The fourth time pays for all, though, it seems.
The loss effectively dooms the Stars, taking their playoff chances down to a percentage that feels, as least tonight, too low to calculate.
It would take a trio of miraculous happenings (The Stars winning their last two in regulation, Detroit losing before Saturday, Columbus losing on Saturday to Nashville, of all teams) for the Stars to qualify for the right to play Chicago now.
Otherwise, it's five straight years without playoff hockey in a city that was once the home to a perpetual powerhouse. And it stings. The Islanders clinched tonight. The Islanders. The Capitals clinched their division. The Maple Leafs have a shot at home ice in the East. The Blues clinched. The Sharks clinched.
The Stars go on, knowing their hope is slim.
The Sharks pounded Dallas tonight, hitting four posts and creating enough scrambles in front of Kari Lehtonen to tally eight or nine goals if a little luck had been on their side. The equalizer was inevitable. The go-ahead goal 30 seconds later was regrettable. The Stars would have taken their chances in an overtime or a shootout situation and been glad for it after the barrage they welcomed and somehow eluded in regulation up until that point.
It's the fifth time in 46 games the Stars have lost when leading after two. The third time in regulation. That's eight points squandered in a situation that's supposed to be automatic for a team that considers themselves of playoff quality.
In the end, it was Ryan Garbutt and Antoine Roussel versus Joe Thornton and Pavelski. It was Cody Eakin and MacDermid versus Martin Havlat and Patrick Marleau. It was the post-deadline Stars, with all their want-to and all their heart, backed by their all-world netminder Kari Lehtonen, just not having the fire power and execution necessary to get it done.
They held their fate in their hands, again as in years past, and have now lost four of five.
Were they just playing with house money? Maybe. Is it impressive at all that they navigated their way to the final few days of the season still mathematically alive? Absolutely it is. They're a fun group, and this has been an unexpectedly fun time.
That doesn't make it any less disappointing. Not when they carry a 2-1 lead into the final television timeout of a game they simply must have.
In a regular game recap I'd have mentioned how great Erik Cole was tonight. I'd have asked where Jamie Benn was. I'd have wondered if Loui Eriksson is finally breaking out of his slump. I'd have tried to figure out how a too-many-men penalty is taken in game 46 when the forward lines haven't changed in weeks. I'd have taken a peek at Columbus' line combinations.
It's hard to do so over the sound of the air rushing out of all these tires.
It's not over yet, technically. They can be the recipient of some rather unlikely happenings in the season's final days and take care of business in front of what I think are already sold-out or nearly sold-out crowds Thursday and Saturday. It's unlikely, but it's possible.
At the very least, show up and solute these guys. Sans Brenden Morrow, Michael Ryder, Derek Roy, Jaromir Jagr and Tomas Vincour - They've done a hell of a job to put themselves in position and give us all a reason to believe this late in the game.