Glendale, Arizona – Call it a punch to the gut, a kick in the groin, a knife in the heart - they all appropriately describe the feeling.
After outplaying the Phoenix Coyotes for large stretches of the night, the Dallas Stars saw one mistake send it down the drain, as a defensive zone turnover led to Radim Vrbata’s overtime goal to give the Coyotes a 2-1 victory at the Jobing.com Arena Saturday night.
The good news is that the Stars, missing their best player, All-Star Jamie Benn due to a leg laceration, played a strong game and still managed to pick up a much-needed point in the standings, moving to 62 on the season, edging up a spot into 10th in the Western Conference.
“I think we played a really good game, the game could have went either way,” said eternal optimist Stephane Robidas, who fired two shots on goal, delivered three hits and blocked two shots. “We had good chances, their goalie played well and they had good chances and our goalie played well. Overall, I think we have to be pleased with our effort.”
The bad news is that not only are the Stars still three points shy of the eighth and final playoff spot, the red-hot Coyotes, now a stellar 7-0-1 in their last eight games, got the full two points, allowing them to step up to seventh with 67.
With Los Angeles, sitting eighth with 65 points, facing Calgary, who began the night ninth with 63 points, later Saturday night, Dallas could wake up Sunday morning five points out of the last post-season slot, depending on the result of that game.
“We played hard but we need results,” said a terse Stars coach Glen Gulutzan. “It’s a results-based business and we need results. We need to capitalize and we can’t make a mistake at the end to give away a point.”
Dallas is now a disappointing 1-2-1 in their last four contests and 2-3-2 in their last seven, not exactly the direction they’d like to be trending at this time of year in the midst of a mad scramble for the last couple of playoff spots.
Making the result even more frustrating is that the game-winner in overtime came on just the type of turnover the club has been trying hard to erase from their game lately, but continue to occur during the most inopportune times.
This time, it happened immediately after Steve Ott won a defensive zone face-off, pulling the puck back to defender Mark Fistric behind the Stars’ net. Unfortunately at that point, Ray Whitney swooped in, stripped Fistric of the puck and quickly fed a pass out front, where a wide open Vrbata received it, skated in alone on Dallas goaltender Kari Lehtonen, deked him to the ice with a move to his forehand and then fired it over him, just 1:15 into the 4-on-4 OT period.
“I was running out of room there and I wanted to make sure I had a lane to shoot and I was able to put it in,” Vrbata said of his 28th goal of the season.
“We gave it away behind the net, unforced,” Gulutzan said. “Gave it away. Both goalies were really good. It was a good hockey game and it’s a shame it had to end that way.”
Michael Ryder scored the Stars’ only goal, his team-leading 22nd, midway through the second period to tie the game at 1-1, and despite the tough loss, Lehtonen delivered a sparkling performance in net throughout, making 31 saves.
“I think it’s just the way they play and that’s the way we want to play,” said Robidas of the defensive-minded Coyotes under former Stars coach Dave Tippett. “I played for Tip for many years in Dallas and know exactly how he likes to play, he likes to keep the game tight and they play well that type of game and I think we played very well that type of game tonight, too. We played tight, competed hard.”
Entering the second period trailing 1-0, Lehtonen came up with a big save 5:49 in when Lauri Korpikoski sped into the slot on the rush and fired a point-blank wrister that Lehtonen snagged with the glove.
The Stars had a good chance at 7:10 when Mike Ribeiro fed a cross-ice pass to Ryder low in the left circle, charging towards the net, for a one-timer, but Phoenix netminder Mike Smith, who played in Dallas from 2006-08, made a fabulous sliding save.
Just 30 seconds after that, the Stars thought they’d evened the score when rookie Tomas Vincour appeared to score, but the goal was waved off. Adam Burish stood in front of the Coyotes’ net and got his stick on Mark Fistric’s high wrist shot from the point with his stick just above the crossbar. Smith made the save anyway, and with the rebound bouncing back out front, Vincour chipped it over Smith’s pad and in. Because no Coyote other than the goaltender touched the puck in between Burish’s high stick and Vincour touching it, the play is considered dead at that moment.
Back-to-back Phoenix penalties resulted in Dallas getting a crucial 5-on-3 power play for a full 1:16. And while they maintained possession in the Coyotes’ zone just about the entire time, they never really threatened during the two-man advantage, but did tie the game up before the second 5-on-4 power play expired.
Ryder’s 22nd goal of the season came at 12:37 on a highly-skilled play only a true goal-scorer could have executed. Ribeiro started the play with a wrist shot from the left point that Loui Eriksson deflected in front, and even though Smith made the initial stop, the rebound bounced off him and Ryder, as he was being taken down by Adrian Aucoin, managed to swat the puck out of mid-air, about waist-high, and in.
Heading into the final period tied at 1-1, the Stars controlled the puck for much of the first seven minutes or so, outshooting the Coyotes 6-1 over that stretch, but despite sustained pressure, were unable to generate a truly dangerous scoring chance.
A hooking penalty to Philip Larsen at 11:08 changed the dynamic of the game at that point, as Phoenix’s power play unit, ranked 30th in the 30-team NHL, wrought havoc over the next two minutes.
After Mike Ribeiro was stripped of the puck just inside the Phoenix blue line on a 3-on-3 short-handed rush, the Coyotes turned it back the other way on a 2-on-1, as Korpikoski fired a wrist shot from the right circle that Lehtonen turned aside at 12:50.
Phoenix hit iron just before the power play expired when Shane Doan fed a pass out of the left corner to Mikkel Boedker in the slot for a one-timer that clanked off the left post.
The Stars generated the contest’s first prime scoring chance 4:12 into the opening period when Ribeiro found Ryder alone in the right face-off circle, but Smith made a strong glove snag of Ryder’s high wrist shot.
Any momentum the Stars got from that opportunity disappeared when Steve Ott entered the penalty box at 5:50 for slashing, but thanks to Lehtonen, Phoenix was unable to get on the scoreboard during their power play.
Lehtonen’s sliding skate save on Martin Hanzal’s point-blank one-timer at 6:11 was huge, and then he denied Hanzal on two more rapid-fire chances in front 11 seconds later to keep the game scoreless.
Dallas nearly stunned the Coyotes at 7:32 when Eric Nystrom raced in on a shorthanded breakaway, but Phoenix defender Keith Yandle caught up to him from behind, interfering with Nystrom just enough to foul up his shot attempt and Smith wound up smothering the puck.
The Coyotes continued to ride the momentum, even after the power play expired, as Korpikoski found a loose puck in front and forced Lehtonen to make another huge save, while on his back, at 8:59.
Dallas killed off another Phoenix power play when Jake Dowell sat in the box for charging at 10:22, but the Coyotes kept the pressure on and Boedker snapped the scoreless tie with his eighth goal of the year at 13:31. It came off a 2-on-1 rush with only Adam Pardy back, as Boedker carried the puck into the Dallas zone, and after opting not to pass over to Yandle charging the net, Boedker fired a high wrist shot that beat Lehtonen to the far side.
Dallas responded quickly with a huge opportunity just 23 seconds later, when Vincour fed a perfect pass out of the right corner to Nystrom at the top of the crease for a point-blank re-direct, but Smith made a spectacular pad save.
Infused with energy after that chance, the Stars pushed back and wound up on a power play of their own after that, but were unable to capitalize, although they did maintain consistent pressure in Phoenix’s zone almost the entire two minutes. Their best chance came at 18:04 when Robidas blasted a one-timer from the point that Smith kicked out, with the rebound bouncing right to Alex Goligoski alone in front for a quick snap shot, but Smith stopped that one too.
The Stars quickly return home to face Nashville Sunday evening (6 pm start, FSSW) in another crucial contest against the high-flying Predators, who currently sit fifth in the West with 72 points. Of course, one thing working against the Stars is their dreadful 0-8-2 record in the second leg of back-to-back sets this season, so they will need to dig deep to find the energy to break that skid Sunday.
“Obviously, we would have liked to get the two points,” said Robidas, “but we just got to focus, we got a big game tomorrow night against Nashville, so we got to forget about this one and move on.”
“We have to come up with points here,” Gulutzan said of the Nashville game. “No excuses, we have to come up with points, we got to be ready to play tomorrow. We worked hard, we got to bring that work ethic again.”
- With his goal, Ryder extended his scoring streak to five games, during he’s accumulated five points (three goals, two assists). He also has a solid nine points (five goals, four assists) in his last 10 outings. Ryder topped the Stars with four shots on goal.
- Ribeiro, the Stars’ hero in overtime on Thursday in their 3-2 win over Calgary, picked up an assist on Ryder’s goal and now has six points (one goal, five assists) in the last six games and 13 points (six goals, seven assists) in his last 13 contests.
- Also earning an assist on Ryder’s goal was Eriksson, who now has five points (one goal, four assists) in the last five games, following a five-game point drought.
- Center Tom Wandell, filling in for the injured Jamie Benn on the second line, missed about nine minutes of the second period after taking a puck in the mouth, but he’s a hockey player, so he returned to action.
- Despite the overtime gaffe that led to the game-winner, Fistric competed hard, delivering a game-high seven hits.
- Winger Ryan Garbutt, recalled from AHL Texas Friday, made his NHL debut in the game at age 26. Wearing jersey number 40, Garbutt, who signed with the Stars organization as a free agent in Sept. 2009, looked good on the fourth line, firing three shots on goal and delivering three hits in just 5:41 of ice time.
- The Dallas power play went 1-for-5 on the evening, leaving the PP unit 3-for-15 over the last five outings.
- Smith, the former backup to Marty Turco in Dallas for two seasons before he was traded to Tampa Bay in the Feb. 2008 deal that brought Brad Richards to town, now owns a stellar 5-0-3 career record against the Stars.
1 - 0 PHX
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 PHX