The Dallas Stars limped to the end of an unproductive five-game road trip in Raleigh. Coming off a 6-0 shellacking by the best team in the league, they were facing arguably the hottest team in the league. What could go wrong?
As it turns out, the usual. The Stars, notably bad at coming back from an early deficit, gave up two goals to the Carolina Hurricanes in the first half of the first period. After that, it was pretty much a slog to nowhere, even though it was sporadically fun to watch.
In search of depth scoring, the Stars brought in AHL-leading scorer Joel L’Esperance in his NHL debut. The Stars produced plenty of offense – but no goals. It was a little like this....
The game started inauspiciously with a scary moment for Andrew Cogliano, who blocked a shot with his face and had to skate off. The Canes got off two shots before the Stars had quite gotten their feet under them, and a bad change gave Lucas Wallmark a breakaway on Anton Khudobin. Dobby robbed him blind on the backhand, which seemed to wake up the Victory Green gang. They quickly matched the Canes’ shot total and started looking more alive.
But the Canes didn’t have to wait much longer to open the scoring; a minute later, Justin Williams deposited the puck on a breakaway with Sebastian Aho. And it only took two and a half minutes for Brock McGinn to make it 2-0 off a Justin Faulk assist.
The Stars responded with their first sustained attack – a flurry of shots coming from John Klingberg, Jason Spezza, Roman Polak and Jamie Benn as Petr Mrazek struggled to maintain control of his stick.
The Stars eventually turned this into the first penalty of the game, as Brett Pesce sat two minutes for holding on Alexander Radulov. L’Esperance, who has 11 power-play goals in the AHL this season, came out on the second unit, but the Stars couldn’t convert on the man advantage.
The Stars won faceoff after faceoff throughout the period – 81% in all – but they struggled to convert those wins into goals, despite getting some high-danger chances. Roope Hintz flew up the middle for an excellent look late in the period, but was denied by Mrazek, who stopped 15 shots in the first. Cogliano nearly caught him close in just before the two-minute mark, but Mrazek made a scrambling save to keep the Stars at null.
On a positive note, the team began to find their feet by mid-period, seeming to gain energy from the power play and carry it into the last 10 minutes.
End of period: Stars – 15 shots / Canes – 8 shots
The Stars picked up where they left off, taking a handful of close chances in the first half of the period. The top pair showed up in a big way, with John Klingberg and Esa Lindell both taking and blocking shots.
It looked as if Tyler Seguin would finally break the Stars’ goose egg with a faceoff win followed by a lightning-fast tip-in near the 11-minute mark, but Mrazek denied even him. So it was odd yet fitting that Mrazek got called for tripping Seguin moments later, a penalty served by Williams.
Cogs came thisclose to depositing the puck in the last seconds of the power play, but the special teams failed to convert again. Mrazek was carrying Carolina’s entire weight by that time – the Canes hadn’t taken a shot on goal since five minutes into the period and were looking slack and slow as the Stars continued to push for chances.
Unfortunately, none of those chances paid off, but by the end of the period it had begun to look like a matter of when, not if.
End of period: Stars – 11 shots (26 total) / Canes – 4 shots (12 total)
The Canes seemed to shake off whatever was troubling them in the second period. They came out moving their feet, and Seabass got an excellent chance in the first minute, turned aside by Dobby.
But soon both teams started looking tired, even as they matched each other shot for shot. It was perhaps the final clue that this was That Kind of Night when a point-blank Radek Faksa wrister that Mrazek never saw bounced off him anyway.
Khudobin made some heroic saves of his own as the Canes started firing away, but it went for naught when Rads took an ill-timed penalty late in the third. On the power play, Dougie Hamilton produced a pass from behind the net that Michael Ferland buried to make it 3-0.
At this point, the only real suspense was in wondering what the Canes would do for a Storm Surge celly. And with Khudobin unable to make it to the bench for an empty-net opportunity, the game ended.
As of this writing, the Stars still hold the first wild-card spot in the West. We’ll soon find out if they can keep it. They head home to meet the Nashville Predators on Tuesday.
End of period: Stars – 7 shots (33 total) / Canes – 15 shots (27 total)