Past is play­ing havoc

Canadiens’ Niemi stops his former team, adds to Stars’ trou­bles

The Dallas Morning News - - Sports Day - Twit­ter: @Mike­heika

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



Paul Chi­as­son/the As­so­ci­ated Press

Stars cen­ter Ja­son Dick­in­son (16) and Canadiens left wing Ni­co­las Des­lau­ri­ers fight dur­ing the third pe­riod.

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