By Martin Iheke
If you thought the margin for error for the Dallas Stars was very slim on making the playoffs before, it is about zero now. The Stars needed to virtually win out to even have a chance at making the playoffs for the second straight season, but last week’s losses at home to the Calgary Flames and St. Louis Blues have pretty much all but eliminated them for contention. Last Monday night, the Flames came to town and walked away with a 5-3 win. The Stars had a 2-1 lead in the second period before the Flames exploded for three goals in the period. Goalie Kari Lehtonen was pulled after that and the Stars could not comeback.
After the game, Stars head coach Lindy Ruff was pleased with the effort. “We emptied the tank again and we played extremely hard,” Ruff said. “I thought Kari (Lehtonen) gave us everything he had. He’s given us everything he’s had down the stretch here. There were some tough breaks. I thought he gambled and lost on the Diaz goal. He tried to gamble and that happens. But if it wasn’t for him down the stretch we wouldn’t be biting at someone’s ankles right now. But for me it’s not over yet. We’re going to keep pushing.” Ruff does have a point about Lehtonen. Even though he fell apart in the 2nd period, you wonder if fatigue came into play. He had started eleven straight games including this one for the Stars, which is incredible so you had to figure at some point when he would breakdown.
The Stars would get three days off before playing again so Lehtonen would get some time to recuperate. The team would also get a valuable player back for the Blues game last Friday night. Forward Val Nichushkin, who had been out for most of the season after having hip surgery, would make his return to the lineup. Even though the season is winding down, it is nice to have someone of his talent back on the ice and try to make some sort of an impact. He had an assist in the game and played okay. The Stars, overall played well, but they had another two-goal lead in the third period only to blow it again and lose. The Blues scored three unanswered goals to win, 7-5. Lehtonen had yet another meltdown as he gave up six goals on 19 shots. Folks, you are not going to win many games when your goaltender is having that type of performance. Again, is it fatigue or is this the Lehtonen we have seen for most of this season? That is a question that will need to be answered in the offseason.
Another player who had an awful game was Stars defenseman Trevor Daley. He was a -5 for the game, which is pretty bad. He has not had a very good year in terms of defending and will need to be reevaluated in the offseason as well. After the game, Stars captain Jamie Benn talked about having Nichushkin back. “It felt good actually,” Benn said. “He’s a good player and I think he fits well on the right side with [Tyler] Seguin and me. It’s definitely nice to have him back and I thought he played pretty well.” The Stars did not have time to dwell on another loss as they had to play at the Nashville Predators the next night. Stars backup goalie Jhonas Enroth would get the start in this one. Just like the previous night, the Stars would squander another two-goal lead in the third period as the Predators would tie it up and force overtime. This time, the Stars are were able to prevail with a 4-3 win thanks to forward Cody Eakin scoring the game winner on a penalty shot. Enroth would get his first win after the starting the game as a Dallas Star and it was also the first win started by a backup goalie for the Stars in over a year. A loss would have mathematically eliminated the team from playoff contention. For now, they are still alive.
4/6 @Sharks 9:30 pm
4/8 @Ducks 9:30 pm
4/11 vs Predators 7:00 pm