The Dallas Stars were down 1-0 before the puck even dropped Wednesday night and they never could catch up, falling 3-1 to the Columbus Blue Jackets at American Airlines Center.
The Stars, playing their fourth game in five nights, gave up a goal 93 seconds into the game and then another 12 minutes later dig themselves a 3-0 hole they couldn’t overcome.
“It’s tough. I think our goal is to try and get back and tie it 1-1 as early as we could, but we got down a couple goals,” said Stars forward Alex Chiasson. “That was a tough stretch for us 4 [games] in 5 [days]. I think we looked a little fatigued out there today”.
“We fell behind before the game even started, but we’re not making any excuses,” said Stars captain Jamie Benn. “Then a tough break on the first goal, they capitalized on their power play and we just couldn’t find it tonight.”
The Stars made a strong push in the third, outshooting the Blue Jackets 18-2 and scoring on the power play when Stars coach Lindy Ruff pulled goaltender Tim Thomas for an extra attacker with 12 minutes still left in the game.
“We’re playing to win these games and we needed to score three goals to at least get a point,” said Benn. “Why not go for it? We scored one, but we couldn’t get a couple more.”
Trevor Daley scored the lone goal for the Stars. Tim Thomas got the start in goal, making just his second appearance in the last three weeks. He stopped 23 of 25 shots.
The Stars remain two points ahead of Phoenix in the race for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Stars have two games remaining and the Coyotes have three.
“We’ve got two games and have our own destiny in our hands,” said Chiasson. “We’ve worked too hard this year to let it go. We’ve got to rest up here and give it all we’ve got on Friday and Sunday.”
Columbus clinched an Eastern Conference playoff spot with the victory. It is first time they’ve made the playoffs since 2009 and just the second time in franchise history.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Blue Jackets forward Brandon Dubinsky. “You play this game for the opportunity to win a Stanley Cup and we’ve made the first step towards doing that. Only 16 teams make the dance and we’re one of those, and the sky is the limit for this group, and I think that should be our goal, and that will remain our goal and we got to get in there on a high note and make sure when we get there that we’re on top of our game.”
This was a makeup game from March 10 when Stars center Rich Peverley collapsed on the Dallas bench due to a cardiac event. Columbus had a 1-0 lead in that game when play was stopped in the first period and that lead carried over into this game, which was played for a full 60 minutes.
It took Columbus 1:33 into the game to take a 2-0 lead. As Tyler Seguin tried to wrap the puck around the boards in the Dallas zone, the puck hit a stanchion and bounced to a wide open Blue Jackets forward Artem Anisimov, who drove the net and slipped the puck by Thomas.
“When you give up that early goal it took a little bit of life out of our building.” Ruff said. “That’s a tough way to start a game.”
The Blue Jackets went on a four-minute power play midway through the period when Stars forward Shawn Horcoff was given a double minor for high sticking, and they cashed in with 16 seconds left on it when Mark Letestu’s centering pass bounced off Thomas’s stick and through his legs to give Columbus a 3-0 lead 13:27 into the game.
The Stars had back-to-back power play chances late in the first/early in the second, but couldn’t cut into the Columbus lead.
The Stars had a great chance with 45 seconds left in the second, but Seguin’s point blank chance was denied by Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky.
Bobrovsky came up big early in the third, stopping Seguin and Colton Sceviour with Dallas on another power play.
The Stars went on another power play 6:50 into the third and Ruff pulled Thomas at the 7:39 mark for an extra attacker to make it a six-on-four power play. Daley scored from close range at the 8:39 mark to cut Columbus’ lead to 3-1.
"I just felt it was time to create some energy, create some desperation,” said Ruff. “I thought we got the energy. We got a couple great looks afterwards and we put a little into them, and made believers out of the players that last 10 minutes.”
The Stars pulled Thomas again briefly with just under four minutes left and then again with 2:45 remaining, but couldn’t cut into the Columbus lead.
Despite the loss, Ruff likes where his team sits with two games left in the regular season.
“I’m optimistic. We’ve gone through one hell of a tough part of the schedule. To play four games in five nights is not something you’d do normally in this league.” Ruff said. “We had an abnormal event happen and we were pushed into it. We came off a five-game road trip but we summoned enough energy to win a game the other night. I thought the guys could have laid down in the third but they gave it everything they had to try to get back in the game.
“I haven’t had to stand here this year and say Wow, did we get flat-out outplayed the whole game. There’s something about this team. I love the way they fight. I love the way they come to practice. I love the battle we’ve had down the stretch. There was a time when we went through that tough section in January when they could have gone away but nobody did. I’m very optimistic. We win two games and we’re in.”
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.