The Dallas Stars had a chance to put a little distance between themselves and the Phoenix Coyotes in the race for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference Thursday night but couldn’t take advantage of the opportunity, falling 4-1 to the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh.
“All that matters is the next one. We move on from here,” said Stars defenseman Trevor Daley. “[Coach Lindy [Ruff] came in and talked about this one and that’s the end of it. We move on to the next one and get ready for that one.”
The Stars, who play at Tampa Bay on Saturday, still hold the final wild card playoff spot in the Western Conference. They are tied with the Coyotes at 85 points, but still have one game in hand and they hold the regulation/overtime wins tiebreaker.
Thursday’s loss snapped a three-game winning streak for the Stars and was just their second in the last seven games (5-2-0).
They had their chances Thursday night, especially early in the game, but some stellar saves by Carolina goaltender Anton Khudobin kept it a scoreless game going into the second period, where the Hurricanes scored a fluke goal and then struck twice on the power play to build a 3-0 lead that put them in control the rest of the night.
“I felt we didn’t react the right way when we got scored on,” said Daley. “You get scored on, you want to go back and try to push the pace a little bit and get it back. I felt that we sat back too much.”
“I thought the fact we didn’t take advantage of a couple real good chances [was the turning point]. I thought that Khudobin made a couple real good saves that kept the game where it was at,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “Obviously they got a break on the [first] goal but you get breaks on goals. You see strange ones go in. That might have been one of the stranger ones that went in against us, but what I didn’t like, I didn’t like the fact we weren’t able to kill off a couple penalties.”
Khudobin made 13 saves in the first period, including superb ones on Tyler Seguin and Dustin Jeffrey in the first four minutes of the game. There were a few more after that to keep it a scoreless game going into the first intermission.
The Hurricanes then rattled off three goals, including two on the power play, in a 4:30 span of the second period to build a 3-0 lead in the game. A shot from defenseman John-Michael Liles deflected off Eric Staal and then went high up in the air and dropped behind Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen to give Carolina a 1-0 lead 2:30 into the period.
“It’s a weird goal but we take a couple penalties and they score back-to-back on power plays,” said Stars defenseman Alex Goligoski. “Any time that happens, it’s not a good thing, so we got kind of behind the eight ball there. “
Just 16 seconds after that first goal, the Hurricanes went on a power play when Stars defenseman Patrik Nemeth took a delay of game penalty for putting the puck over the glass, and they cashed in when Justin Faulk scored off a point shot to make it a 2-0 game at the 4:08 mark.
Nemeth went to the box two minutes later for hooking and Liles scored off a shot from the point to give Carolina a 3-0 lead at 7:05 of the second.
Shortly after that goal, Ruff called a timeout, put Tim Thomas in net for Lehtonen and addressed the team.
“It was stick with it, get our feet moving,” Daley said of Ruff’s message during the timeout. “We stopped moving our feet and the D weren’t jumping up on the play. We got away from what we’ve been doing lately, so he just reiterated it and wanted us to get back to it.”
The Stars finally broke through on Khudobin a short time later when Seguin took a pass from Valeri Nichushkin, broke in on net and roofed a shot to cut Carolina’s lead to 3-1 at 9:44 of the second.
The Stars went on a power play late in the second that carried over into the third, but could not cash in. Khudobin came up with a big stop on a point blank chance by Chiasson.
“I thought we could have been right back in the game start of the third, but again we didn’t finish,” said Ruff.
The Hurricanes were able to extend their lead to 4-1 at 7:40 of the third when Riley Nash scored off a rebound.
There was a rash of penalties late in the game that put Carolina on two five-on-three power plays and sent Seguin and Ryan Garbutt to the locker room with ten minute misconducts.
Carolina ran its points streak to five games (3-0-2) with the victory and improved to 5-2-2 over its last nine games.
“[Khudobin] has been coming up with some big saves and we’re getting the goaltending right now every night, from both of them [Khudobin and Cam Ward],” said Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller. “It was a little bit of a slow start, we get our feet going and we had a good strong game. When we did break down, he made some key saves at the right time.”
The Stars lost forward Ray Whitney early in the game to a lower body injury. He is listed as day to day.
The Stars wrap up their road trip with back-to-back games against Tampa Bay (Saturday) and Florida (Sunday).
“You can’t spend too much time on your wins, can’t spend too much time on your losses,” said Ruff. “There are some things we want to clean up. We’ll clean them up and get ready to play.”
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.