DALLAS – Under difficult conditions, the Dallas Stars displayed a lot of grit and character to battle back, coming oh-so-close to pulling out a victory, but as they say, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.
After Vernon Fiddler tied it at 1-1 early in the third period, the Stars surrendered a power play goal to Paul Stastny and despite a valiant effort to at least pull a point out of this one, ultimately fell 2-1 to the Colorado Avalanche Saturday afternoon at the American Airlines Center.
The loss was a costly one, because even though it’s still just mid-January, the game held playoff implications, since the two clubs entered the day in ninth and 10th place in the Western Conference standings. Now, the Avalanche move into a three-way tie for seventh with Nashville and Los Angeles, while the Stars drop from ninth to 10th.
“It’s our home building and we’re fighting for a playoff spot and we just didn’t have enough tonight,” said Fiddler, who snapped a six-game point drought. “We played a lot better in the third, but it was a little too late.”
One factor working against the Stars was the fact that they arrived back in Dallas at around 5:00 am Friday morning following a hard-fought 5-4 shootout victory in Los Angeles.
The fatigue was obvious right from the start, as the club managed a season-low one shot on goal in the first period, but the Stars hung in there and wound up tying the contest 1-1 when Fiddler scored at 5:26 of the third.
“I thought it took us a while to get going and that goal gave us a little bit of a lift,” Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said of Fiddler’s goal. “We didn’t have our best stuff tonight, you’re not always going to have it, and there’s no excuses for it, but we didn’t have it. We were still in position to find some points, and that’s the next step - we’ve got to get some points when you’re not feeling great or you’re playing back-to-back, you got to find some way to get a point.”
And if not for a fluky turnover behind the net from Dallas goaltender Kari Lehtonen, that would have been the game’s first goal. Instead, the Avalanche struck just 13 seconds into a power play resulting from a questionable Steve Ott hooking penalty and that ended up being the difference.
The Stars had a late power play chance of their own, but despite multiple scoring opportunities, were unable to push the contest to overtime.
“I thought we were coming in the third, we had some more sustained pressure,” said Gulutzan. “It took us a while to get our legs under us and I think it was tough here coming off the trip to get going, but Kari did a good job to hold us in there until we could get going and tied it up, but one snuck in.”
“I think that’s the biggest thing,” Stars captain Brenden Morrow said regarding the club’s travel schedule. “We were so excited at one time that there was realignment and now disappointed that there isn’t - it’s for games like that and scheduling like that where you get home from a divisional game at 5:00 am and have a quick turnaround. Those ones are tough, they take a toll and they add up during the year. They’re grind games, it’s something you’ve got to push through and be mentally tough.”
Back in net for his third straight contest since sitting one out last week due to a case of the flu, Lehtonen looked very strong - when he stayed in the crease. He made 21 saves, including several outstanding ones, but his miscue on the first goal turned out to be costly.
“There was good parts and then there was parts that I was really disappointed,” said Lehtonen, whose record dropped to 3-4-0 since his return from a groin injury on Dec. 29, regarding his performance. “I should be a little more aggressive on that second goal and the first goal was all on me, so that’s two too many in a tight game like this, I feel like that was the difference. It doesn’t feel good right now.”
Trailing 1-0 and getting outshot 20-9 entering the final period, the Stars came out for the third with more energy than they’d showed all afternoon, and evened things up at 5:26 on Fiddler’s sixth goal of the season. After feeding a pass out of the right corner into the slot for a Radek Dvorak one-timer, Avalanche netminder J.S. Giguere made the save. The rebound wound up behind the net, where Fiddler retrieved it, curled out past the left post and backhanded a shot past the scrambling Giguere.
“We just got it down low and worked it the kind of things we do on our line, it was just a break,” Fiddler said of the play. “Devo missed a shot and I got it and wrapped it around. I got lucky.”
Infused with momentum from the goal, the Stars surged after that, swarming around the Colorado zone, but Giguere made some nice saves, denying Morrow’s point-blank one-timer at 7:26 and Michael Ryder’s nifty re-direction in front at 10:17.
Then Ott found himself in the penalty box and the Avs capitalized quickly as Stastny notched his 12th of the year at 10:35. The play started innocently enough, as Erik Johnson fired a routine wrist shot from the right side half-wall, but Stastny stepped out from behind the net and deflected it down and through the pads of Lehtonen, who was hugging the right post.
“It was probably a mistake by the referee, but at that point in the game, we got to get the kills,” Morrow said of the penalty. “Lehts was great for us tonight, he made a lot of big saves and we just needed to bear down and get the kill and we didn’t get it.”
Another fluky giveaway almost led to a 3-1 Colorado lead with 4:24 remaining. Sheldon Souray controlled the puck behind the Dallas net, but with the Avs’ Daniel Winnik pursuing him, Souray’s attempt a pass behind him ricocheted off Winnik’s skate and right out in front to a wide open Peter Mueller. Lehtonen came up with a larcenous save on Mueller’s point-blank one-timer to keep the Stars in it.
Souray nearly tied it at the other end with 2:45 to go when his rocket of a one-timer from the left point pinged off the top of the right goalpost and out of play.
Giguere came up with a big pad save with 1:51 left when Fiddler, stationed just to the left of the crease, re-directed Trevor Daley’s pass from the right point.
The Stars pulled Lehtonen for an extra attacker with 1:30 on the clock and then found themselves with a 6-on-4 advantage when Winnik was whistled for high-sticking with 1:18 to go.
Their best chance to tie it and send the contest into OT came with 19 seconds left when Jamie Benn fed a nice cross-ice pass to Ryder in front, but facing a gaping net, Ryder couldn’t corral the bouncing puck and didn’t get a shot off.
“I think it may have bounced on him,” said Morrow, who was creating all kinds of havoc in front. “Late in games, late in periods, the ice surface isn’t great and I think it just kind of popped up and rolled on his stick. He got two whacks on it, he just didn’t get it to sit flat for him.”
Giguere came up with another strong stop on Daley’s one-timer blast from the right circle with 13 seconds remaining.
“We got some good shots, a couple of one-timers with open lanes, missed the net a couple of times that took some time off the clock,” Morrow said of the Stars’ final-minute flurry of chances. “We got some good looks in tight, we got some jam plays, pucks were just bouncing and just weren’t ending up on our tape - that’s just the way it goes sometimes.”
The Stars had the game’s first scoring opportunity as Steve Ott raced in on a breakaway at 6:40 of the opening period, carrying into the high slot before launching a wrist shot that rolled on him just as he shot it, sailing just wide of the left post.
“It’s certainly one of those, when you don’t have your legs, when you get a chance like that, you’d like to get it, it could lift your team, but we didn’t get it,” Gulutzan said of the play.
Colorado got a gimme at 10:25 to take a 1-0 lead thanks to a botched exchange behind the net. After an Avalanche dump-in that appeared to possibly be offside, Lehtonen went to retrieve the puck, but Stastny pressured him and knocked down his flubbed pass up the boards. A quick dish out front to David Jones led to a Jones backhander that beat the scrambling Lehtonen inside the left post.
“I don’t know (if it was offsides or not),” Stastny said. “I was so focused on the puck and being the first man on the forecheck. I knew it was close. Half the guys were saying offsides and half the guys were saying onsides. I just went at the goalie.”
“It just wobbled over my stick,” Lehtonen said of the play. “That one was just my mistake and you need to eliminate those. I shouldn’t have gone there when I see they’re pressuring so hard and their guy is giving me lots of pressure. I should have just stayed in the net and made our D go get it and probably get hit, but at least I would have been in front of the net.”
While they played a fairly strong defensive game through the first period, the Stars mustered little in the way of offense, getting outshot 7-1 to establish a new season-low for shots in a period.
Thanks to a power play opportunity early in the second, the Stars had piled up four more shots by the five-minute mark, but were still unable to get one past Giguere.
The Stars’ best chance of the period came at 10:10 when Benn curled out from behind the Colorado net on his backhand and lifted a high shot from the left side of the crease that appeared ticketed for the upper half of the net, but Giguere made a spectacular save, lunging across and knocking it away with his blocker.
Lehtonen made a big save on an Avalanche power play at 17:23 on Milan Hejduk’s point-blank one-timer after a nice pass from Stastny to keep Dallas within one.
“We got to be more consistent in the first and second, we got to do things like that better,” Fiddler said. “Obviously, there was the travel, but that’s just excuses, we got to find ways to get points in these games if we’re going to continue to push for the playoffs.”
The Stars next take a quick journey to St. Louis to face the Blues on Monday night (6:30 pm, NBCSN – formerly known as Versus) before returning back to the Metroplex for a two-game mini homestand. The Blues, with a 4-0-1 mark in their last five entering the day, came in sitting fourth in the West.
- In addition to his goal, Fiddler was a sparkling 9-5 on face-offs.
- Dvorak earned an assist for the second straight game after going six contests without a point.
- Eric Nystrom also picked up an assist, giving him a point in two straight (including his goal Thursday night) following his own six-game pointless streak.
- Benn and Tom Wandell each fired four shots on goal to lead the Stars, while Ott delivered a game-high seven hits.
- Center Mike Ribeiro sat out his third straight contest due to a lower body injury suffered during his two-goal performance back on Jan. 7 against Edmonton, while defenseman Adam Pardy was the only healthy scratch.
- The Stars power play unit went 0-for-3, leaving them 1-for-19 over the last six contests and 3-for-36 over the last 11.
1 - 0 COL
1 - 1 Tie