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Avalanche Defeat Stars 5-2

Credit: Tim Heitman / Dallas Stars

Less than 24 hours after defeating the Arizona Coyotes, the Dallas Stars faced the Colorado Avalanche in what was one of the biggest games down the stretch of the season.  Central Division playoff seeding was on the line, and with the Avalanche, Stars, and Minnesota Wild just points apart, this had the potential to have a profound impact on one of the teams securing home ice for the playoffs as the regular season winds down.

The Avalanche have been riddled with injuries but are starting to get healthy, the Wild have been rolling without top forward Kirill Kaprizov, and the Stars have had inconsistent results over the past month. Establishing some momentum with a string of wins would be huge for Dallas with only seven games left – many against non-playoff teams.

Unfortunately, the Stars didn’t figure out how to get there tonight.

The first period started off strong for the Stars. They applied a lot of pressure in the first couple of minutes, creating some chances in the offensive zone. Immediately this game had a playoff feel to it from the physicality aspect, with the Stars recording 12 hits to Colorado’s 13. The Avalanche hadn’t gotten many quality chances until around the halfway mark when a Jamie Benn turnover led to a battle on the boards. Mikko Rantanen was able to get the puck free and made a soft pass to Nathan MacKinnon, who was left wide open right in front of the net. He was able to go high blocker side to beat Jake Oettinger.

Shortly after the MacKinnon goal, Avalanche defender Bowen Byram was called for holding against Roope Hintz. The power play was unproductive for the Stars, who couldn’t seem to get anything going. Just one shot on goal was recorded with the man advantage, coming courtesy of Jason Robertson. The Avalanche were able to gain some momentum after scoring the goal and killing off the penalty. Oettinger faced a few shots on goal but was able to get help from Jani Hakanpaa on one of the most dangerous looks when he swept a loose puck out of the crease to keep the Avalanche off the board again. Dallas ended the period on the power play from a boarding call on Rantanen.

The start of the second period didn’t look all that different from the first chance with the man advantage. With 15 seconds to spare, the Stars were able to move the puck into the offensive zone and recorded two shots on goal in quick succession. Shortly after, Hakanpaa was called for tripping to start what turned into a special teams-dominated middle frame.

Colorado was not able to create a lot of chances on their power play. Joel Kiviranta singlehandedly applied a lot of pressure, causing a turnover, and was able to steal the puck to burn some time. Less than a minute after the Stars killed a lethal Avalanche power play, Ryan Suter turned the puck over in the neutral zone, resulting in Logan O’Connor shooting the puck five-hole on Jake Oettinger on an off-balance shot as he was trying to get around Miro Heiskanen.  

For the next few minutes, the Stars floundered in their own zone, allowing five shots on goal before J.T. Compher was called for a broken stick penalty. The first power play unit was able to create some chances, but the second unit was the one to finally capitalize with a Tyler Seguin goal. Robertson took control of the play by slowing down and creeping toward the net until he saw an opportunity. Seguin snuck in behind Alexandar Georgiev ready for the back door tap-in for his 19th goal of the season.

The Stars found themselves on the power play again at the hands of Compher. However, the Avalanche penalty kill was relentless and kept the Stars from registering a shot on goal. To add salt to the wound, Dallas got a too many men penalty with a little over a minute remaining, one of those penalties that often happens in the second half of a back-to-back due to general fatigue. With less than 15 seconds left in the period, MacKinnon took a shot right off the faceoff, beating Oettinger again to make it 3-1.

The start of the third period was slow until Hakanpaa found himself in the penalty box for the second time of the night. Colorado was much more aggressive, recording three consecutive shots on goal. A lot of back and forth until the halfway point when Evgenii Dadanov battled hard behind the net and sent the puck to the front of the net to create a chance that Wyatt Johnston was able to put in the back of the net. The Stars appeared to cut their deficit in half, but the Avalanche challenged it for goaltender interference. After review, the refs determined that Suter pushed a player into the netminder and the goal was called back.

Stars head coach Pete DeBoer pulled Oettinger with a little over four minutes left in the period. The Stars only trail the Detroit Red Wings in six-on-five goals this season. After a turnover, the Stars found themselves fighting for the puck in their own zone when Avalanche forward (and former Stars prospect) Valeri Nichushkin put the empty-net dagger in, making the score 4-1. That goal gave Rantanen his third assist of the game.

One minute later, Byram was called for tripping against Max Domi. The Stars didn’t waste any time on that power play, and Robertson sniped a puck to the net for Joe Pavelski to deflect it right past Georgiev. Dallas called a timeout to give their top line a break and to get a game plan together. When play resumed, Rantanen applied the second empty net dagger, and the game ended at 5-2.

Overall, the Stars played well for facing a rested Colorado team on a back-to-back. With the Avalanche gaining two points, and with a game in hand on Dallas, they move back into second place. The Wild lost to the Vegas Golden Knights, moving both Colorado and Dallas just one point behind them for the Central Division lead.

The Stars will face the Nashville Predators, who find themselves three points out of the second Wild Card spot behind the Winnipeg Jets with a game in hand, on Monday night at the American Airlines Center. The Predators will be playing desperate hockey to claw their way into the playoff picture, and goaltender Juuse Saros has been single-handedly keeping them in games lately. Dallas better be ready for that intensity.

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