The San Jose Sharks beat The Stars 5-2 Thursday night at the American Airlines Center, severely crippling Dallas' ability to qualify for the post-season. The Stars have now dropped 7 of 10 down the stretch, getting out-scored 34-22 in the process. Dallas has just two games remaining and they need to make up three points.
The Stars got the start they wanted tonight, out-shooting and out-chancing the Sharks through the first 12 minutes of the game, seemingly gaining the offensive zone at will. They did everything but score, so San Jose went ahead and did it for them, taking a 1-0 lead when Kari Lehtonen was interfered with but the play was allowed to continue. Brenden Morrow would tie the game on a non-scoring chance from behind the net that fooled Niemi somehow.
Jamie Benn fed Alex Goligoski for a one timer at the point and the Stars took a 2-1 lead with just under nine minutes to play in the second period and the Sharks had just eight total shots on goal at the time. That sets up nicely to get a lead to the break and take your chances in the third, where the Stars have been very good entering with a lead.
Then somehow TJ Galiardi takes a pass at a severe angle and beats Kari Lehtonen on a shot that probably should not have found the net, and the game was severely changed.
The Sharks would take a 3-2 lead on a power play awarded for tripping on Michael Ryder (that we couldn't find on the replay) and not look back, 28-1-4 record when leading after two in-tow.
Dallas would spend four of their remaining 20 minutes killing a high-sticking minor in the third, and did so with aplomb, but the time left to them after proved too little. The Sharks had no intention of sitting on their one-goal lead, and kept attacking, denying the Stars the puck.
Dallas recorded their first shot on goal in the third at the 9:50 mark.
Jamie Benn would have a chance to tie the game on a breakaway with about five minutes remaining but could not, and Joe Thornton effectively ended the Stars season about 20 seconds later, left standing all alone in the slot as he beat Lehtonen to put the Sharks up 4-2. They would add an empty netter to make the score 5-2 for the third time against Dallas this season.
San Jose out-scored Dallas 25-10 this year. San Jose has 92 points. The Stars have 89. Barring a pretty shocking collapse by someone ahead of them, the San Sharks are going to the playoffs and the Dallas Stars are very likely not.
Even more on this devastating loss after the jump...Look no further than special teams. Again. The Dallas Stars have some deficiencies. They have some real deficiencies, but another power play goal here or there would have covered enough of them. Now this season is going to come down to 2-4 points they wish they could have had. Just 2-4 points, and a really fine way to get them would have been to score more on the power play where they rank 30th in the league. Dead. Last.
When the Stars win the special teams battle - that is, when they score more power play goals + shorthanded goals than the opposition did - They are 14-2-2 on the year. If they at least survive the special teams battle at even, they're 20-13-2. Not bad. When they lose the special teams battle, as they did tonight, they're 8-18-1.
It's not a coincidence. It needs to be addressed.
The Stars may have gotten the short end of the stick on some calls tonight but that doesn't matter. They had a golden opportunity to score a power play on a lengthy 5-on-3, and on another advantage. They did not. They are now very likely staying home on April 11th.
The real irony? The Sharks scored that power play goal to take the lead with the "high tip" play the Dallas power play spent the better part of the first 2/3rds of the season practicing at morning skate on game days.
- The Stars do not have an answer for the Joe Thornton line this year. They just absolutely do not, and it's stuck out like a sore thumb in all six of these games, much the way Iginla's line does when they play Calgary. Gulutzan got Benn out there against them as much as he could and a little bit of Fiddler, but it didn't matter, as Thornton pushed his way forward regardless of zone start. Five losses, ten points... this is worth contemplating in the off-season as something that needs to be addressed.
- Still, it was the fringe players on the Sharks that beat the Stars again. Dallas saw Alberts and Lapierre score on them in Vancouver, Demers in San Jose, and then Winnik and Galiardi tonight? When you're getting "depth" scored on that much, something is going wrong. Make a team beat you with their best players if they're going to beat you. The injuries and line carousel have hurt the Stars bottom six continuity and it's really showing.
- "Jamie Benn doesn't play enough on the power play". This seems to be the prevailing opinion among Stars fans these days. The entire Internet seemed to rise up as one, pontificating on this very point tonight after the failed 5-on-3 power play neglected to put a single shot on goal. Glen Gulutzan has been very particular this year, saying that he prefers to have two power play units. He has not come off that stance, and it's unlikely he will next year. If Jamie Benn moves up with the first unit, however, maybe everyone could be happy?
- People keep talking about "want to" and "effort". That's not the problem. It's execution. The Sharks execution in the neutral zone tonight was great. The Stars had no room to operate. The Sharks always "recovered above the puck". There really wasn't any chance for the Stars to do much of anything past about midway through the game. They know how to shut a game down, and the Stars don't have enough talented players and depth scoring to break through at the moment.
- Stanley Cup or not, Antti Niemi is not a great goaltender. He can't handle the puck well to save his life. Pucks bounce off of him in odd ways. He allows goals like that Morrow goal. And yet it looks like the Sharks are going to the playoffs with him, and the Stars aren't with Lehtonen. Imagine if the two were switched.
- Early in the second period Mike Ribeiro made the exact same pass out of the Stars' corner that he did in Calgary, famously costing them a goal and changing that game. You wonder if the same attention gets paid to something like that in the film session if it doesn't result in a goal. Of course after tonight, paying attention to things like that is a moot concept.
- Mike Ribeiro's line had what Josh calls "easy minutes" tonight, starting in the offensive zone, kept away from the Thornton line... and they did little with it. The Stars needed their A-team to step up tonight and it didn't happen.
- 18,584. You did well tonight, Stars fans, to fill that building beyond capacity again. But like the last time (against Chicago) the result was heartbreaking.