Some wonky defensive zone play, far too many turnovers and a forgettable night from goalies Tim Thomas and Cristopher Nilstorp led to a 5-2 loss that sent the injury-depleted Stars into a three-game tailspin that saw them fall out of playoff position, at least in terms of total points, for the first time since the Olympic break.
Stars coach Lindy Ruff knows things can't be the same tonight as the teams meet for the final time this season.
"I thought for the most part we had some really careless plays defensively, some big turnovers that created some opportunities that last game we really cleaned up," Ruff told the media after Monday's morning skate. "I think if we can stay away from that... They're pretty good on quick transition, and offensive zone turnovers we gave them they took advantage of."
The Stars have slowly worked their way back to health since, at least relatively (though they did make their seventh emergency call up in a little more than two weeks today), and they will have regular starter Kari Lehtonen back between the pipes tonight. After a tiny bit of a shaky start, Lehtonen looked much more like his old self in the second and third periods of the 3-1 win over the Ottawa Senators.
Although it's not official yet, Erik Cole is almost certainly out again nursing the upper-body injury that kept him out of the lineup on Saturday. He will be replaced by the newly called up Dustin Jeffrey on an emergency basis.
Here's what the lines looked like at the skate:
Stars lines at morning skate: Benn-Seguin-Nichushkin, Whitney-Eakin-Sceviour, Roussel-Fiddler-Garbutt, Horcoff-Jeffrey-Chiasson— Mike Heika (@MikeHeika) March 24, 2014
On the back line, Aaron Rome stays in while rookie Kevin Connauton will be in the press box. Rome had the most visable misplay of the win over the Senators when he tried to step up to handle a weak wraparound pass and missed the puck, leading to a 3-on-2 on which the Senators scored, but Ruff told Mike Heika he was relatively pleased with Rome's night despite the low ice time.
"I think that if you look at the early play, it was a tough bounce on him that went over his stick. So you can’t look at that play. That’s a play we want him to make. He went in, the puck went over his stick, and that happens. I’d like to have seen us defend that play better, which I didn’t think we did. I thought when I went through the game, he tried to be physical. He was in on some real good plays defending, so you kind of balance that with the fact that he was moving his feet and I thought at the end of the night, he was OK."
If the Stars win tonight and the Phoenix Coyotes lose their early game against the New York Rangers, the Stars would move back into a points tie for the eighth and final playoff spot. While it's certainly not the ideal position of actually holding it like they were a few weeks ago, it certainly is a better position than the Jets, who are currently six points out and quickly running out of time.
"I think it's really what we've fought for all year, to be in position to be in a playoff spot," Ruff said. "In our case, we had a little bump in the road but we bounced back.The last two periods in Philly was probably a game we should have won and didn't win, and then we came back home and carried that probably into the last 50 minutes that we were able to push through and win a game. We have to be able to push through and do that.
"We know that no team is going to be able to win all their games. Just basically the record you got and the average you've been going at is probably where you're going to end up. So we've got to make sure we're wining 2 out of 3, and that will keep us moving up."
Two out of three would be very nice indeed, and the Stars can make it just that with a win tonight over the Jets.
You can watch selected Ruff comments to the media below: