Perhaps last night's loss to the Ducks would have been easier to take if the Stars had never led in the game. Perhaps, if the Stars had not played an extraordinarily strong game for the last 35 minutes of regulation -- only to lose the lead in the final seconds -- then perhaps this loss would not have been such a punch to the gut of the Dallas Stars fanbase.
Stars fans witnessed a breakdown in the final seconds of a tightly contested game be the difference between victory and heartache and more so than any other game in this season, this loss hit the fans harder than ever. You could hear it in the crowd as they departed American Airlines Center, you could see it in the fan reaction on Twitter and you could see it right here on Defending Big D. The fans had built up the hype for this game to extraordinary proportions and when victory was snatched away on a fluke play in the final seconds of the game, something snapped.
All the frustrations, all the heartache of two-plus years of mediocrity and watching the playoffs from afar came pouring out in one night. This game was big, there's no doubt about that, and a regulation win would have done wonders for the hopes of a playoff berth. The loss left fans searching for answers and for some, it meant starting the look at the future and changes that needed to be made.
The feeling, however, that the season was now over after a devastating overtime loss to the Anaheim Ducks was one that was not shared by the players. The Dallas Stars felt that punch to the gut just as much as any fan in that arena or around the globe -- you could see it in their faces -- but they know that the season is not over. They know that there is still nine games left in this season and there is still work to be done. Time to learn from the mistakes and move on.
"Anytime you win you enjoy it for a bit and then move on and I think it is the same when you have a defeat like tonight," said Mark Fistric. "Obviously, it didn't go the way we wanted and it's going to suck for a bit, but we've got to move on and start preparing because the next nine games are huge for us."
Feel the pain and move on. That's all that can be done...
There wasn't much of a positive attitude after the game for the Stars, who let yet another late-game lead slip away, yet the focus on moving on was universal. The team realizes that dwelling on this loss is not the answer and despite a setback the Stars still have more than a realistic chance at fighting their way into the postseason. With a big game coming up against Nashville -- one that is even bigger now -- the Stars must turn their attention to the next game.
"This is the time of the year that we know how valuable the points are," Jamie Langenbrunner said. "We had the opportunity to close it out, and we don't. It hurts, but it's also the time of the year where it can't let it affect you for the next one."
The Stars played a tough game and fought hard against a very good and confident Anaheim team. Mistakes that have haunted the team all season hurt them once again on Wednesday night and as much frustration as that can build, coach Marc Crawford is not going to be bogged down by the negatives.
"As hard as it is -- and that's what we told the guys in there -- as hard as it and as much as this sucks, and believe me it does, you've got to look at the positive side of it," said Crawford. "We played a real strong game. We battled, we battled a hard team. By all rights we should have won the game and we got a point out of it. All is not lost. We will survive to fight a better day and we move forward."
You may not agree with his philosophy in focusing on nothing but the positives, but you wonder if a berating in the locker room after this loss would really have done any good. Marc Crawford is choosing to pick his team up after a bad loss and get them looking forward; focus on the next game and what you can do better and hopefully this defeat will be nothing but a painful memory in just a few short days.
"We're not going anywhere," said Stars center Brad Richards. "It's a tough one, but we look at the next one as just as important as this one. Win that and we're back here smiling and going into another game with the same points-at-all-cost attitude. "
One thing that Crawford was certain to point out was that the defensive coverage on Teemu Selanne's winning was perfect and the team did what they were supposed to do. As has happened more than once this year, the Stars were victimized by a bad bounce when a clearing attempt went off an official and right to Saku Koivu. His shot somehow found its way through a crowd and right onto the tape of Selanne's stick. After missing an open net earlier in the game, he wasn't about to miss this one.
"It's a tough one, but it's also just a horrendous break. The puck comes around, hits the damn referee and goes to their guy," said Stars coach Marc Crawford. "What do you do? You don't plan for the referee to be in the way, he doesn't plan to be there. Unfortunately, we got a horrendous break with five seconds to go."
"There was no breakdown in coverage,'' he added. ``If you watch it closely, Goligoski's going right to Getzlaf, who the puck should be going to, and it bounces right to their guy, he gets the half-second, gets the puck to the net, gets it through, and Selanne's on the backside. And because there's a break, our guys collapse as they would. Give them credit, they took advantage of the break, but you can't plan for the referee to be in the way, but that's part of the game and you have to deal with it.''
It was a bad bounce in the final seconds of the game, but the fact is the Stars made one too many mistakes when it counted the most. While that break on the tying goal hurt, there should be no excuse for allowing the Ducks to win in overtime so easily. The Stars must learn and move on, something we've said multiple times this season. This time, however, time is running out.
"It was a tough break on the way it bounced, but that's hockey and we have to move on," said Langenbrunner. "That's a team that's been playing well, but we were in control and had every opportunity to win the game. We have to keep moving forward. We got a big point tonight, and we have to keep on collecting points. The Nashville game is going to be huge" "
"It’s a good test because we’ll be ready when we get in [the playoffs]," Richards said. "We’re playing these games now, and playing against teams that are in the same desperation mode. It’s been a good grind, and we’ll be better for it. As far as I know, we’re not eliminated tonight. We’ll stick together and keep going."