Stars throttled by desperate Jets team in Winnipeg
Looking at Sunday's game between the Dallas Stars and Winnipeg Jets at MTS Centre from a sense of which team needed it more, the Jets, who heading into this Central Division contest were six points behind the Stars for the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference, definitely fit that bill.
Seeing the Stars fall 7-2 to the Jets was bad enough by itself, but the way Dallas lost, thanks to a litany of mistakes, the most glaring of which came from the club's defensemen, was so alarming that the team held a closed-door meeting immediately following the loss.
"It was more than just a loss," Stars head coach Lindy Ruff said postgame. "We got off our game. We had some terrible turnovers and they really took advantage of it."
The scoring for Winnipeg started early when Jacob Trouba beat Stars goaltender Tim Thomas on his glove side just 3:11 into the game. However, Dallas fired back with two unanswered, one from Alex Chiasson at 6:25 of the first period and another from Tyler Seguin 37 seconds later to give the Stars a 2-1 lead.
And that advantage would hold for about the next five minutes, until the Jets' Michael Frolik tied it again at 11:54. Tomas Enstrom would light the lamp with 2:58 remaining before the first intermission to wrestle the lead back for Winnipeg at 3-2, one they held for the final 42:58.
Ruff feels the momentum definitely swung in the Jets' favor in the opening 20 minutes.
"First period, it probably could have been 5-2," Ruff said. "We ended up having three breakaways and I thought (Al) Montoya made two good saves or maybe the game goes the other way."
Winnipeg then struck twice in the middle frame, including a goal by Olli Jokinen 29 seconds into the period that epitomized just what sort of night the Dallas defense had at the hands of a fired-up Jets team fighting for their very playoff lives.
Jokinen's goal signaled the end of the evening for Thomas in the Stars crease as rookie Cristopher Nilstorp came on for the veteran netminder. Thomas stopped 13 of the 17 shots he faced in 20:29 of work.
Nilstorp, however, didn't fare much better, stopping 14 of 17 shots in 28:41.
Dustin Byfuglien then added a goal late in the second, giving the Jets a 5-2 lead and pretty much locking up the win for the home team. In the third, Byfuglien added a second goal 3:14 in and the night's scoring was punctuated by Evander Kane at 7:33.
Jets right winger Blake Wheeler did the most damage, assisting on four of Winnipeg's seven goals, equaling a career high. But Winnipeg also got three-point nights from a trio of players in Byfuglien (two goals, one assist) plus Enstrom and Jokinen, who contributed a goal and two assists each.
Maybe this five-goal loss was an anomaly, a one-off result that isn't something to dwell on. However, considering the Stars also pretty much collapsed in a 4-3 loss on Friday night to the Calgary Flames at American Airlines Center in a game where they blew a 3-1 lead after two periods, Ruff probably figured he'd better nip this in the bud before it became a full-blown losing streak.
And it's not like the competition gets any easier in the other two games of this three-game road swing. On Tuesday, the Stars travel to the Steel City to face the Pittsburgh Penguins, who currently sit second in the Eastern Conference with 92 points.
Dallas then heads to the City of Brotherly Love to face the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday. The Flyers by the way, completed a weekend sweep of their in-state rivals on Sunday, beating the Pens 4-3, one night after blanking them 4-0 at the Consol Energy Center, which means Pittsburgh should be in quite a foul mood by the time the Stars arrive.
Stars captain Jamie Benn talked about the blowout loss to the Jets and true to form, No. 14 didn't pull any punches when assessing a loss which has to be called nothing short of a debacle.
"Just we're not playing the right way and these games are hard to win late in the year," Benn said. "Teams are gearing up for the playoffs. Teams that aren't in the playoffs got nothing to lose and they're hard teams to play against. Tonight we just got outworked start to finish."
Dallas' next chance for atonement comes Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.