St. Paul, Minn. – One night after their coach called them out for a lack of preparation and work ethic, the Dallas Stars responded with a strong performance through the contest’s first 33 minutes or so before everything unraveled again.
After taking a 2-1 lead in the second period, the Stars surrendered three consecutive goals in less than a minute, transforming a good outing into a demoralizing 5-2 defeat against the Minnesota Wild Saturday night at the Xcel Energy Center.
The loss stings even more because it leaves the Stars winless in their last five games (0-4-1), a span in which they’ve scored just six goals, and allows the Wild to vault from ninth into eighth in the Western Conference standings, three points ahead of Dallas, who fell to 11th after Calgary beat Edmonton to push past the Stars into 10th.
Making matters even more frustrating is that the Wild entered the day struggling almost as much as the Stars lately, carrying a 1-6-1 record in their previous eight games and 2-10-2 in the previous 14, into the contest and seemed vulnerable.
“We’re in the fight for the playoffs right now, and this is one team we wanted to leap-frog them tonight with a win, and now we’re three points back,” captain Brenden Morrow lamented. “They played hard, they didn’t give us much, we got some good shots from the outside, but they clogged it up in the middle and didn’t give us many rebounds.”
“Nobody likes to lose and we just got to figure out how to keep it out of our own net,” added winger Eric Nystrom, who scored his 14th goal of the season late in the first period to give Dallas a 1-0 lead. “We’re giving up a lot of goals and we don’t score enough now to be giving up five goals, so we’ve got to tighten up. It’s hard work, that’s all it is. They were the better team tonight in that aspect and that translates to a win.”
More was expected from Dallas following their disappointing 2-1 loss at home to Tampa Bay Friday night, despite still missing their top two centers Jamie Benn and Mike Ribeiro.
Now 1-5-1 in their last seven overall, the Stars remain winless this season in the second leg of back-to-back sets, dragging around an 0-7-1 mark in those contests.
“These back-to-back games, we haven’t won one yet,” said defenseman Alex Goligoski, a Minnesota native who picked up an assist. “They’re killing us right now. We have to figure out how to get out of this little slump we’re in now. It’s tough to make up points if you fall too far behind.”
“We had two good games, St. Louis and Detroit, where we played hard and didn’t get the result, and we just couldn’t sustain it,” Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said. “To play one team from another division but then coming in here, this is a big game, this is who gets into that playoff spot and we couldn’t muster it. That is concerning.”
Dallas seemed to be in control after rookie defenseman Philip Larsen’s first-ever NHL goal gave them a 2-1 lead at 11:03 of the second period, but things unraveled quickly after that, as the Wild struck back with three goals within 59 seconds to surge ahead 4-2 and the Stars never recovered.
“Say what you want about back-to-backs, we didn’t have a real good game last night at home, and we came out, we were involved in the game for a little bit, but they pushed real hard, took the momentum away and we just couldn’t find the next one,” Morrow said. “They put those two quick ones in and that ended up being the game. The game could have went either way and then in a matter of two minutes, they got a couple of quick ones and those ones are tough.”
“I think it caught us there quickly,” said Gulutzan of Minnesota’s barrage, “and when you get down by two in another team’s building in the second, in your second in as many nights, it’s going to wear on guys, so we just can’t put ourselves in that situation.”
Kari Lehtonen started in goal for the Stars, but was lifted after allowing four goals on 19 shots through two periods. Rookie Richard Bachman came in for the third period and made six saves on seven shots.
Leading 1-0 entering the second period, the Stars surrendered their first power play goal in four games when former Shark Devin Setoguchi notched his 10th goal of the year at 9:06. Another former San Jose rival, Dany Heatley, set up the play with a pass from behind the net to Setoguchi low in the right face-off circle, and the resulting one-timer ricocheted off Lehtonen’s shoulder, off the post and in.
Immediately off the ensuing face-off, Steve Ott dropped the gloves with Darrell Powe for a fight that ended so quickly, with Ott taking Powe down almost immediately, that they received roughing minors.
With the clubs skating four-on-four, Lehtonen then made a nice pad save on Matt Cullen, who was skating in his 1,000th career game, as he fired a wrist shot from the slot on a breakaway, and then stopped Cullen’s rebound chance.
About 23 seconds later, with the teams still skating four aside, Larsen restored the Stars’ lead with a cannon of a one-timer from the point that sailed past Adam Burish’s screen in front past Minnesota netminder Josh Harding’s shoulder just under the crossbar.
“I thought he was fine, he scored a goal, he’s getting his shot through, which was good,” Gulutzan said of Larsen. “For the first game back, I thought he had a good game, but there’s more there for Lars, too. There’s more there for everybody.”
Things looked good for Dallas at that point, but that would change quickly.
First, though, 16 seconds after the Stars’ goal, Ott and Powe exited the penalty box and promptly squared off again, with another Ott take-down deciding the bout in his favor.
“I don’t think it affected the momentum, but you’d rather it not happen,” Gulutzan said of the fight coming right after the Stars took the lead. “When you’re winning 2-1 in someone else’s building, it’s a full 19,000 people here, I’d rather just have everybody sleeping. But it happened and it shouldn’t have been a big difference-maker in the game.”
Cal Clutterbuck then tied the contest at 13:37, finding himself alone in front with the puck, then deking to his backhand to evade Lehtonen’s lunging poke-check and slipping it around him for his 12th goal of the season.
It took the Wild just 14 seconds to strike again, as Chad Rau, making his NHL debut, scored his first big-league goal. Rau retrieved a loose puck behind the net, curled out in front, and after Lehtonen stopped his initial wrist shot, the rebound attempt appeared to be heading wide of the far post, but instead ramped up Morrow’s stick and into the open side of the net.
Kyle Brodziak then completed Minnesota’s trifecta with his 13th goal at 14:36. Heatley fed a nice one-touch pass from the right circle across to a wide open Brodziak for a one-timer from the left side into an open net to make it 4-2.
“I guess if I could get a rewind on that, after they got that 3-2 goal, I maybe should have called a time out but I thought we could handle it as a group,” Gulutzan admitted. “Otherwise, we had a good 28 minutes there, playing the way we wanted to play, but we gave them life. A couple little sloppy plays, one on the penalty kill, cost us a goal, one around the net and that’s it, that’s the ballgame.”
“It’s tough,” Nystrom said of absorbing the Wild’s three quick goals. “You want to obviously respond when the other team scores a goal, but they get a few back to back, it’s definitely demoralizing and it gets in your psyche. Momentum is huge in this game and they got on a roll there and we couldn’t stop it.”
Bachman came in to relieve Lehtonen for the third period, but was beaten on his first shot as the Wild pretty much salted this one away when Heatley scored his team-leading 14th goal at 1:29. As Minnesota raced into the Dallas zone on a 2-on-1 rush, Heatley traded passes with Warren Peters before finishing with a tap-in at the right post.
“He made some big saves for us and we hung him to dry,” Gulutzan said of Lehtonen. “I just wanted to change message. I’m not going to change Kari with four minutes left in the second period, he’s been too good for us to do that. It was a message to our guys that we need to be better and the first or second shift there, we give up a 2-on-1, so I guess we did it to both guys.”
Just 22 seconds later, the Wild had another odd-man rush, coming in on a 3-on-1, but this time, Bachman made a nice save, getting just enough of Powe’s wrist shot from the left circle to deflect it wide.
Larsen nearly generated another goal for Dallas at 4:51 when his slap shot from the right point was deflected at the right post by Morrow, trickling past Harding into the crease before Wild defenseman Greg Zanon cleared it out.
Bachman made a sparkling pad stop on Cullen’s wrist shot from the high slot with 5:45 remaining to not let the score get too out of hand, and Dallas never threatened again.
Minnesota enjoyed the game’s first legitimate scoring chance 6:45 into the opening period when Heatley chased down a loose puck in the Dallas zone. After picking it up in the right face-off circle, Heatley cut into the crease, but his deke to his forehand was nicely denied by Lehtonen’s pad.
Lehtonen came up with another important stop at 10:40 following a Dallas giveaway in the defensive zone that led to Setoguchi’s point-blank wrister from the high slot.
But as the period wound down, it was the former Wild winger Nystrom who struck first to give Dallas a 1-0 lead at 18:38, executing a slick deflection in front of Stephane Robidas’ slap shot from the right point.
It was a big goal for Nystrom, considering it came in his first game facing his former teammates since his trade from Minnesota to Dallas back on Oct. 12.
The Stars poured on the pressure after that, swarming the Wild zone for the final 1:22 and wound up outshooting Minnesota 11-5 in the period. That was the first period they wanted to have, but were unable to keep that up.
“We had a good first 20 minutes and we just drift away from our game plan and it eats you up,” said Nystrom. “It’s obvious, so we’ve just got to figure out how to be more consistent, night-in and night-out, every shift, and it’s not easy. That’s why some teams are where they are and some teams are not where they want to be.”
The Stars return back to the Metroplex for their final contest before the All-Star break against Anaheim on Tuesday night (7:30 pm start, FSSW). The Ducks beat the Stars in Southern California 5-2 back on Jan. 10 and are currently riding a four-game winning streak.
- In addition to notching his first NHL goal in his 28th game, Larsen also led the Stars with four shots on goal and finished second in ice time with 22:35.
- Nystrom’s goal was his career-high 14th of the season, which is more than anyone on the Wild and 10 more than he compiled in 82 games last season with Minnesota.
- Robidas’ assist leaves him with two assists in the last three games after going the previous six without a point.
- Goligoski’s assist on Larsen’s goal gives him five points (one goal, four assists) in his last seven contests and seven points (one goal, six assists) in his last 11 following a stretch in which he’d registered just one goal and one assist in the previous 13. Goligoski also logged a game-high 26:07 of ice time.
- Vernon Fiddler’s assist on Nystrom’s goal snapped a three-game point drought and a stretch in which he’d earned just one point (a goal) in his previous 10 outings.
- With his assist on Larsen’s goal, Loui Eriksson now has points in three straight games and 13 points (five goals, eight assists) in his last 11.