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Strong start wiped out by rough finish as Stars fall to Wild

In need of a big play late, Dallas instead yields Minnesota the winning goal with 27 seconds remaining

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

DALLAS -- Averages average out for a reason.

It's better to score first than allow the first goal.

It's better to have the puck more than to not have it.

It's better to get more power plays than you give up.

 

[READ MORE: Stars give up three unanswered goals in loss to Wild]

 

The Stars this season have been a bit of an outlier in a lot of ways, but in a good way. They have gotten behind, they have rallied to win. They have been outshot and out-possessed, they have played a smarter game that resulted in better scoring chances. They have handed out more power plays, but have killed them off and lived to tell about it.

Those are some of the reasons they are sitting comfortably in a playoff spot right now.

But on Friday, Dallas did so many things right … and still found a way to lose a 3-2 home game to the Minnesota Wild. The Stars had a 33-30 edge in shots on goal, and a 65-58 advantage in shot attempts. They earned six power-play chances while handing out two. They seemed to have every opportunity to beat a Minnesota team that played Thursday night in St. Paul.

Yet, when it came time to win the game, it was the Wild making the big plays.

Video: MIN@DAL: Bowness says Stars 'worked hard' in loss

"We worked pretty hard," said Stars interim coach Rick Bowness. "We had some really good looks that we didn't score on. (Minnesota goalie Devan) Dubnyk played great for them. He did his thing and they got a couple of fluky goals on us, it's as simple as that."

The irony is that a game like that is never simple.

It's filled with mistakes and second-guesses, and regrets. Dubnyk was great. He made several 10-bell stops, including a huge save on Radek Faksa in the third period with the game tied 2-2. Stars goalie Ben Bishop was not great. He allowed a weird goal on a scramble at the post in the second period and then gave up another odd-angle goal that should not have gone in -- his second such goal in two games.

On the game-winner, either Bishop or the defense could have come up with a big play, but neither did, and Minnesota won with 26.7 seconds remaining.

Roman Polak was involved in two goals and finished minus-2. Jamie Oleksiak also was on the ice at the time and also finished minus-2. You could use those plays to rationalize the loss, but it was just a strange night overall.

The Stars had allowed the first goal in eight straight games and in 12 of the past 14. They went 9-4-1 in those games, so it didn't seem that big a deal, right? But they entered the game with an 18-3-2 record when scoring first, so getting a lead -- a two-goal lead -- indicated a very good chance of victory.

So, what happened? Well, we can only speculate. My guess is the Stars are not yet comfortable playing as the favorite … with the lead ... with control. They haven't been playing that game, so they need to get better at it. They need to take control, they need to hold control, they need to impose their will.

They certainly can do that.

Video: DAL Recap: Pavelski, Gurianov score in loss to Wild

They were the aggressors early on, that's why they earned six power plays. They were playing with offensive confidence, that's why Joe Pavelski and Denis Gurianov both scored very nice goals. They were playing "the right way."

And as you ponder all of these averages and "what should happen," you can also look back at the history of players like Pavelski and Tyler Seguin and Corey Perry. Pavelski should be scoring power-play goals. It's what he does. He had 12 last year. Now he has six this year. He should be scoring more, because he has that ability.

Seguin has one power-play goal this season. He had nine last season. That should trend back to normal at some point. Seguin had a 9.9 percent shooting percentage last season. He's at 5.7 this season. 

That has to average out, right?

Well, you hope it does.                  

Perry set up Faksa for a great chance late in the game. He set up Gurianov for a goal against the Islanders on Tuesday and just shrugged when it was suggested he made a really nice play in that game. It's what he has done throughout his career, he said. He expects himself to make those plays.

And that's what this team wants to get to. It wants Pavelski and Seguin and Perry and Jamie Benn and John Klingberg to get closer to their expected production. It would like Hintz and Gurianov to continue to improve and raise the expectation level for their careers.

The Stars would love to see a little more of the offense that has, at times, looked pretty good in recent games.

Video: MIN@DAL: Cogliano on Stars' rough loss to Wild

But in doing so, everyone wants the players to be more comfortable, more in control, more consistent.

"Not good enough," said forward Andrew Cogliano. "Not good enough for the time of year against a team that's chasing you."

Basically, a Minnesota team desperate to climb back into the playoff picture showed more intensity and more poise during the important times of the game. The Wild had key players step up. The Wild had better goaltending. The Wild's penalty kill, which ranks last in the NHL, played above its head.

"You've got to win that game and get to overtime. They gained steam as the game went on and I don't think that's acceptable from us," Cogliano added. "We were fresh, and they're on a back-to-back. They earned the win in the third."

Now, the Stars will get a chance to do the same thing Saturday. They play the defending Stanley Cup champions in St. Louis, and they will be the tired team that had to fly in. They will be looking to do everything they did Friday, and then take it one more step forward.

Because it's smart to get the averages on your side, and it's good to win games in a traditional, sustainable manner. The Stars are 30-19-5 and six points up on a playoff spot, but they are still one slump away from a lot of pressure. They still are a team that gets some great scoring chances and doesn't capitalize. They still are a team trying to figure it out.

So they need to start with a lead and then learn how to protect that lead.

"That's how we want to start games.," Bowness said. "We had a great start tonight and a great first period, but we just didn't score. A fast start is the goal tomorrow night … find a way."

Join the Stars for Military Appreciation Night as they take on the Carolina Hurricanes at American Airlines Center on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. Get your tickets now!

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.

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