Three Straight Setbacks Slow Stars’ Playoff Push

On the heels of an emotional week in which the Dallas franchise retired Mike Modano’s #9 jersey and forward Rich Peverley’s in-game collapse on the bench with a “heart-related incident”, the Stars lost their way and earned only one of a possible six points in three games. Dallas dropped a 4-3 shootout to visiting Calgary on Friday, March 14, a 7-2 rout at Winnipeg on Sunday, March 16, and a 5-1 setback at Pittsburgh on Tuesday, March 18.

The trio of disappointing results stalled the Stars’ march toward the playoffs, leaving them with a record of 32-25-11 for 75 points, two behind 8th place Phoenix in the Western Conference wild card playoff race.

Dallas celebrated the return its starting goaltender, Kari Lehtonen in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, March 18, but had little else to smile about. Lehtonen started after missing four games with a concussion he suffered in a March 8 game against the Wild. The Penguins, who were smarting after home-and-home weekend losses to Metropolitan Division rival Philadelphia, victimized Lehtonen for all five red lights.

“I felt like I got a good start and made some good saves there right away,” said Lehtonen, who allowed two goals in the 1st and 3rd periods and one in the 2nd. “After that, it was just one of those games where they had a few chances, and they were able to put the puck in. I just have to be better and I think everybody else has to be better too.”

After dropping its 2nd contest of a three-game road swing through Manitoba and Pennsylvania, Dallas finished its two-game season series against the Eastern Division’s Penguins by capturing two of a possible four points. Lehtonen had whitewashed Pittsburgh, 3-0 at the American Airlines Center on Saturday, Jan. 25.

“We had a couple real good opportunities (to pull closer) in the 2nd period,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. “We missed the net. I thought the killer goal was the third one (by Lee Stempniak) late in the (2nd) period. We could’ve easily tied the game up.”

The Stars tied the score at 1-1 midway through the first period when forward Tyler Seguin continued his torrid scoring with his team- and career-high 31st goal of the season. But Kunitz gave the Pens a lead it would never relinquish less than three minutes later.

“I didn’t think we had that many quality shots on net,” said Seguin. “It seemed like when we had a chance to take the momentum, we actually missed the net most of the time. So we had our chances. I thought there were times in the game where we were skating and competing well, but it wasn’t for the full three periods tonight.”

Stars Lose Big in Winnipeg

The Stars missed an opportunity to gain on 7th place Minnesota and distance themselves from Winnipeg by dropping a 7-2 verdict in Manitoba on Sunday night, March 16. Dallas led 2-1, erasing an early 1-0 deficit on goals just :37 apart by Alex Chiasson and Tyler Seguin before the game was 10 minutes old. Chiasson slipped the rebound of a shot by linemate Cody Eakin beneath Winnipeg goalie Al Montoya for his 12th of the season, and Seguin added his 30th red light of the year and his fifth of 2013-2014 at the MTS Centre.

But Winnipeg snapped a six-game winless streak and climbed to within four points of the Stars by scoring twice before the opening period had ended and adding two more markers each in the 2nd and 3rd stanzas. The Jets victimized a pair of Dallas netminders for their season-high output – four against starter Tim Thomas and three more vs. backup Christopher Nilstorp, who was returned to the Stars’ AHL affiliate in Austin the next day.

“It was more than just a loss,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff after the Stars dropped consecutive verdicts for the first time since January 10th and 12th. “We got off our game. We had some terrible turnovers, and (the Jets) really took advantage of them. (It was) tremendously disappointing. No doubt. I’m disappointed with the way we played. I didn’t think we showed enough resolve. We didn’t compete hard enough on the (boards). When we got under a little bit of pressure, we threw some pucks in the middle of the ice.”

“We’re not playing the right way,” Stars captain Jamie Benn said. “These games are hard to win late in the (season). We just got outworked.”

Disappointing Shootout Loss to Calgary

The Stars failed to continue their domination over visiting Calgary on Friday, March 14 at a sold out American Airlines Center. Despite carrying a 3-1 lead into the 3rd period – and having handily defeated the Alberta-based club 5-1 and 7-3 earlier in the season – the Stars surrendered two goals in the last seven minutes before losing the shootout. Dallas coach Lindy Ruff lamented his team’s disappointing defensive play in the waning minutes, as well as missed opportunities that could have put the game out of reach.

“I thought on (the 3rd period Flames’) goals we got on the wrong side of the man,” he noted. “We had some problems defensively tonight and we spent more time in our zone than I thought we needed to. We lost some battles that ended up making the difference in the game.”

“We got outshot 10-2 after we went up 7-0 (in the opening period),” Ruff added. “I thought too much of our play was individual play. We weren’t moving the puck quickly enough. When we came up the ice it was individual effort after individual effort. You can praise them for the effort but it’s hard to get it done alone. That little bit of inconsistent play when it came to positioning through the neutral zone allowed (Calgary) to come through. We didn’t play that well but we still had the (Tyler Seguin) breakaway at the start of the third period that probably would have put the game away Jamie (Benn) had a two-on-one shorthanded (opportunity) that we didn’t get a lot out of. There were some good opportunities to put it away, we just didn’t get it done.”

Defenseman Jordie Benn’s shootout goal in the 3rd round was matched by one from Calgary’s Sean Monahan. After Seguin was stopped by Flames goalie Joey MacDonald in the beginning of the 4th round, Corban Knight beat Stars’ netminder Tim Thomas over his glove to earn the victory for a Calgary team that is playing impressively hard for next season.

Calgary coach Bob Hartley lauded the work of MacDonald, who made 22 saves including Seguin’s 3rd period breakaway and three of four in the shootout in his first appearance for the Flames since Nov. 1, 2013.

“Mac (Joey MacDonald) has worked hard in practice,” said Hartley. “He suffered a concussion in Abbotsford (Calgary’s AHL affiliate) so he didn’t get much playing time, but he certainly worked hard in the gym and on the ice.”

Dallas had built a 3-1 lead in the 2nd period on goals by Antoine Roussel (his 12th), Benn’s 27th off a beautiful four-way passing play, and Erik Cole’s 16th on a tip in of defenseman Brenden Dillon’s blue line shot.

But Flames forwards Paul Byron (power play) and Mike Cammalleri (his 2nd of the game) managed to get loose on goal mouth scrums and swept their respective rebounds into the net for a 3-3 tie in regulation.

“This time of year with points being so valuable, you can’t give up a 3-1 lead in the third period,” said team captain Benn. “We were lucky to get one point. It’s tough to shake these games off at this time of year. That’s a must-win game for us. To lose that one hurt pretty hard. I didn’t think we skated very well as a team tonight. Calgary has nothing to lose and they worked hard.”

“We knew they were going to come hard there, they are playing really well,” said Dillon, who finished the game at +2. “(Calgary beat) Anaheim the other night and they are one of the top teams in the League. We can’t use any excuses. We knew the game plan going into it. We started well enough to win that game, and we had a lead going in where we could have taken advantage and gotten the two points. We’ll take the one out of it, but at the same time, we can’t be happy with the rest of the games we have going ahead.”

The Stars received solid play from recent players who were recalled from their AHL affiliate in Austin, Travis Morin (first NHL point, an assist on Cole’s goal), Chris Mueller and Colton Sceviour. “I thought they gave us a good, consistent effort,” said Ruff. “We were a little thin down the middle of the ice and I thought (they) gave us a good effort.”

Thomas, starting his 3rd straight game and appearing in his 4th consecutive Stars’ game since being acquired from Florida, finished with 27 saves. Ruff indicated that Kari Lehtonen, who suffered a concussion in a victory over visiting Minnesota on Saturday, March 8, had improved and would begin practicing. “He’s not quite ready (to play in a game) but I could see early next week his being ready to play,” said Ruff.

The evening’s highlight occurred when the crowd gave Stars’ forward Rich Peverley a standing ovation when he was shown on video board above center ice. Peverley collapsed with a “heart-related incident” on the Dallas bench after returning from a shift in the Monday, March 10 postponed home game against Columbus. Peverley was revived, taken to the hospital and released, and will not play again this season.

“The crowd gave him a great ovation tonight,” said Jamie Benn. “He had over 20 smiling faces on both benches banging their sticks for him.”

Dallas Stars Player of the Week – Tyler Seguin

Seguin earned the honor for the second straight week and continued to be a bright light by lighting the lamp twice during the Stars three losses. He established a career high with his 30th and 31st goals and continued to lead the Stars in goals (31), assists (39) and points (70) – all career highs. Seguin scored the game-tying goal in a 5-1 loss at Pittsburgh, the go-ahead goal in a 7-2 setback at Winnipeg, and assisted on linemate Jamie Benn’s go-ahead goal in a 4-3 shootout defeat to visiting Calgary.

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