The Stars came up with too little, too late in a comeback attempt Tuesday against the Chicago Blackhawks.
And while they lost 4-2, the hope is they got a head start on Thursday's rematch at United Center.
They certainly have to start winning games like this. Nashville and Chicago won on Tuesday, so now the Predators sit at 21-18-1 for 43 points (.537), Chicago is 18-17-5 for 41 points (.512), and Dallas is 13-14-10 for 36 points (.486). The Stars are still in the mix, but they can't continue to squander opportunities with just 19 games remaining in the season.
"It's pretty simple from my standpoint: You're not getting in the playoffs with 36 points, you're not," said assistant coach John Stevens, who was standing in for head coach Rick Bowness, who is quarantining in COVID protocol. "So we can sit here and hope that teams lose, but until we start helping ourselves, we're not going to get where we want to be. The other teams can do what they want, we have to take care of our own business."
That's maybe the most disappointing thing about Tuesday. The Stars knew they needed this game, and they still had a messy start. Chicago scored 65 seconds in, and Dallas was able to challenge the goal for offside and get it disallowed. Yet despite that boost and wakeup call, Chicago scored 12 minutes into the game and then built a 3-0 lead before the Stars were able to mount a bit of a comeback in the third period.
Video: Stevens: 'We have to take care of our own business'
"We're at a point now where we've got to start the game on time, and that's everyone," said Andrew Cogliano, whose line was on the ice for four of the goals (two for and two against), as well as the goal that was disallowed. "We were prepared, we know the game plan, and there's no surprise with Chicago. We know exactly what they want to do. We know how to beat them, and we know how to lose against them, and that's on the guys in the room. The first period was unacceptable."
The Stars should have received a boost from the offside challenge. Video coaches Kelly Forbes and Matt Rodell had to make a tough call on a tricky play, and they knew the risk that if they were wrong -- Chicago would have a 1-0 lead and a power play. Still, they were right on the challenge, and that should have been a turning point.
"I thought (goalie) Jake Oettinger was our best player, and our second-best player was Kelly Forbes," Stevens said. "I thought that was a huge call early in the game. We were not very good to start, a little sleepy to start the game. We had a bad line change to give up the goal, and he made the call, and he made the right call."
But the Blackhawks followed the rules the rest of the way. Patrick Kane had a goal and an assist, Alex Debrincat had a goal an assist, and Kirby Dach had a goal. That line finished with nine shots on goal and dominated the game.
"We just played right into it," Cogliano said of the Blackhawks' style of play. "It seems like we're making the wrong play at the wrong time, and that's exactly what they want. The first goal was just a bad play by me, a bonehead play that gives their best line a two-on-one. Then the other one, we have a good shift and we get greedy and we give them another 2-on-1, so obviously we weren't doing the right thing at the right time."
Video: DAL Recap: Cogliano, Faksa score in 4-2 road loss
The hope is they learned, though. Fighting to come back from a 3-0 deficit, Dallas trailed in shots on goal 28-27 and actually had an advantage in shot attempts at 58-48 while getting goals from Cogliano and Radek Faksa. It was too little, too late, but it might set a tone for Thursday's game.
"The third period we played more on our toes," Stevens said. "I think it's clear to us how we need to play. As disappointing as this is, this group has this ability to find ways back into games. There's no consolation prize for getting no points, but I think it's the reflection of the character in the room that we did find a way back into the game and at least gave us a chance to catch up at the end."
Now, they need to start on time and get two points on Thursday.
"We've got to do a better job next game of managing the puck and playing our style," said forward Blake Comeau. "We don't have a choice. We just have to approach it on one game at a time. I've been on teams where it came down to the last game of the season, and whoever won the game got into the playoffs.
"Whatever it takes us, I know all of the guys are going to keep grinding away."
at Blackhawks; Thursday 7 p.m. CT
United Center, Chicago
TV: Bally Sports Southwest Plus
Radio: The Ticket 96.7-FM, 1310-AM
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.
Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika, and listen to his podcast.