VANCOUVER – There’s been plenty of times down the stretch for the Dallas Stars where an outstanding goaltending performance has given, but on Friday an exceptional goaltender outing on the other end wound up taking away at a bad time.
Throughout this nail-biting homestretch in which the Stars have been playing for their postseason lives, Kari Lehtonen has backstopped them single-handedly to several key victories. But the Stars were undone by the scintillating saves of Vancouver’s Cory Schneider at the opposite end of the ice in a 5-2 loss to the Canucks at Rogers Arena.
Schneider made 28 saves in an emergency start after scheduled starter Roberto Luongo was unavailable when he sustained some stiffness in his neck during warmups. That bit of fortunate news turned out to be anything but for the Stars, who simply couldn’t cash in on Vancouver’s more than capable backup Schneider, who was coming off a 43-save shutout win over Colorado on Wednesday.
The loss, coupled with Los Angeles’ win at Edmonton, dropped the Stars (42-31-5) from atop the Pacific Division down to the seventh seed in the Western Conference playoff race. Dallas and Phoenix both have 89 points (Los Angeles has 90), but the Stars enjoy the tiebreaker advantage over the eighth-place Coyotes.
The defeat now sets up a crucial home-and-home set with the San Jose Sharks starting on Saturday night at San Jose (9:30 p.m., FS-SW). The Sharks are in ninth place with 88 points.
“It puts a little bit more pressure on this one (Saturday),” captain Brenden Morrow said. “They only get bigger after that. It puts more pressure on these next games. As hard as it is after a 5-2 loss you have to try and find something positive because we’re going right back at it. You have to slap yourself in the butt a little bit and then park it and get ready for that next game in less than 24 hours.”
This game turned during a three-minute span midway through the second period in which the Stars nearly scored shorthanded, but ended up allowing a power-play goal by Sami Salo that put them down 2-1. With 12 minutes left in the second, Schneider absolutely robbed Loui Eriksson on a 2-on-1 break, sliding to his left and barely getting his left toe on Eriksson’s chance from the slot.
Vancouver promptly capitalized on that spectacular stop when Salo scored with the man advantage with 8:59 to go in the middle frame. From the right point, he launched a slap shot that snuck past a maze of bodies before going past Lehtonen.
Just over five minutes later, Vancouver pushed its lead to 3-1 on Andrew Alberts’ second goal of the season. From the top of the left circle, his slap shot went off the right arm of Stephane Robidas, who was tying up Vancouver’s Alexandre Burrows near the side of the net, before ricocheting in.
The hole was too deep to climb out of for Dallas, especially with Vancouver’s stingy defense that was led by Schneider.
“They play so well defensively, and when you give them that two-goal cushion like we did you probably start getting on the wrong side of pucks and cheating a little bit,” Morrow said. “That’s when it costs you, and it did. Early on there were some rebounds that we couldn’t get to, we were a second late. (Schneider) adjusted and got a little bit better as the game went on.”
Steve Ott and Jake Dowell scored for the Stars, who’ve compiled just a 3-5-0 record since accumulating a six-game winning streak. Lehtonen allowed four goals on 30 shots before being relieved by Richard Bachman midway through the third to give Lehtonen some extra rest for Saturday’s game at San Jose.
Bachman surrendered a goal on four shots.
“We can rectify this,” Dowell said. “We can get back into a position that we want. It puts a little more pressure on us, but there’s pressure for the rest of the year. We thought we played hard and had some chances, but we also had some breakdowns and they capitalized. That’s the way it went.”
Chris Higgins, Maxim Lapierre, and Burrows also scored for Vancouver (48-21-9), which won its fifth straight.
Burrows iced it when he popped in his 25th with just under 11 minutes to go in the third, and Lapierre made it 5-1 with 8:42 left in regulation.
Dowell capped the scoring with his second of the season with 2:42 to go.
“We had chances, but Schneider was real good and made big saves on us,” coach Glen Gulutzan said. “You run into that every now and then. Goalies win you games, and our goalie’s won us enough this year. I thought it was a pretty equal game, but Schneider stood the test. They have two world class goalies here.”
Down by a goal after 20 minutes, the Stars got the equalizer when Ott erased a 15-game goal-less stretch with his 11th of the season just 3:16 into the second. Off the faceoff in the right circle, Jamie Benn picked up a loose puck and took a shot that Schneider kicked out. Schneider then stopped Ott’s rebound attempt, but then that rebound came back out to Ott, who promptly shoveled it in.
The goal snapped Vancouver’s overall shutout string at 177 minutes, 15 seconds.
Higgins staked the Canucks to a 1-0 lead 6:17 into the game with his 17th of the season. Skating into the high slot, he accepted Jannik Hansen’s behind-the-back pass along the right boards and re-directed a shot that squirted through Lehtonen’s legs.
“We need to find a way to regroup,” Ott said. “We wanted to grab points. We had a pretty solid first period with a lot of scoring chances, but we couldn’t capitalize. This is playoff hockey for us, and we’ve enjoyed it the last couple of months.”
The Stars will host the Sharks in Dallas at American Airlines Center on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. They wrap up their regular season schedule with a game at Nashville on Thursday before hosting St. Louis on April 7.