The Dallas Stars’ slide to start 2014 is starting to border on devastating. The Stars lost for the ninth time in ten games since the beginning of the year, falling 4-1 to the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena Monday night.
The Stars, who are 1-8-1 over the last ten games, dropped to 11th place in the Western Conference and remained nine points out of a playoff spot. The Stars are far from dead in the playoff race, but they need to turn things around in a hurry.
“We’ve got to stick together through this. We’ve got to battle this together. We’ve got to be a little more resilient,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “It’s got to harden us. We’ve got to come out of this a better team knowing that a lot of these situations we have to learn from. It’s hard. It eliminates the sleep. It’s a serious gut check. You really have to hunker down and trust your teammates.”
Outside of scoring on the power play for the fourth straight game, it was not a stellar night in Nashville for the Stars, who gave up goals off turnovers, odd-man chances, and surrendered another costly goal late in a period.
“It’s tough right now. We seem to be a little bit of a fragile team,” said Stars forward Shawn Horcoff. “Every little mistake we make in our zone ends up in the back of our net. It’s making it tough.”
The Stars continue to struggle to score goals. They have scored two goals or fewer in seven of the last ten games. Keeping pucks out of their net has been an issue as well. They’ve given up four goals or more in six of their last ten games.
The Predators won for just the fifth time in 28 games when giving up the first goal of the game. Two of those victories have come against the Stars, whom the Predators passed in the standings with their victory Monday night.
“It was everybody contributing and that’s what it takes for our team to win,” said Nashville forward Nick Spaling. “It is all lines going and the defense going and when they’re chipping in, it’s great for us.”
Nashville appeared to take a 1-0 lead 3:06 into the game, but the goal was waved off and Predators center David Legwand was penalized interfering with Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen. The Stars then cashed in on the resulting power play when Rich Peverley set up Cody Eakin, who scored off a shot from the right circle at 4:45 of the first to put the Stars up 1-0.
The Predators answered at the 11:35 mark, taking advantage of a two-on-one. The end result was Spaling knocking home the rebound of a Roman Josi shot off the rush to make it a 1-1 game.
Predators goaltender Carter Hutton came up huge with 3:11 left in the period, stopping a wide open Jamie Benn bid from the slot. Less than 30 seconds later Nashville had the lead. After the Predators forced a turnover behind the net, Gabriel Bourque backhanded the puck to Shea Weber who scored off a wrist shot from about 30 feet out to give the Predators a 2-1 lead with 2:44 left in the period.
The Stars came close to tying the game with 3:03 left in the second period, but Eakin’s shot from the right circle hit the post. A couple minutes later, Nashville extended the lead when Roman Josi scored from close range with 31.2 seconds left in the second period to put Nashville up 3-1.
“It’s deflating,” said Ruff. “There’s nothing you can do. You’ve got to push through it.”
But the Predators extended the lead to 4-1 early in the third period when Colin Wilson set up Mike Fisher off the rush and Fisher roofed a shot from the slot at the 3:46 mark.
The Stars ended up outshooting the Predators 19-3 in the third period, but Hutton was outstanding in goal to keep the Stars from getting any life in the game.
“We got the fourth goal and I thought we got a little loose,” said Nashville coach Barry Trotz. “They were throwing everything. I think they ended up with 19 shots. When the game was on the line, I thought we knocked it down pretty good.”
And that leaves the Stars desperate for two points when take they on Minnesota, one of the teams nine points ahead of them in the race for the final playoff spot, Tuesday night in Dallas.
“It’s a huge game [Tuesday] night,” said Horcoff. “It’s so competitive in the West, you can only fall so many points behind. So, [Tuesday] is going to be a huge game.”
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.