were lost when Nicklas Grossman’s wrist shot from the top of the left circle pinged off the right post at 8:23 and again at 8:35 when Jamie Benn received a pass in front from Adam Burish, and facing an open net, fanned on two attempts to shoot it.
By the time Jake Dowell was whistled for hooking at 13:44, the Stars had built up a 12-4 edge in shots on goal.
But the Ducks began to push back, forcing Lehtonen to make impressive saves on Nick Bonino’s point-blank wrister at 15:56 and seconds later on former Star Niklas Hagman’s backhander from in front.
Despite controlling much of the play throughout the first period and outshooting Anaheim 12-7, Dallas entered the second down 1-0, and was unable to capitalize on its first opportunity.
On the power play, Benn found a loose puck in front and whipped a quick wrist shot towards the upper right corner, but Deslauriers came up with a nice blocker save at 4:01.
It took a somewhat controversial play for the Ducks to increase their lead to 2-0 at 9:22, when Luca Sbisa scored on a play that should have been blown dead as an icing. With the linesman indicating an icing call was imminent, the puck ricocheted off the end boards in the left corner through two players’ skates before Goligoski backhanded it up the boards. There was no whistle, however, or even a ‘waved off’ signal, and Sbisa skated into a lethal wrist shot at the left sideboards that beat a screened Lehtonen over the shoulder.
The Stars had a good chance to get one back with 1:08 left in the period while the clubs were skating 4-on-4, when Goligoski’s long pass found Eriksson at center ice to spring him on a semi-breakaway. He made a nifty spin-a-rama move in the slot to evade Sbisa and fired a wrist shot, but Deslauriers made the stop.
“I just think we got to capitalize on our opportunities,” Gulutzan said. “We did have some opportunities early, and especially in the other team’s building, if you get a chance, you’ve got to make good on it. I think that’s the key. I think we hit four posts in the first period, and maybe if one of those goes in, we’re not chasing the game the whole time. I didn’t mind our defensive game and structure and certain things, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to get points.”
Dallas got in some penalty trouble after that, as Pardy was whistled for hooking when he pulled down Selanne at 19:45 as the veteran sniper attempted to slip a breakaway deke through Lehtonen’s five-hole, putting the Ducks on a 5-on-3 power play for 35 seconds.
Anaheim’s best chance on that opportunity came with just 15 seconds remaining in the period when Ryan Getzlaf’s scorching wrist shot from the high slot plonked off the left post and out of play.
The Stars get a day off before traveling across town to face the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday (9:30 pm start, FSSW). With LA occupying eighth in the West and Dallas in ninth, the game takes on additional significance, even though it’s just the first contest of the second half.
“I think we just got to keep doing what we’re doing - keep putting pucks at the net, keep putting pressure and getting a good forecheck,” said Robidas. “And try to spend more time in the offensive zone than the defensive zone and try to eliminate the other team’s high point in our zone, and try to be a little cleaner with passes in our zone and go from there.”
- Ott’s two-point night ended a five-game point drought for him. In addition to his offense, Ott was outstanding in the face-off circle, winning an incredible 14 out of 15 draws.
- Goligoski’s goal gives him four points (one goal, three assists) in the last seven games after managing just one point (a goal) in his previous 11 games played. Goligoski led all Stars in ice time, logging 22:03, while also delivering a team-high four hits.
- Ryder’s assist on Ott’s goal leaves him with 13 points (eight goals, five assists) in his last 11 outings.
- Benn’s assist on Goligoski’s goal extended his scoring streak to five games, during which he’s amassed 10 points (four goals, six assists).
- Grossman also assisted on Ott’s goal, giving him three assists in the last six contests, following a stretch in which he’d earned just one point (an assist) in the previous 15 games.
- Tom Wandell’s career-high four-game point streak was snapped, despite the fact that he fired four shots on goal, tying Trevor Daley for the club lead. With Ribeiro out of the lineup, Wandell moved up from the fourth line to center Eriksson and captain Brenden Morrow and logged a season-high 17:55 of ice time. He also delivered three hits and went 7-4 on face-offs.
1 - 0 ANA
2 - 0 ANA
2 - 1 ANA
2 - 2 Tie
3 - 2 ANA
4 - 2 ANA
5 - 2 ANA
Delaying Game-Puck over glass