The Dallas Stars couldn't make it three wins in a row, falling to the Winnipeg Jets, 4-3, at American Airlines Center Thursday night. The Stars had their chances, but goaltender Ondrej Pavelec and the Jets proved to be tough nuts to crack.
Pavelec stopped 39 Dallas shots, and his teammates blocked 29 others in a game where the Stars dominated play for most of the night. Four of those blocked shots came in the final minute of the game, and Brett Ritchie shot wide at an open side of the net with two seconds remaining as the Stars desperately tried to tie the game.
"We had our chances. We had plenty of good chances to make a difference," said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. "It seems like a little bit of a common theme, but the work ethic that went into the game. I like the work that went into it."
But Ruff added that there were mistakes as well, and that contributed to the Jets putting four pucks in the Dallas net. The Stars surrendered a goal in the final minute of the first period that allowed Winnipeg to tie the game 2-2. The Jets took advantage of a five-on-three power play to take a 3-2 lead and then extended the lead to 4-2 on a Dallas turnover.
"I think we had our opportunities, but we gave them their opportunities too, and they made the best of it," said Stars captain Jamie Benn. "That's a tough one. I thought we were going pretty good tonight actually."
Benn recorded one goal and two assists for the Stars, who outshot the Jets 42-29 and had an 83-43 advantage in shot attempts. Patrick Eaves and John Klingberg both had one goal and one assist. Kari Lehtonen got the start in goal and allowed four goals on 29 shots.
The Stars also lost a key player. Forward Jason Spezza left the game in the third period after he was hit hard by Jets forward Adam Lowry. Ruff indicated that Spezza would miss some time.
"I don't really have an update. He's going to miss some time. It's probably more than days, but until I can find out more, I'll give it to you then," Ruff said.
The loss to the Jets left the Stars 21-21-10 on the season and still three points out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Jets (25-25-4) have put together their first three-game winning streak of the season and pulled two points ahead of the Stars and to within one point of a playoff spot in the West. The Jets improved to 13-4-1 within the Central Division.
"When you are playing against teams in the division, you have to buckle down," said Jets forward Mark Scheifele, who scored two goals. "They are big points, especially after the All-Star break, things ramp up, and we definitely need these points."
Bryan Little gave the Jets a 1-0 lead 6:50 into the game, scoring from the right circle off the rush. But the Stars answered with two goals in a 2:04 span later in the period to take a 2-1 lead. Klingberg scored with the Stars on the power play, putting home the rebound of a Benn shot at the 11:55 mark. Benn made it a 2-1 game, scoring on the rebound of a Patrik Nemeth shot at the 13:59 mark. The Jets tied it with 52.4 seconds left in the first when Blake Wheeler sent a cross-ice pass to Scheifele, who scored on a one-timer from the left circle to make it a 2-2 game going into the first intermission.
The Jets went on a power play 4:05 into the second, appeared to score when Scheifele tallied off the rush, but the Stars challenged for offside and won, negating the goal. But the Stars took another penalty - an interference call on Antoine Roussel during a faceoff - giving the Jets a five-on-three power play for 1:21.
"I totally disagree with the call that gave them the five-on-three," Ruff said. "There's a battle like that on every faceoff in every zone and to go down 5-on-3, that's a tough one."
Benn got a shorthanded breakaway during the five-on-three but was denied by Pavelec.
"It happened so quick," Pavelec said. "It was probably first breakaway of my career five-on-three, so I didn't expect that, but I was just waiting for his move. I think we were both patient and waiting for what the other guy was going to do. It's a huge thing in this game to be patient. I tried to wait, wait and make the save."
Just 22 seconds later Scheifele scored from the slot on the two-man advantage to put Winnipeg up 3-2 at 5:55 of the second.
Pavelec kept the Stars from drawing even, making a glove save on a Tyler Seguin slap shot and denying a point-blank bid by Cody Eakin. The Jets then extended the lead to 4-2 at the 12:55 mark when Lehtonen turned over the puck behind the net, and Patrik Laine set up Nikolaj Ehlers, who scored into an open net.
The Stars cut the lead to 4-3 with 2:02 left in the second on a goal by Eaves, who scored on a rebound after Klingberg put a shot on net from just inside the blue line. Eaves came close to tying the game late in the second, but his shot from the right circle hit the post.
The Stars kept the pressure on in the third. Benn made a great move to get off a quality shot from the slot with 4:57 left, but his shot hit the post. The Stars pulled Lehtonen for an extra attacker with just under two minutes left, but Pavelec made one save, his teammates blocked four shots, and then Ritchie shot wide at an open side of the net with two seconds remaining.
"We had a lot of chances, especially we got that really good look at the end there," said Eaves. "They made some desperation plays to keep the puck out, and it was everything we had out there."
*The Stars outshot the Jets 42-29 and had an 83-43 advantage in shot attempts.
*Tyler Seguin led the Stars with nine shot attempts. Four different Stars had five shots: John Klingberg, Radek Faksa, Jamie Benn, Patrick Eaves
*Stars captain Jamie Benn is on a five-game points streak (four goals, three assists).
*The Stars were 1-2 on the power play and 1-2 on the penalty kill.
*Dallas won 33 of 59 faceoffs (56 percent).
*Dan Hamhuis led the Stars with 24:28 of ice time. Esa Lindell was next with 20:59
The Stars wrap up their six-game homestand Saturday when they take on the Chicago Blackhawks at American Airlines Center. The Stars are 0-2-1 vs. Chicago this season.
Jamie Benn - Cody Eakin - Patrick Eaves
Devin Shore - Radek Faksa - Patrick Sharp
Antoine Roussel - Tyler Seguin - Jason Spezza
Lauri Korpikoski - Adam Cracknell - Brett Ritchie
Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
Dan Hamhuis - Jordie Benn
Patrik Nemeth - Stephen Johns
Scratched: Jiri Hudler, Curtis McKenzie, Julius Honka
Injured: Johnny Oduya (lower body), Jamie Oleksiak (hand), Ales Hemsky (hip), Mattias Janmark (knee)
This story was not subject to 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.