VANCOUVER, British Columbia — The Stars might have left Monday with a better chance to make the playoffs than when they started the day.
They just weren’t responsible for any improvement in odds.
In a 6-2 loss to the Canucks on Monday night, the Stars lacked any punch outside of Roope Hintz’s two goals and failed to receive typically solid goaltending from Jake Oettinger.
Oettinger was lifted after allowing four goals on 19 shots in the game’s first 30 minutes and 33 seconds. It was the third time this season that Oettinger has been pulled, and first time since mid-January, when he was yanked in back-to-back starts.
“You don’t win at this time of year with half your team playing, the other half of your team not playing well,” Stars coach Rick Bowness said. “The guys that didn’t play well, didn’t show up better find their game by Wednesday night.”
Vancouver received goals from five different players, including two from Elias Pettersson and one from former Stars forward Jason Dickinson.
Hintz scored his first goal on the power play following a slick drop pass from Alexander Radulov in the first period. His second of him came on a shorthanded breakaway when he beat Thatcher Demko between his legs.
The Stars continue their three-game road trip Wednesday night in Edmonton.
“It was very disappointing,” Stars forward Michael Raffl said. “I think it was mostly our puck management and decisions with the puck in high-danger areas along the blue lines. They were way better than we were in those areas. That pretty much cost us the hockey game tonight.”
But by virtue of the Golden Knights’ 3-2 loss to the Devils on Monday night, Vegas’ postseason hopes took a massive hit. Vancouver would need to be almost perfect to bully their way in.
The Canucks, however, have won six in a row and concluded a three-game season sweep over the Stars on Monday night.
“We turned too many pucks over and we didn’t have that mentality today that we’re going to win every battle,” Hintz said.
Dallas has a four-point lead on the Golden Knights (five games to play) and a five-point lead on the Canucks (six games to play).
If 97 points is the threshold to qualify for the Western Conference playoffs, the Stars would have to go 3-3-0 to hit that mark. Vancouver would have to go 5-0-1. Vegas would have to go 5-0-0. Los Angeles needs to go 3-1-1.
But the Stars still have to win those games to fulfill their postseason hopes. The spotty goaltending in the first period didn’t help.
Conor Garland opened the scoring 7:28 into the first period with a one-timer from the circle that Oettinger never saw. Screened by JT Miller, Oettinger was still on his feet when Garland’s shot went between his legs.
With less than five minutes remaining in the first period, the Stars lost track of the puck behind the net, leaving Pettersson all alone at the side of the net to tuck his first goal of the night.
Wedgewood played the last half of the game, allowing a soft short-side goal from Vasily Podkolzin that gave the Canucks a 5-2 lead. Bowness said Oettinger will “bounce back.”
“We have faith in Jake,” Bowness said. “We have faith in Scott. A couple of bad goals, yeah, they were and at the wrong times. Obviously, the first period and that fifth goal really hurt us. But it’s up to the rest of the guys to battle back and give them some run support.”
For most of the season, the Stars have lived on the edge between good and bad.
They’ve gone on long win streaks and extended losing streaks. They’ve beaten good teams and lost to bad ones. They’ve been both terrible and incredible on the road. They are 29-28 in regulation this season, and have a minus-6 goal differential.
The Stars have made the middle of their home. Some nights, their game elevates. Some nights, it tumbled.
“Every time we’ve been successful this year and been winning big games, we’ve been very good with the puck in those areas,” Raffl said. “As I said, I don’t know the reason. It’s everybody collectively. We weren’t good enough tonight and we’re going to fix it.”
Even with the loss, these Stars should still be good enough to scratch into the playoffs, and if they miss, they’ll have no one to blame but themselves.
The last week, though, should have changed their target. Instead of trying just to get into the postseason, the Stars should be taking aim at Nashville and the first Wild Card spot.
The Stars and Predators each have 91 points through 76 games, but Nashville (35 regulation wins) holds the tiebreaker over Dallas (29 regulation wins).
If the Stars can overtake the Preds, they would face Calgary in the first round instead of the juggernaut in Colorado. They could look at a potential second-round series against Los Angeles or Edmonton, instead of against St. Louis or Minnesota.
The easier path is through the Pacific Division.
The Stars, however, have made this season anything but easy on themselves.
“Honestly, this is way too far ahead,” Raffl said. Like I said, short memory. Look for the next game coming up in Edmonton. That’s a big one for us, and that’s where our focus is on. See where we’re finishing.”
— There were two unexpected events in the second period on Monday night, as captain Jamie Benn lost a fight and Jason Robertson delivered a big hit.
After Benn crushed Vancouver’s Quinn Hughes in the corner, Luke Schenn challenged Benn to a fight. Schenn had the upper hand in a rare loss for the Stars leader.
Later in the frame, 6-8 Tyler Myers hit Robertson in the neutral zone. Robertson responded by trucking Myers below the goal line.
— Dickinson finished with three points on the night for Vancouver, also assisting on Boeser’s goal and Pettersson’s empty-netter. He was also named the first Star of the game.
Dickinson, traded to Vancouver for a third-round pick in the summer, played on a line with Boeser and Pettersson despite a tough season in which he entered Monday with four goals.
— Radulov’s first period assist was his first point since March 24, snapping a 10-game pointless streak.
Find more Stars coverage from The Dallas Morning News here.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism