- Mark Stepneski, ESPNDallas.com
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DALLAS -- In a key game against a team they are battling for a playoff spot, the Dallas Stars came out flat Tuesday night, losing 4-1 to the Phoenix Coyotes at American Airlines Center.
“We weren’t very good again,” said Stars coach Glen Gulutzan. “Even with a real good goalie performance, we got outworked by a team that played last night.”
“Awful. Atrocious.,” said Stars defenseman Sheldon Souray. “We’ve gotten by on a real good goaltender in our last three or four games, and it’s just not good enough. We can talk about it, try to figure it out, point the finger, but as a whole we’ve really been letting each other down the last three or four games, especially with how important this stretch of games is and what it means.”
Tuesday’s loss dropped the Stars into 11th place in the Western Conference, but they remained only two points out of the final playoff spot.
The Stars seemed to be an advantage heading into Tuesday’s game. They were well rested and Phoenix was playing its second game in as many nights. But it was the Coyotes who looked like the fresher team and they were on the Stars early.
“Our game plan was to play hard, play physical against that team, they played last night. We didn’t do a good job of that,” said Stars defenseman Stephane Robidas. “We lost a lot of one-on-one battles. When you lose those you always end up on the wrong side, and that’s exactly what happened tonight. They played a simple game. It was right there for us, but it comes right back to the work ethic.”
The Coyotes scored 4:43 into the game when a Keith Yandle shot from the point hit traffic and got past Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen.
The Stars tied the game 2:34 into the second when Michael Ryder scored off the rush, ripping a shot from the right circle past Coyotes goalie Mike Smith.
The Stars had a great opportunity to take the lead when they went on a four-minute power play, but they couldn’t take advantage.
“Any time a team kills a four-minute power play it gives them a big boost,” said Robidas. “It gives them some momentum. We had some good movement (on the power play), but just couldn’t get one to go in.”
The Coyotes then took the lead with 4:11 left in the second, not long after the Stars turned over the puck in their own end and allowed Phoenix to keep pressure in the offensive zone. Rusty Klesla centered the puck and Radim Vrbata put it in the net to give the Coyotes a 2-1 lead.
“A turnover, almost the same play from two nights ago, cost us a goal,” said Gulutzan. “That’s it, that’s all they need. They know who they are.”
The Coyotes, who improved to 21-1-0 when leading after two periods, closed the game out in the third period. Raffi Torres scored early in the third to make it 3-1 and a Derek Morris goal late in the period rounded out the scoring for the Coyotes, who won their third straight game and moved into the ninth place in the Western Conference. They’re tied with eighth-seeded Minnesota in points, but the Wild have played one fewer game.
“That’s three games we’ve played how we want to play or how we have to play. We’ve got a lot of people really committed into doing things that make you win hockey games,” said Coyotes coach Dave Tippett. “We had two good games against San Jose and Detroit. We come in here on a back-to-back, I give our guys a lot of credit. They competed hard. They did a lot of little things right that make you win games.”
The Coyotes got points from ten different players.
“That’s the key to our team. That’s who we are. That’s how we play,” Tippett said. “That’s how we’re going to have to continue to play if we’re going to be successful.”
Gulutzan, meanwhile, said the Stars are still trying to determine exactly who they are, and they need to get it sorted it out soon.
“We do and we don’t (know who we are) at times. We do and we don’t. We haven’t played well since the break. We’ve to get going,” Gulutzan said. “Record aside, whatever it was, three wins in the last four or two of the last three (coming into Tuesday), we need to be better. That’s not asking too much, that’s reality.”
*The Stars are now 3-5-1 against teams playing in the second game of back-to-backs.
*The Stars were 0-4 on the power play in the game and 1-1 on the penalty kill.
*Stars captain Brenden Morrow missed his second game with a neck/shoulder injury. He is expected to miss at least the next two games.
*Mark Fistric and Jake Dowell were healthy scratches for the Stars.
*Tuesday’s attendance was 11,162