The Dallas Stars were back on the ice Wednesday morning in Frisco and coach Lindy Ruff sensed his team still feeling the effects of Tuesday’s tough loss against Colorado.
“I could sense some frustration today with the fact that we didn’t win. You put that much into it,” Ruff said. “I really didn’t like our practice today because some of that frustration was in the practice, too.”
The Stars had a 2-0 lead in Tuesday’s game but gave up two third-period goals including the equalizer with 19.7 seconds remaining. They then lost in an 11-round shootout.
“It was a tough one sleeping last night,” said Stars captain Jamie Benn. “You are 20 seconds away from getting two points, and then you turn around and you only get one. It’s tough to give up those leads and lose games like that, but there is the positive that we outplayed them pretty much the whole game. But we’ve got to find a way to win these games down the stretch.”
The Stars are 4-3-1 over their past eight games. All four losses were games the Stars felt they could have won. There were regulation losses to Winnipeg, Boston and Montreal where the Stars had significant shot advantages. The goaltenders at the other end came up big, and the Stars couldn’t cash in on their chances including on the power play. Tuesday night, the Stars could secure only one of two points despite rolling out one of their best defensive efforts of the season.
“A loss is a loss and everybody hates losing. It gives you a sick feeling in your stomach when you know you should have won,” said Benn. “The last couple losses we got beat by goaltenders and then last night we gave up a goal with 20 seconds left and then lose in a shootout. We’ve just got to find a way to bear down on our chances, take advantage of opportunities and find a way to get those two points because that is all that really matters.”
Still, the Stars see a lot of good in their play lately and believe if the strong play continues the wins and points will follow.
“It’s not like we are getting outplayed,” said Benn. “If we keep playing the way we are, we are going to win more games than we lose.”
“Within the last ten or 12, there are probably four games where we’ve played really well and lost,” said Stars forward Shawn Horcoff. “It’s frustrating because you need those points, but it is encouraging knowing that we are doing the right things. … And if you keep doing the right things you think the law of averages is going to work out over 82, and you are going to get some of those games back. We still have plenty of hockey left.”
Tuesday’s game was the 50th of the season for the Stars. They are 23-19-8, and they are five points out of the final playoff spot. It’s not that much different than where they were at this point last season. At the 50-game mark, they were 22-20-8 and seven points out of a playoff spot.
“It seems like last year we were playing playoff games in February and March and here we are again a couple points out,” Benn said. “We need to make a strong push. We know we can do it. We’ve got a good group in here. It’s just a matter of coming together and winning some hockey games.”
And the Stars believe the experience of last season, when they made that strong push down the stretch to secure a wild card spot, will pay dividends as they try to repeat the feat this season.
“I think we are real close to where we were last year. The difference is we are a more mature team. I think we are more experienced,” Horcoff said. “We’ve been through it before. We know what it takes, what it is going to take and the type of hockey and just how successful we are going to have to be in order to get in. There’s still plenty of games left, and it’s tough to watch the scoreboard at this point. You have to focus on your own hockey.”
*Stars forwards Jason Spezza and Travis Moen did not practice Wednesday. Coach Lindy Ruff said it was a maintenance day for both players.
*Goaltender Anders Lindback, who is on a conditioning assignment with Texas of the AHL, played Tuesday night. He stopped 40 of 42 shots in regulation and overtime in Texas’ 3-2 shootout loss to San Antonio. He gave up two goals on two shots in the shootout.
Up next: The Lightning
The Stars take on the Tampa Bay Lightning Thursday night at American Airlines Center. Stars coach Lindy Ruff had plenty of praise for the Lightning, who have the best record in the Eastern Conference at 32-15-5 (69 points).
“Highly skilled, real good speed. I think one of the best skilled, speed teams in the league. One of the best gap teams. It will be a real test. I think they are one of the premier teams in the East,” Ruff said. “We don’t get to see them enough, which you don’t get to appreciate the fact that a lot of those players that are playing now helped them win a championship in the minors. They’ve got a high level of skill.”
Thursday’s game will feature the top two scoring teams in the league. Tampa Bay ranks first in goals for at 3.17 per game. The Stars are second at 3.14.
“I’ve looked at that already,” Ruff said. “So it will probably be a 1-0 shutout.”
Quotable: Lindy Ruff on if he prefers to win low-scoring or high-scoring games
“I prefer when we have one more than the other team. If it’s a lower one, I am OK with it and if it’s a higher one, I am OK with it. I think every team has their strength. We’re not the strongest defending team, but we can still score enough when we have to score. That is the strength of our team. Until that balances out, that will remain our strength.”
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.