Stars playoff hopes dealt serious blow in loss
After two periods, the Dallas Stars led the San Jose Sharks 2-1 at HP Pavilion and Glen Gulutzan’s club had to like their chances of leaving the Bay Area with two points and continuing to control their own destiny in their quest to snap a playoff dry spell that has now reached four consecutive seasons.
Unfortunately, the Stars coughed up that lead in the final frame at the Shark Tank, when Joe Pavelski was credited with the equalizer with 5:37 left to make it a 2-2 contest. And as if that wasn’t enough, San Jose took their first lead of the night just 30 seconds later when Logan Couture scored his 20th of the season, beating Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen top shelf with a wrister off a deflection to make it 3-2.
Dallas gave it the old college try the final few minutes, but the Stars were unable to find that third goal to secure at least a point and possibly force overtime. So, for the second time on their final road trip of the season, the Stars failed to come away with at least a point and Tuesday’s late loss might have been the nail in the coffin to make this playoff drought reach five.
To their credit, the Stars hung around the entire night, getting the usual stellar goaltending from Lehtonen and 28 blocked shots, but being honest, both Dallas goals, which came from Antoine Roussel in the first and from Loui Eriksson early in the second, came off uncharacteristic rebounds off San Jose netminder Antti Niemi, a true workhorse who has played well over 90 percent of the minutes in net for the Sharks this season.
So when Niemi tightened things up in the third and didn’t allow too many rebounds of substance to get in front of him, the Stars’ scoring chances, which were pretty miniscule for much of the night compared to the multitude of opportunities the home team created, dried up almost entirely.
Now, Dallas heads back home for one final two-game homestand that starts on Thursday against Columbus, a team looking to end a three-year playoff drought. And if the Stars can get the win over the Blue Jackets, then Saturday’s regular-season finale against the Red Wings could be for all the marbles.
But in the meantime, Detroit will hit the ice twice more before visiting the American Airlines Center on Saturday. The Wings host the reigning Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings, a club who is 8-11-4 on the road this season, on Wednesday and then will complete the home back-to-back on Thursday night by hosting Nashville, a team that is just 5-12-5 away from home and a club that is currently just four points out of the cellar.
Seeing Mike Babcock’s club lose at least one of those games in the back-to-back would mean the Stars are still in it provided they beat the Blue Jackets on Thursday. Of course, Dallas fans would love to see the Kings and Predators both get the better out of Detroit in the back-to-back, but expecting the Wings to drop both ends of a back-to-back at Joe Louis Arena might be expecting too much but then again, at this time of year truly anything is possible.
As for Columbus, should the Stars take care of business on Thursday against the Jackets in Big D, the denizens of the Ohio state capital will finish up on Saturday night against a Nashville team with very little to play for except for maybe spoiling another team’s possible playoff-clinching party.
The Stars’ 3-2 loss at San Jose on Tuesday night stings on several levels. For one, Dallas had basically owned San Jose all season and was on the verge of possibly sweeping the season series only to see the Sharks come up with a win on their home ice to clinch a playoff spot.
Dallas also lost control of its own destiny when it comes to securing a playoff berth on Tuesday night. However, all is not lost for Gulutzan and Company because if they can win on Thursday against Columbus at the American Airlines Center and maybe even get some help from the Kings and possibly also from the Preds when it comes to those Red Wings, then Saturday’s regular-season finale with the boys from Hockeytown takes on added meaning, which is exactly what the crew from NBC and the Dallas fans are hoping for.
But the final chapter is still to be written on this season, a campaign where many wrote the Stars off after they jettisoned such veterans with expiring contracts like current captain Brenden Morrow, Jaromir Jagr and Derek Roy before the April 3 NHL Trade Deadline to signal a full-on youth movement was in full swing.
The funny thing was that the kids delivered as did Jamie Benn and Ray Whitney. And once Lehtonen returned to the crease in last week’s win over Vancouver, Stars fans continued to feel good about a group that had truly defied the odds to remain in contention for a playoff spot in the first place.
Of course, Tuesday’s loss might have tempered that enthusiasm a bit. But then again, if one word can be used to characterize this year’s Stars, that label is resilient. Of course, it’s not enough to simply be resilient at this time of year. It all boils down to results, something the Stars still need in their final two games of the regular season along with more than a little help from the hockey gods. But no matter how it turns out, these final two contests against Columbus and Detroit figure to be enthralling games to say the least.