Four straight seasons of no playoff action for the Dallas Stars became a reality tonight as the Stars couldn't find any offense against the stingy Nashville Predators. The fact that this team, predicted to finish dead last in the entire league by some, and last in the western conference by most, came into game 81 of 82 with a shot at the playoffs is more than many expected at the beginning of the season.
The Dallas Stars came in very strong to start the game, playing a hard team game to set the tone. After a few quality chances in the offensive zone, Dallas would draw the first power play of the game when Adam Burish was interfered with. Trying to shake up the NHL's worst power play, the Stars went with a four forward/one defenseman set: Mike Ribeiro on the point, with Loui Eriksson, Jamie Benn and Michael Ryder as the other forwards and rounded out by Stephane Robidas (as a right handed defenseman he played on the top unit.) The team would get several prime chances with their first unit set out there for over a minute of the two minute penalty, but the second unit would lose the puck to Nashville and they'd spend the rest of the power play chasing out of the offensive zone.
Robidas would go down the tunnel after falling awkwardly on his knee in the corner, but would return to the bench. Benn would work to get a breakaway chance, and would pass across the ice to Ryder who would deflect the puck into the safety netting. The Stars and Predators would trade chances and offside calls for the second half of the period to lead to a choppy finish to a scoreless ending.
More details of the game and observations after the jump.
Dallas' fourth line would start the second frame off strong, with Tom Wandell, Burish, and Ryan Garbutt spending well over a minute of play in the offensive zone. They were able to create several chances in close on Predators' goalie Pekka Rinne, with several cram plays and wraparound attempts. The Stars would hold the Predators to only one shot on goal for four straight minutes, and would have nothing to show for it.
The second power play chance for the Stars had no rhythm, and wouldn't score a single shot on goal during the full two minutes with the man advantage. They went with the same first unit as they did in the first period, and Nashville made adjustments to make the Stars' power play fairly useless. Trevor Daley would come the closest to scoring a goal in the second period after the power play expired when the puck dribbled right past Rinne and bounced off the post and back to Rinne's glove for the save.
With a little over two minutes remaining in the second, Brenden Morrow would get his stick up around the midsection of a Predators player and go off for hooking. The Predators boast the best power play and they wasted no time putting pucks towards Kari Lehtonen. Lehtonen would come up with some huge saves in tight and on second chances to keep the score 0-0 heading into the last period of the game. Mark Fistric would end his night in the second period with a lower body injury, and the Stars would roll into the last period with only five on defense.
The Stars fourth line generated the best chance to start the third period, with Garbutt making space for himself and setup Wandell for a look on the side of the net with Rinne out of position. Wandell missed the shot sending the puck just wide. The Predators would break the scoreless tie by scoring off the rebound of a scramble in front of Lehtonen. Dallas would get a third power play chance when Eriksson drew a tripping call, but their special teams again failed them and they failed to capitalize again to get the game equalizer. Off the expired power play, the Stars would turn the puck over and a four-on-two would develop for the Predators. Sheldon Souray would break up the Kostitsyn brothers' attempt to get goal number two to keep the Stars down by only one.
Nashville would get a power play chance with about seven minutes left in the third when Garbutt was called for hooking. Vernon Fiddler and Radek Dvorak would take a Souray pass up ice for a short handed two-on-one. A turnover by Nashville when leaving their own zone would allow Alex Goligoski a shorthanded chance as well, but neither would hit the back of the net.
The Stars would push deep into the offensive zone and cough the puck up for a chance against Lehtonen on the other end. Ryder would get blown past while Souray and Robidas would get caught looking at a juicy rebound that the Predators would put past Lehtonen's glove side. Dallas would pull Lehtonen with two minutes left in the third period, and would even get a gift of a power play when Mike Fischer got a delay of game penalty. All efforts fruitless as the Stars fall to the Predators 2-0 and end their playoff hopes.
We'll have plenty of analysis on this game tomorrow, but a few quick notes regarding this game:
- Trevor Daley was the best player for the Stars on the ice tonight. He was almost willing the team to get offense going, pinching down low and hustling back to catch guys to diffuse scoring rushes against.
- Kari Lehtonen was back to his usual self, with several big saves. The two goals he gave up came on ugly rebound opportunities, and not unlike many games this season, he got no offensive support in front of him to cover for those.
- We'll have a nice long time to discuss how the power play can improve, but the special teams again proved the difference tonight. The penalty kill was perfect against the top power play in the league, so that's definitely a positive.
- The want and the try was there. It just wasn't enough. And it hurts tonight.