DALLAS -- The opportunities were there for the Dallas Stars on Tuesday night, but the finish wasn’t. And now they are perilously close to being finished in the Western Conference playoff race after a 5-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks at American Airlines Center.
“It stings,” said Stars captain Brenden Morrow. “You’d like to be able to control your own fate. We had that tonight, we let it go and now we are going to need a lot of help.”
The loss left the Stars three points behind the eighth place Sharks, four points behind seventh place Phoenix and four points behind Pacific Division leading Los Angeles with two games remaining. The Stars will need to win both games and hope for at least one of those teams to falter.
“It’s going to be tough, but we just can’t quit,” said Morrow. “Stranger things have happened. We are going to need a lot of help, some people to do us some favors. “
The Stars, who have lost seven of their last ten games, didn’t do themselves any favors Tuesday night. They missed on a 57 second five-on-three power play with the game tied 1-1. San Jose scored the game-winning goal on the power play.
“They got their third goal on the power play, and that can be a big difference in the hockey game,” said Stars defenseman Stephane Robidas. “We score on the five-on-three, and we’ve got a five-on-four after that and we get another one, maybe it’s a different game. But we didn’t.”
After going up 2-1 in the game in the second period, they allowed the Sharks to tie the game just 32 seconds later.
“It’s always the shift right after a goal you need a good shift, and we just didn’t get it,” said Stars coach Glen Gulutzan. “It got them right back in the game. We had no chance to build off that momentum of that goal.”
The Stars had a great chance to tie the game with a little more than five minutes, but Jamie Benn’s breakaway bid was turned away by Sharks goalie Antti Niemi. About 30 seconds later the Sharks scored to extend their lead to 4-2.
“We got to spring Jamie on a breakaway, but we were already in trouble at that point,” said Gulutzan. “It would have been nice, but there were a few things throughout the game that we could have done better.”
The Stars had the momentum early in the game, dominating play outshooting the Sharks 8-1 midway through the first period. But the Sharks got on the board 12:09 into the game when Daniel Winnik put a rebound past Kari Lehtonen, who appeared to be interfered with just before the puck went into the net.
The Stars answered late in the period when Brenden Morrow came out from behind the goal line and beat Niemi with a sharp angle backhand shot at the 17:47 mark.
The Stars had a big chance to take the lead when they had 57 seconds of five-on- three power play time that started late in the first and had 38 seconds remaining when the second period began. But they couldn’t get a shot on net, and then failed to take advantage of the remaining five-on-four time.
“We just didn’t execute,” said Gulutzan.
“About two weeks ago we were talking about those. We call them bump-up goals,” said Sharks coach Todd McLellan. “Right after you get scored on when you do, then you go out, win a draw, play in the other team’s end and get a big goal.”
The Sharks took the lead with a power play goal with 2:36 left in the second. Martin Havlat centered the puck from the right boards and Logan Couture redirected it past Lehtonen to make it a 3-2 game.
The Stars had a great chance to tie with just over five minutes remaining when Benn got a breakaway, but his backhand bid was stopped by Niemi.
“Huge, if he doesn’t make that it’s a different game,” said Sharks center Joe Thornton. “It’s a set play. We’ve seen him do it in the past. We just kind of fell asleep. He’s a world-class goalie and he makes that save. Saved our bacon again tonight.”
About 30 seconds later, Thornton scored off a wrist shot from the right circle to make it a 4-2 San Jose lead with 4:50 remaining in the game. Ryane Clowe added an empty net goal to make it a 5-2 final and give the Sharks the sweep of a crucial home-and-home series with the Stars.
“The two games against Dallas were the two biggest games of the year,” said McLellan. “We’re in a playoff series, we talked about that. When you can win back-to-back games in a playoff series – one at home and one on the road – you usually set yourself up pretty well. Very big, considering that four points went into our account and none went into theirs.”
And now the Stars will move onto play at Nashville, where they’ll need a win to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.
“You have to move forward and now we need help,” said Gulutzan. “You just start preparing and get ready for Nashville. It’s business as usual. There’s no other way to look at it. It’s business as usual. We’ve got to go win a game.”
*The Sharks won five of six games against the Stars this season. Not including the goal awarded for the shootout win, the Sharks outscored the Stars 25-10 in the season series.
*The Stars have two games remaining in the regular season. They play at Nashville Thursday and host St. Louis Saturday.
*The Stars are 0-11 on the power play over their last four games and 1-21 (4.8%) on the PP over the last seven games.
*The Stars have allowed six power play goals over the last five games and are 17-23 (73.9%) on the penalty kill during that stretch.
*Stars RW Radek Dvorak missed his fifth straight game with an ankle injury.
*Tuesday’s attendance was 18,584, a sellout.