The Dallas Stars hit the midway point of the season as the ultimate example of a team spinning its wheels instead of gaining traction.
As the Stars head into Tuesday night’s home clash with the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning, they’re five points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets and Chicago Blackhawks for fourth place in the Central Division but haven’t been closing ground.
Coming off a disappointing 4-3 shootout loss to the Nashville Predators on Sunday, the Stars are in a middling 3-2-4 stretch. They’re running out of games in which they can be thankful for having earned a single point in the standings – especially when it’s happening in games they hold a 3-1 lead late in the second period before falling in extra time.
“It’s disappointing,” coach Rick Bowness said of Sunday’s loss. “We had a couple of really good looks in overtime. We had the best chances in overtime, so you get into these skill contests after playing them even for 65 minutes and you lose the point on the shootout. That’s disappointing.”
The disappointment didn’t end there. Already without a couple of key forwards in Alexander Radulov and Roope Hintz due to lower-body injuries, the Stars saw two more forwards leave the Nashville game. Radek Faksa was hurt while blocking a shot in the second period, and Joel Kiviranta left early the third period due to an undisclosed issue.
There was no word Monday whether any of those players will suit up against the Lightning for the first of two consecutive meetings.
“We will take the point, but we obviously wanted two,” said Rhett Gardner, who scored his first NHL goal Sunday. “We will look at some things Tuesday morning and clean them up and be ready for Tampa.”
The Lightning, who have won all three meetings with the Stars this season – twice with shutout performances — arrive in Texas on a roll. They’ve won four straight games and are on a 13-2-1 run. Even more impressive was that Sunday’s 5-3 victory over the Florida Panthers ended a stretch in which the Lightning played five games in seven days.
“We knew coming into this season that games were going to be pretty compressed,” forward Alex Killorn said. “To play five in seven, we didn’t even do that in the AHL, I don’t think.”
Tampa Bay took a hit in the Florida clash with defenseman Ryan McDonagh leaving the game after the first period due to a lower-body injury. Despite being without one of their key penalty killers, the Lightning special teams came through with a big performance on both sides of the battle when it counted.
Tyler Johnson’s power-play goal midway through the third period broke a 3-3 tie, and the Lightning then killed a late Florida advantage, a huge performance after the Panthers had scored on two power-plays goal to draw even.
“The previous two PKs, they had scored on a similar play, so we just wanted to make sure we didn’t give them that shot,” Killorn said. “We weren’t going to let them beat us three times on the same play, a tip in front of the net-type play. Really happy with the way the guys stepped up.”
“Any time you’re short a man, especially a defenseman, it’s tough,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper added. “The guys circled the wagons. We kept inching away, and they kept coming back. There’s no time to hang your heads; the boys just kept coming. … It was a really good team effort.”
–Field Level Media