The Stars' penalty kill was a microcosm of the season Wednesday night.
Dallas was hanging on in a 1-1 game midway through the second period when it had to kill its third penalty of the night at Amalie Arena. Shots went at rookie goalie Jake Oettinger from Tampa Bay's dangerous power play, but one was blocked by Radek Faksa, then another by Esa Lindell, then a third by Andrej Sekera. Both Lindell and Sekera were seriously hobbled, but they stayed on the ice, fought through pain and eventually kept the game tied with a tremendous shorthanded sequence.
It was a heroic slice of just how much has gone into this Stars season.
"That's exactly what we are," coach Rick Bowness said. "That's an embodiment of what the Dallas Stars are. We work our butts off, we do everything we can. You dive in front of shots, you block them and you're hurt, and you're still willing to dive in front of [another]. The commitment to this team from our players has been fantastic."
Video: Bowness on playoff hopes: 'We're still in the hunt'
Sadly, the rest of the game was also a microcosm of the season. Dallas had three giveaways that led directly to Tampa Bay goals in a 6-2 loss. Minutes after the amazing kill, Dallas took another penalty and allowed a power-play goal against. Then, Lindell had his pocket picked by Brayden Point, who converted with 13.8 seconds remaining in the second period for a 3-1 lead.
It was a painful reminder of what the Stars have done poorly this season.
Video: Lindell: 'Everyone is leaving it out there'
The four power plays Dallas allowed were the result of too many men on the ice, holding the stick by Blake Comeau, delay of game by Denis Gurianov and a high stick by Jamie Benn. Each was avoidable, all built to break down a tired team that had to defend way more than it should have.
On the first four goals against, Miro Heiskanen had a giveaway on the first, Lindell had a giveaway on the third, and Roope Hintz had a giveaway when he had a clean chance to get a clear on the crucial fourth tally. The last play came less than a minute after Andrej Sekera had cut the Tampa Bay lead to 3-2 in the third period.
Video: DAL@TBL: Sekera beats Vasilevskiy with point shot
"When you're playing a team like this team, you can't give them much and you can't give them goals," Bowness said. "The fourth goal we had total control of the puck and we don't get it out. I'm just disappointed that three of those goals were when we had control of the puck. We had complete momentum, lots of energy, lots of life, and then we give them the fourth goal. It's unfortunate."
But that's how much of the season has been for the Stars. They haven't made the big play at the right time. They've lost 14 times in shootouts or overtime. They haven't been able to beat the best teams in the Central Division. Tampa Bay is now 6-1-0 against the Stars with the final game in the eight-game series on Friday. That's not the match-up you expected between two teams that battled in the Stanley Cup Final last season.
You also didn't expect Ben Bishop to miss the entire season after knee surgery and Alexander Radulov to miss all but 11 games because of a core injury. You didn't expect several players to deal with nagging injuries and pain. Jason Dickinson came back from missing a game on Wednesday, Denis Gurianov fought through a nagging injury. Hintz played despite a lower-body injury that likely will require surgery when the season is over.
"Everybody is banged up," Dickinson said of his return. "I thought I could be a little stability for the fourth line, take some of the pressure off the top six and give them a break every now and then."
Video: Dickinson on the team's recent struggles
As for what he saw on that memorable penalty kill? "Esa, Sekky, they had some blocks there," Dickinson said. "That's some desperation, some second effort. Guys are battling. We want to play, we want to win, nobody is going to quit. It doesn't matter how sore or tired they are, everybody is going to give everything they've got."
The Stars received a reprieve on Wednesday. Columbus came up with a 4-2 win over Nashville, so the Stars (21-18-14, 56 points) haven't been eliminated from the playoffs. That said, they need to get five or six points out of the final three games while the Predators (29-23-2, 60 points) get zero or one.
That means they need to beat the Lightning Friday.
"We're fine," Bowness said when asked to give the temperature of his team. "We're very frustrated. Guys were really upset at the end of the game because they know we've played better than that. But you put that aside. We talked after the game. `Okay, we're still in it. We've got a game Friday night, that's our game in hand, we have to win it.'"
Because for all the sadness of this past 0-3-2 slump, there is optimism in the return of Tyler Seguin. The speedy forward scored his second goal in two games and logged 18 minutes of ice time Wednesday.
Video: DAL@TBL: Seguin buries backdoor feed from Pavelski
"He finds himself in a lot of good areas," said Joe Pavelski, who assisted on Seguin's goal. "He supports it, he skates well and, obviously, he's got good hands on him. His timing will keep improving. He's been a boost for us for sure."
So much of a boost that maybe the team can dream of winning a game or two here.
Video: 'We've got to get a win and go from there'
"Seggy is skating great out there," Bowness said. "You know what he's doing? He's showing us how much we've missed him this whole year. Had we had him all year, we're not sitting here where we are. There's no question. He's that big of an impact on our team."
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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.