In what was a chance to put a little distance between themselves and ninth place, the Dallas Stars couldn't find enough defense on the back end of a Western Canada road swing.
The Vancouver Canucks picked apart the Stars defense, getting innumerable opportunities in the slot in their 5-2 victory over the Stars, which dropped the Stars to seventh in the Western Conference standings.
The Canucks opened the scoring after a fortuitous bounce off the referee sent them 2-on-2 into the Stars zone. Philip Larsen cheated toward Jannik Hansen, who was covered by Alex Goligoski, and seemed completely unaware of Chris Higgins steaming down the slot. The pass easily got through, and Kari Lehtonen let one roll through his 5-hole that he'd probably like back.
The Stars tied the game up early in the second when Steve Ott tipped the puck past a sprawled Cory Schneider. Jamie Benn picked up his 36th assist of the year on the play, which came from some hard work from that line.
Then with nine minutesleft in the second, Trevor Daley pinched deep into the offensive zone, but the puck squirted by him and sent the Canucks in on a breakaway. Adam Pardy may have saved a goal, but he did concede the tripping penalty, and the Canucks were able to convert on a one-timer from Sami Salo about a minute later.
They added an insurance tally later in the frame as the Stars four-line got completely out of sorts heading back into their own end. Ryan Garbutt took himself out of position to lay a big hit, and that allowed Andrew Alberts to walk unmolested into the high slot. His shot bounced off the back of Stephane Robidas and past Lehtonen.
The Canucks ran away with the game in the third as the Stars continued to make silly defensive mistakes. Gologoski failed to cover Alex Burrows in front of the net on the fourth goal, and a Stars forward completely overshot Max Lapierre on the fifth, allowing Lapierre to get yet another completely unmolested look from the slot.
Jake Dowell made the numbers look a little better with a near-post wrister with a little more than two minutes left, but it wouldn't be near enough. Tomorrow's game against the San Jose Sharks, which was already going to be epic, just became maybe the defining game of the season for Dallas.
More thoughts on this game after the jump
- It was not Tomas Vincour's night. Playing on a line with Jamie Benn and Ott, he struggled to win puck battles along the wall and even whiffed on a few open looks. He was pulled from that line at the start of the third period and replaced by Reilly Smith. I say all that, and yet he did manage to finish +2, the highest on the team, and assisted on Dowell's goal. But sometimes, it's just not your game.
- The only other plus player on the Stars? Brenden Morrow.
- Speaking of it not being someone's night, it wasn't Larsen or Goligoski's game either. Both of them have goals that you can probably pin directly on their miscues, and they were on the ice for all sorts of Canucks offense. Goligoski, in particular, had a game to forget. He was on the ice for four Vancouver goals and finished -2 since he was on for Ott's. Larsen finished -1 because he was also on for Dowell's late tally.
- Statistically, Reilly Smith might have had the worst night of all, finishing at -3 with one shot in just under nine minutes. But from the eye test, he looked okay. He was bumped up to Benn's line in the third period and didn't look out of place for the msot part.
- I think Stars fans around the country groaned when it was Cory Schneider, not the scheduled Roberto Luongo, who started the game for the Canucks. Schneider has been fantastic recently, and Luongo has, well, not. Schneider made this a completely different game in the first period, stoning several attempts from Jamie Benn. He's a good one.
- Kari Lehtonen would almost certainly like to have the Chris Higgins goal back. Higgins didn't get a whole lot of velocity on the puck, and it slipped right between his legs. That said, he was not the source of the Stars problems. Dallas gave up shot after shot from point-blank range in the slot all night, and even Lehtonen's greatness isn't enough to make up for that.
- To save Lehtonen for tomorrow's game against the Sharks, he was pulled after Burrows goalie. Lapierre scored almost immediately on backup Richard Bachman, but it was another of those right-down-the-middle chances that I'm sure is currently making Glen Gulutzan crazy.
- So yeah, about that. Don't give up point-blank chances from the slot if you want to win hockey games. Just a theory.
- The refereeing was eh, though to be clear, it didn't favor anyone in particular. All four calls in the game (three against Dallas and one against the Canucks) were deserved. But both teams took complete advantage of the fact that they weren't going to call picks or cross checks no matter how blatant. Some people call that playoff-style hockey. I call it annoyingly inconsistent.
- Three-point scorers for the Canucks were Henrik Sedin (three assists) and Lapierre (one goal, two assists). That line just killed the Stars for the most part. They were matched up against Jamie Benn's group when Glen Gulutzan could work that, but they also scored one of their goals by picking apart Dallas' fourth line.
- The Los Angeles Kings rolled the Edmonton Oilers 4-1, so they move into first place in the Pacific Division tonight with 90 points to Dallas' 89. Both teams have four games remaining, including two against the Sharks.
- So now on to San Jose, where the ghost of back-to-back games awaits. The Stars still control their own destiny for the playoffs, though not the division anymore. San Jose has been in a funk recently, but they have the offensive talent to snap out of it at any time. Glen Gulutzan has said the Stars needed three wins in their final five games to clinch a spot. It would really, really help if some of those could come against the Sharks.