Past is playing havoc
Canadiens’ Niemi stops his former team, adds to Stars’ troubles
MONTREAL — You couldn’t tell a ghost story much scarier than this one.
As the Stars try to navigate a six-game road trip that could play a huge role in whether they return to the playoffs, they are being haunted by spirits from the past.
Spirits of every kind.
Antti Niemi was the specter Tuesday in a 4-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens. The goalie who was bought out by the Stars last summer came up with 36 saves. So in essence, the Stars paid Niemi $1.5 million to beat them.
Oh yeah, and they owe him another $1.5 million for next season.
Of course, they also watched Sunday while former Stars defenseman Jamie Oleksiak was named the No. 1 star in a 3-1 Penguins win in Pittsburgh, so the revenant of revenge has been circling all around this team.
But if the actual bodies weren’t enough, well, the ghosts of regret also have been thick. Dallas is facing one of its toughest stretches of the season but is making it harder
than it has to be.
Both Pittsburgh and Montreal had played the night before taking on the Stars and had to travel in while the Stars rested. Dallas is now 3-7-1 in games where the opposition played the night before. What’s more, Montreal was finishing up a six-game road trip and was 0-3-2 in its previous five games.
Bottom line, the Stars could not afford to lose this game. And yet they found a way. “This time of year, it’s really revealing, one way or the other,” Stars coach Ken Hitchcock said. “I think the thing that concerns us is we’ve shown some cracks that we haven’t shown when it was the middle of the season. Now the temperature has gone way up and we’ve shown some cracks, so we’ve got to help the guys get through that stuff.”
The Stars played great early and had a 1-0 lead, but they unraveled in the second period when Dan Hamhuis took a double-minor for high-sticking and Radek Faksa took a tripping penalty. Montreal scored twice on the power play in the span of 27 seconds to take a 3-1 lead, and that was pretty much the game.
A Dallas team that is averaging less than two goals a game over the last 13 was just not going to get to three. Jamie Benn scored on the power play to cut the deficit to 3-2, but Montreal scored its third power-play goal to put things away.
The Stars fell to 38-266 (82 points). They are still in playoff position, but they are 2-3-2 in their last seven and they are frittering away points they should be getting. As they continue on the longest road trip of the season, it won’t get easier.
They play at Toronto Wednesday, and Kari Lehtonen is expected to play his third game in four nights. What’s more, Marc Methot might have a hand injury and other players might be battling bumps and bruises, Hitchcock said.
So, how do they of this?
“We’ve got to move on,” Benn said. “We’ve got to learn and learn quick.”
And Hitchcock believes that is possible for this group.
“We’re not dead yet, by the way,” Hitchcock said. “There are some signs that we’re pointed in the right direction, but we’re not all there. We’re two-thirds in, and at this time of year that doesn’t cut it.”
The push-back could start Wednesday in Toronto.
“We’ve gone from the outhouse to getting involved in this thing, but we’ve got to finish the job if we expect to get in,” Hitchcock said. “By the end of the year we’ll have a really good evaluation of what we did.” get out
Stars center Jason Dickinson (16) and Canadiens left wing Nicolas Deslauriers fight during the third period.