'Tough one to swallow'

The Detroit Red Wings opened the door to the playoffs for the Dallas Stars Sunday afternoon by knocking off the Chicago Blackhawks in regulation. Sunday evening the Minnesota Wild slammed that door shut, beating the Stars 5-3 to keep them out of the postseason for a third consecutive year.

“It’s a tough one to swallow right now,” said Stars captain Brenden Morrow.

“We just didn’t get it done,” said Stars coach Marc Crawford. “It wasn’t for a lack of effort. They tried their tails off tonight.”

After the Detroit win in Chicago, the Stars, who came into the game riding a four-game winning streak, needed to beat the Wild in regulation or overtime to secure the eighth seed in the Western Conference and make it to the postseason for the first time since 2007-08.

“It was up to us,” said defenseman Stephane Robidas. “It was up to the players in his dressing room to win that game and we just couldn’t close the deal.”

Said Stars center Brad Richards: “We put too much pressure on ourselves to be perfect at the end. We had no room for error and we handled it pretty well, I thought. We were written off many times and the ultimate thing is we win today and were in, and we didn’t do it.”

The Wild, who came into the game with just three wins in their last 14 contests, started strong in the game and took a 1-0 lead on a goal by Brad Staubitz. The Stars bounced back with goals by Richards and a power play goal by Morrow to take a 2-1 lead after the first 20 minutes. But Minnesota controlled the second period, getting a power play goal from Jared Spurgeon and an even strength tally from Colton Gillies to build a 3-2 lead. The Stars bounced back to tie late in the second, getting a five-on-three power play goal from Alex Goligoski to tie the game at 3-3.

But the Wild got what would prove to be the game-winner with just over 13 minutes remaining in regulation, when ex-Star Antti Miettinen went to the front of the net, took a pass from Andrew Brunette and put the puck into the open side of the net.

“Being on the ice for that goal and letting the guy come backdoor behind me, that’s something that is going to be in the back of my mind the whole summer,” said Morrow.

The Stars pulled goalie Kari Lehtonen with just over 1:20 remaining, but couldn’t tie the game and Pierre-Marc Bouchard sealed the win with an empty net goal with 12.1 seconds remaining.

It capped an up and down season for the Stars, who in January were leading the Pacific Division and had a ten point lead over the ninth place position in the conference. But two slides – one that saw them go 2-10-1 and another where they went 1-5-3 – were key in them falling out of a playoff spot and having to scramble to try to get back in.

“There are going to be some what ifs down the stretch on, our homestand or early in the season. You are going to question yourself and what you could have done,” said Morrow. “It’s been a couple years of this. Keep saying the same thing. We’re going to use it as motivation. Go back, prepare and get ready for another grind.”

The Stars did finish the season with 95 points, tying the mark for most ever by a non-playoff team. Colorado also missed the playoffs with 95 points in 2006-07.

“I am really proud of these guys. They just battled their tails off and they kept giving forth the effort,” said Crawford. “You look at it, coming down the stretch, nobody gave us much of a chance. We had to play seven of our last nine on the road. We played six games in the last nine days to end the season. And they still kept giving effort and effort and effort with all the injuries and everything that we have. It’s really disappointing, it’s heartbreaking that we didn’t get it completed. It was there for us. On the other side of it, I am really proud of the way the guys battled. They battled their tails off.”