With every possible point remaining between now and the end of the season being an important one, the Stars' collapse on Sunday could end up being a disastrous one.
Despite leading 2-0 early in the second period, the Stars conceded three straight goals, the dagger of which came from Sean Bergenheim with only 4:31 left in the third period, as the Panthers skated away with a 3-2 victory.
In the end Dallas outshot Florida by a total of 37-24, but the numbers are misleading, as the Stars looked completely drained both mentally and physically for large stretches. They seemed every bit a team that was playing on the second night of a back-to-back and at the conclusion of a five-game road trip.
The good news is that with four games remaining in the regular season the Stars still hold onto the 8th and final playoff spot in the West with a slim one point lead over the Phoenix Coyotes. However, with every point now being so crucial, that the team allowed two to slip away from them against the NHL's 29th best team is a major disappointment.
If the path to the finish line looked bumpy before, it's only going to get a lot bumpier now.
So, does anyone else think that Jamie Benn really wants to make the playoffs?
After opening the scoring just 40 seconds into the game against Tampa Bay Benn did it again against the Panthers, scoring 45 seconds in on a chippy breakaway after fighting past both Florida defencemen. Benn now has seven goals within the first minute of a game this season, tops in the NHL.
Powerplays, much like they have for the past few games, took a major role in the narrative, as the Stars were handed four man-advantages in the first, the second of which being a double minor for high-sticking against Sean Bergenhiem that ended the frame, but still failed to capitalize. Seguin came the closet, hammering a slapshot off the post.
The Stars led the Panthers 12-6 in shots after one.
The Stars couldn't have asked for a better start to the second period. The rest of that 20 minutes...not so much.
One again, less than a minute into the period, Dallas struck. Tyler Seguin fired a shot from the high slot that took a fortunate bounce and ended up behind Roberto Luongo. Despite some confusion about who's stick touched the puck last, the goal was finally confirmed to be Seguin's.
However, things then started to turn south. Erik Gudbranson's shot from the blueline deflected past Lehtonen and in at 8:20, and then Brandon Pirri scored from the slot at 19:03 to tie things up at the two after some long minutes of Panthers offensive pressure..
The Stars, having played a lot of important hockey as of late, looked much slower than normal and struggled heavily to move the puck up the ice and counter the Florida forecheck.
16-9. Those were the shots in favour of the Stars in the third period.
Yet the Panthers were the team that had the only shot that mattered, the lone goal, as Bergenheim found some space in the slot and redirected a Colby Robak shot into the back of the net.
The game almost had a different fate, as Benn came within inches of taking a 3-2 lead for the Stars only moments beforehand, but his shot caught only the faintest bit of Luongo's gear and sailed past the open net and out of the crease.
Dallas came back with some pressure in the dying minutes, but by that point it was too little, too late.
- It's safe to say that the Stars got complacent with their opponents. Up 2-0 and feeling tired, the Stars let their foot off the gas pedal knowing that they were only playing a bottom-tier Panthers, but that turned out to be their biggest mistake. You might be able to get away with that sort of thing in the middle of the season, but certainly not at this time of year
- The duo of Brenden Dillon and Jordie Benn looked the most fatigued in the game. They labored to move their feet and had trouble getting their transition game going. Both players are playing roughly 20 minutes per night in their first full, normal length seasons in the NHL, and that kind of wear and tear takes some getting used to.
- Erik Cole is back with the team, but still looks like he's not at 100%. He had trouble handling the puck in the neutral zone and, aside from a nice breakaway chance, didn't generate much offensively. He finished with a -2 rating.
- The powerplay finally scored, but still needed to cash in more than it did, especially as the Stars had a man advantage with only three minutes remaining. On the bright side, moving Cole out, Tyler Seguin down to the wing and inserting Trevor Daley onto the point seemed to be a positive change. It's something that has to connect again in the remaining games. It has to.
- Just...ouch. Losing to the Panthers, at this time of year and after leading 2-0, hurts a lot. There's no other way around it. Hopefully that was the team's last gaffe of the season, because the margin for error now becomes razor-thin.