If the Stars had any hope of catching the Sharks for the Pacific Division lead, tonight was the night. The Sharks played, and lost 6-3 to the Chicago Blackhawks, yesterday and had to travel into Dallas. Coming into the game the Stars were four points behind the division leading Sharks and two points from missing the playoffs. That is how tight the Western Conference has been and will be for the remainder of the season, and emphasizes the importance of collecting points on home ice.
Yet the Sharks opened with a huge first period outshooting the Stars 15-9. Kari Lehtonen kept the game scoreless as most of the opening period was tilted towards Dallas’ defensive end. After collecting only three points in their first three games of a seven-game homestand that includes five games against other teams fighting for playoff position Dallas really needed a win. And in regulation.
If the first period was a feeling out between the two teams, the second period brought some highs and lows for Dallas. The Stars opened the scoring on a Ribiero goal followed by another brilliant short-handed play by Jamie Benn to set up Tom Wandell to make the score 2-0 Dallas. Now for the bad news. In a hit very reminiscent of the one that knocked out Brad Richards for 10 games, Loui Eriksson took a shoulder from Douglas Murray and Eriksson staggered back to the locker room, out for the game, with the all-encompassing “upper-body injury”. Steve Ott sought retribution and took an instigator penalty and shortly after the ensuing powerplay expired San Jose got on the board. A little while later San Jose took advantage of a 5-3 situation and Mike Ribiero having a broken stick to knot the game at two.
The third frame began like the second period ended, with the Sharks controlling play. Two quick goals put the Sharks up 4-2, with four unanswered goals. Jamie Benn continued his torrid hot streak to creep the Stars back into the game with a powerplay goal to cut the lead to 4-3. Unfortunately for Dallas, having lost Eriksson to the injury, couldn’t capitalize on successive powerplay opportunities in the final five minutes of the game and the short-handed Sharks potted two empty net goals to conclude the scoring.
The 6-3 loss coupled with the LA Kings 4-2 win over Nashville further muddied an already congested playoff picture and only reiterates how important every point is. Not picking up at least 10 points in a late-season 7-game homestand might just prove to be catastrophic and Dallas only has themselves to blame.