After a month in which the Dallas Stars had the worst record of any team in playoff contention, they needed a miracle to maintain any chance of sneaking into the Western Conference playoffs. Despite a patchwork lineup that was operating with nine key starters out due to injury, the Stars had build some momentum with three points in their last two games. With grit and determination, there was hope that at least this team could grind out a winning streak the final five games and with a lot luck, perhaps play some more in the post-season.
Unfortunately, for that luck to work the Stars needed to win and despite a valiant effort Thursday night, they fell short in a 2-1 loss to the Calgary Flames.
The Anaheim Ducks and St. Louis Blues both won Thursday night, essentially dashing any chance of a Stars playoff berth. If Nashville wins Friday night, then Dallas will be officially eliminated from playoff contention.
"The process of the whole season's been frustrating and very disappointing," Mike Modano said after the loss. "There was never really anything too consistent this season."
Once again the Dallas Stars came out with energy and controlled the play in the offensive zone, getting good chances on net in the opening minutes of the game. Just over three minutes in, rookie James Neal carried the puck into the zone and crossed with Fabian Brunnstrom. A backhand pass attempt was intercepted by defensemen Adrian Aucoin, but Brunnstrom was able to take control and found himself alone in front of goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff.
"I got a good pass from Nealer and Lundy did some good work," Brunnstrom said. "I just tried to go deep on the goalie and it went in."
Despite the hard work in the first and another good start, the Stars surrendered yet another tying goal soon after, when Jarome Iginla's wrist shot from the slot went off the pipe, off Marty Turco and into the net. Once again, a gritty effort and great start was negated by a simple mistake and bad luck.
That's just how it's gone this season.
"We had some guys push hard tonight, we just couldn't get another answer," Stars coach Dave Tippett said. "You have to keep pushing every single day, you never know. You have to will yourself until someone tells you it's done."
With the score tied at one and the Flames building momentum in the second period, the Stars were able to kill off two penalties and keep the game within reach. A Craig Conroy blast from the left point deflected twice on its way to the net and snuck past the glove of a partially screened Turco. The goal put the Flames ahead 2-1, a score that would hold up for the final 27 minutes of the game.
It was the second long range shot from that side Turco had surrendered in two games.
Down by one in the third period, the Stars had two power play opportunities to the tie the game yet were unable to get anything past Kiprusoff. The Stars outshot Calgary 10-1 in the third period yet were frustrated by the physical and speedy play of the Flames.
The team struggled to find an offensive rhythm and failed to sustain any pressure when they needed it the most. With Marty Turco on the bench the final 65 seconds of the game, the Stars failed to register a shot on goal.
"We didn't get much in terms of quality chance," Mike Modano said. "It is playmaking ability and guys finding space and getting open, and knowing where to go to get a quality shot off. Speed kills and we've had trouble with teams that are up-tempo and speedy like St. Louis and Chicago. They're at the top of their game right now with the run they're on."
It was another frustrating loss for the Stars who despite a strong effort failed to capitalize on their chances. After scoring three power play goals in the last two games the Stars were 0 for 3 against the Flames, including two failed chances in the third.
"Things have been very disappointing since the All-Star break, "Modano said. "You find yourself trying to do a little too much extra and make something out of nothing sometimes. You push a little and press a little and find the frustration level gets high."
With their playoff hopes all but gone, all there is left is pride. The Dallas Stars are known for their team-oriented approach and although the season will most likely be over in four games don't expect this team to just roll over and give up.
"We are professionals and we will play hard for our coaches, owners, fans and for each other, our teammates," Daryl Sydor said. "You learn and grow as a player through adversity and you find the best in people during tough times."
It's been an especially tough season for Fabian Brunnstrom, who struggled with adapting to North American hockey while battling injuries for most of the year. Yet his focus has always been on one thing: the team.
"I don't care about 14 goals, we've got a couple of games left and the whole team wants to finish the season strong. I just want to be in the playoffs. I just want to be there and it's hard not to be."
Notes on the game:
- Mike Ribeiro snapped a three game points streak.
- James Neal had his first assist since Feb. 14th.
- Marty Turco tied a career high by starting in his 73rd game this season, the most since 2003-2004.
BW's three stars of the game:
Miikka Kiprusoff, Calgary: Stopped 29 of 30 on the night, including several spectular saves early in the game.
Dion Phaneuf, Calgary: two assists and several big hits on the night.
Fabian Brunnstrom: Dallas: Scored the Stars' lone goal on a nifty backhand shot.