The Dallas Stars played better Friday night at Madison Square Garden, but it didn’t add up to a victory. The Stars’ losing streak hit five games as they fell to the New York Rangers, 3-2, in the final minutes.
“I thought for the majority of the game we played well enough to win,” said Stars center Cody Eakin, who had a goal and an assist in the game. “We took in some water at the end of the second, had some good chances in the third. Our goalie, Kari [Lehtonen] was huge for us as always. We didn’t finish with the result we wanted.”
Rangers forward Rick Nash snapped a 2-2 tie, scoring off a rebound as he was falling to give the Rangers the victory.
“We had a couple pretty good looks in the third, we missed a couple tight. They got a little bit of a bounce, one went off a skate and as Nash is falling he got enough of it to put it away,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “I thought we skated better. We created a little more and we were better with the puck. We’ve still got a ways to go though. There are still some turnovers that are giving up some good possession.”
The Stars (20-17-7) have lost some ground during their five-game slide, falling to six points out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
“It’s not good. We were right up there before this streak,” said Eakin. “Our backs are kind of up against the wall and there’s only one way out and that is hard work.”
The Stars got a big night from the line of Eakin (one goal, one assist), Ryan Garbutt (one goal, one assist) and Antoine Roussel (one assist).
“They were fabulous,” said Ruff.
Lehtonen turned in another stellar performance for the Stars, stopping 31 of 34 shots.
The Rangers ran their points streak to four games (3-0-1), won for the fifth time in the last seven games (5-1-1) and improved to 8-3-2 in their last 13 contests.
“We had a huge win in the last game [at] Chicago and we knew it didn’t mean much if we didn’t win tonight,” Nash said on MSG Network. “It was a huge game to come home and win.”
The Rangers had some pressure early in the game, but Lehtonen was sharp. He had a superb save on a Ryan Callahan bid to keep the Rangers from getting the early lead.
The Stars grabbed the lead at the 4:06 mark when Garbutt won a race to a puck in the New York end and backhanded the puck to Eakin, who put the puck through Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist from the bottom of the right circle to give the Stars a 1-0 lead.
The Rangers tied the game at the 8:40 mark. After the Stars turned over the puck in the neutral zone, Brad Richards had a shot blocked, grabbed the rebound and set up Callahan, who scored from the left circle.
The Stars got the lead back early in the second, cashing in on an odd-man rush when Roussel set up Garbutt, who made a nifty play to knock down the puck and then put it past Lundqvist to put the Stars up 2-1 at 3:34 of the second.
The Rangers had some good looks after that. Derek Stepan fanned on a wide open look from the slot, Nash shot wide on a breakaway and Richards rang a shot off the crossbar from the right circle. The Rangers then went on the game’s first power play and got the equalizer. Derick Brassard redirected a Mats Zuccarello pass by Lehtonen at 8:22 of the second to make it a 2-2 game.
The Rangers had some pressure late in the second, but Lehtonen came up with some sharp saves, including a nice stop on a Benoit Pouliot redirection to keep it a tie game heading into the third period.
New York had a power play, which included 1:06 of four-on-three time, early in the second, but the Stars were able to kill it off.
Both teams came close with shots going off posts. New York defenseman John Moore hit the post on a shot from the point at 4:30 the mark. Eakin hit the post with a blast from the slot off the rush at the 8:00 mark.
The Stars went on their first power play of the game with 8:30 left in the third, but couldn’t get a shot on goal.
Tyler Seguin came close with 2:20 left, just missing on a redirection of an Eakin pass. Just 22 seconds later, a falling Nash knocked home the rebound of a Chris Kreider shot to give New York the win.
“I just happened to stop, get to the inside and shoot it in as I was falling down,” Nash said. “It was a little bit of luck, but we’ll take it in the last few minutes.”
It was a tough way to lose for the Stars, but Ruff saw some progress.
“We were a lot better tonight. We were really bad on the Island (vs. Islanders Monday). We were better in Jersey (vs. Devils Thursday). We were better again tonight,” Ruff said. “On the bench the guys are putting pressure on each other to take care of the puck. As soon as you get peer pressure and guys are talking about getting pucks deep and taking care of the puck in some tough situations, we’ll start to win again.”
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.