For a few tantalizing seconds, Mike Ribeiro thought he'd scored the tying goal. With his team trailing 2-1 and 2:33 showing on the scoreboard clock, Ribeiro's shot from close range trickled through the crease, past goaltender Roberto Luongo and skittered toward the back of the net.Former Stars defenseman Willie Mitchell swept the puck off the goal line, but did he do so in time? Referees Wes McCauley and Brad Watson couldn't tell, so they went to replay.
Everyone in the AAC held their breath. The Stars' season hung in the balance.
Then came the bad news: no goal, by inches.
"There were some tense moments there where you think it's in the net," Stars center Stu Barnes said. "But the replay showed that it wasn't."
"You hope that's a bounce you're going to get to turn this thing around for us," Stars captain Brenden Morrow added. "But it didn't go in and we had to regroup."
Said Ribeiro: "It was almost. It was close, but not there, not enough."
Now the Stars find themselves in a three-games-to-one hole, with Game 5 Thursday night in Vancouver.
The series of near-misses continues for the Stars.
They got another strong effort out of goaltender Marty Turco, who stopped 27 of 29 shots.
"Marty gave us another opportunity to win," Morrow said. "We could have been down 4-0 or 5-0 if he didn't play the way he did over the first two and a half periods." The final score was a slender 2-1 for the sixth time in the eight meetings with the Canucks this season (including four 2-1 finals in the regular season). Dallas came back to tie the game at 1 on Darryl Sydor's goal at 12:29 of the final period.
But once again the Stars didn't have enough offensive firepower to crack Luongo and his tight-checking teammates.
"We needed one more play to get us over the top," Stars coach Dave Tippett said.
The scoreless first period was dominated by special teams, with the Stars having the best scoring opportunity with 1:55 worth of 5-on-3. The Stars had been one of the league's best 5-on-3 teams during the regular season, converting 13 goals with the two-man edge, tied for third in the NHL. But Dallas only had two shots during Tuesday night's two-man advantage and three shots on two other first-period power plays.
"It was a big momentum swing," Morrow said. "I don't think we got a real good look at the net. We've got to find a way. No excuses anymore. We have to be a desperate hockey team."
The Stars were 0-for-6 on the power play and are 2-for-25 in the series. Dallas was seventh in the league on the power play during the regular season, converting at a clip of 18.5 percent, so the Stars know they're capable of capitalizing with the man advantage. But time is running out on their season.
Turco came up with one of the saves of the series late in the first period when he stuck out his right pad to rob Trevor Linden from short range during a Vancouver power play.
But the Stars lacked fire in the first period. Tippett thought the intensity was there, but both teams were nervous. "I thought the play was jittery on both sides," Tippett said. "Both sides looked like they were waiting to see what was going to happen."
Dallas turned up the heat in the second period and came close to scoring in the final minute of the period during a power play. But Luongo sprawled to the ice and made big stops on Jeff Halpern and Niklas Hagman to keep it scoreless.
The Stars know close isn't good enough. They need a breakthrough. Maybe a return to the road will cause them to play with more early desperation. Dallas split the first two games of the playoff series in Vancouver, and the defeat came in quadruple overtime.
"You have to be ready right from the start," Sydor said. "It's do or die. We're down 3-1, but we've played two strong games in Vancouver. All we have to worry about is winning one game."