Video: Hitchcock reacts to home loss
1. Variations on a theme
Coming home from a road trip that saw the Stars go 0-4-2 and fail to capitalize on opportunities in each game in the third period to secure wins and/or points, this game was more of the same but magnified a hundredfold because of its importance.
And, not unlike the games on the ill-fated road trip, the Stars were very good for long stretches of Friday's game. They got an early goal from Esa Lindell after some hard work from the Stars' fourth line. And they got a terrific shorthanded effort from captain Jamie Benn late in the second period to stake themselves to a rare two-goal lead heading into the third.
But sloppy play, including giving up a shorthanded goal to the Bruins that tied the game at 2-2 just shy of the midpoint of the third period, set the stage for one of the most gut-wrenching losses of the season.
"I didn't think we were very good in our own end with the puck," a subdued Stars head coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We had all kinds of opportunities on the first and third goal to get it out, and it really started with icings. We iced it and ended up getting hemmed in. But we had the puck on our stick and fumbled it. And then, we over-committed to the board play on the winning goal."
Video: BOS@DAL: Benn finishes nifty move for SHG
2. The captain brings it
If you look beyond the numbers, which are impressive enough, there have been moments in recent weeks where you sense that the game of hockey has been a struggle for Benn.
Ill-advised penalties, shots going awry -- in general, just not being the dominant kind of player that Benn had shown himself to be in recent years. But starting with the team's 4-3 loss to Washington that capped off a desultory 0-4-2 road trip to drop them out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference, Benn has looked much more like the former scoring champ and overall beast that the team needs.
He scored a terrific, unassisted goal to tie the game at three in Washington, and then, late in the second period Friday and the Stars nursing a 1-0 lead, while killing the team's third minor of the period, Benn took advantage of a stumbling Matt Grzelcyk and then broke in on Boston netminder Tuukka Rask. He changed hands and ultimately slipped the puck between Rask's pads for a 2-0 Dallas lead with 38 seconds left.
It should have been enough. And it should have allowed a narrative wherein the prospect of the captain helping to lead his mates into an inspired late-season charge to the playoffs.
Instead, Benn was on the ice for all three Boston goals in the third period, including the killer in the waning seconds when the Stars broke down defensively, allowing Brad Marchand to find David Pastrnak sweeping across the front of the net to steal the victory.
"I don't know. It's a tough one, obviously," said Benn, who has points in six straight games. "Giving up three goals in the third and (a) two-goal lead, it's disappointing right now."
Video: BOS@DAL: Lehtonen slides across to stone Pastrnak
3. Lehtonen so close, yet so far
For much of the game, it looked like netminder Kari Lehtonen would be the difference in helping the Stars to a victory over a very good Boston team for the second time this season. But, like so much of this night, all of the storylines and ideas changed on a dime in the third.
Lehtonen was especially sharp in the second when Boston ripped 16 shots at the Dallas net. But Lehtonen turned all of them aside, including difficult stops on Pastrnak twice and David Krejci multiple times after stopping all 10 shots he faced in the first period.
But in the third period, Lehtonen allowed three goals on 10 shots and, once again, was just enough off that it cost the Stars.
On the Bruins' first goal, for instance, just 1:17 into the third period, Lehtonen was past the top of the crease challenging Pastrnak, but he got tangled up with Marchand and Pastrnak's shot glanced off Marchand into the goal, even though Lehtonen couldn't get his right arm free of Marchand's stick.
The Stars netminder said afterward that officials told him it was accidental interference.
"It's one of those (that) sometimes they call it when I'm outside and their guy bumps into me, sometimes they don't," Lehtonen said. "I don't even know what the ruling right now is. I was outside from the crease. He (the referee) came to tell me it was interference, but it was accidental, so it's just -- that's it."
Hitchcock said they looked at a variety of different views and didn't believe there was goaltender interference.
The bottom line is that -- as has often been the case during this stretch of play where the Stars have gone 2-6-4 and fallen out of the playoff grid -- they have been second-best at a variety of game elements, including goaltending.
While Lehtonen surrendered three goals in the third, Rask stopped all 12 shots and 40 shots altogether.
"It's hard right now. ... We need a lot of time to think about what just happened here, then get ready to go again and that's the name of the game: just need to keep working," Lehtonen said.
Video: Stars drop 7th straight
4. Can't seize the moment
The Bruins that took the ice Friday were mightily banged up, missing, among others, Zdeno Chara, Charlie McAvoy, Rick Nash, Patrice Bergeron, Jake DeBrusk, Torey Krug and David Backes. But they had, nonetheless, gone 8-2-2 in their last 12 games and were pushing Tampa Bay atop the Atlantic Division.
In short, in the face of injuries to a bevy of important elements, they have found a way to keep moving up the standings.
The same cannot be said of a Stars team that is also dealing with injuries to key components, including starting netminder Ben Bishop, but can't find ways to overcome.
"What can I say? This one is a real burner and we've got to figure (it) out. We've got 48 hours to get ready to play again," Hitchcock said. "We've got to figure (it) out, but quite frankly, we've got to be a lot better with the puck under pressure when the game's on the line.
"We made too many errors with the puck and it cost us. And sure, we had lots of effort and we had everything else that we've been having, but execution-wise, we made some mistakes in the third period and we paid for them -- bottom line."
As difficult as it is going to be to move on from this one, the Stars will be back on the ice Sunday night at home when the Vancouver Canucks come to town.
"How many games have we played? Seventy-five? I think the work has been there every game," said defenseman Stephen Johns, who had a strong game on both sides of the puck. "And that's tough losing with this group of guys. We're not out of this yet. We've got to get back to work (Saturday), and play again on Sunday."
Video: The Captain speaks following tough loss
5. What does this result mean?
Not to put too fine a point on the proceedings, but the Stars needed desperately to win this game. At the very, very least, they needed to get at least a single point.
Neither of those things happened, and so, with seven games remaining -- three at home and four on the road -- the Stars are stalled at 84 points and trail eighth-place Colorado by four points, and the Avs have a game in hand. The Stars also have to now jump over St. Louis, currently in ninth place in the Western Conference with 87 points and also a game in hand.
"We've got seven more games that we can win, so we're going to stick with it and try and win all seven, but take it a game at a time," Benn said.
It's no longer a stretch to suggest that winning out may be the only path to the postseason at this point for the Stars.
This story was not subject to approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.
Scott Burnside is a senior digital correspondent for DallasStars.com. You can follow him on Twitter @OvertimeScottB, and listen to his podcast.