If the regular-season door closes harshly on the Dallas Stars, they will not have to look far to see what kept them on the outside looking in at the postseason party.
Sitting fifth in the Central Division standings, Dallas (21-17-14, 56 points) is hoping it does not have to hear that word Wednesday night when it starts a two-game series against the host Tampa Bay Lightning (35-14-3, 73 points).
While the Stars’ record against Tampa Bay is lacking — 1-4-1 against the Stanley Cup champs — their mark in overtime has been dreadful and will definitely be Exhibit A when their season is scrutinized at its conclusion.
In Sunrise against the Florida Panthers on Monday night, they rallied from a two-goal deficit — getting third-period tallies from Joel Kiviranta and Tyler Seguin 11 seconds apart — before Cats captain Aleksander Barkov one-timed a power-play goal in overtime.
On Saturday, Dallas lost 1-0 in Nashville in overtime, too — essentially dropping two points in the past two games to the Predators, who hold a four-point lead for the final spot but have played one more game than the Stars.
In what has been a recurring scene of frustration, the Stars fell to 5-14 in overtime — 3-8 in three-on-three play, although the Panthers won with a four-on-three man advantage.
The OT power play occurred when Joe Pavelski hooked Barkov, who slipped back door in the slot.
“We’ve got to stop taking these stupid penalties in overtime,” said Dallas coach Rick Bowness. “They’re just stupid penalties. That’s what’s hurting us. I know the overtime record — I get it — but when you’re shooting yourself in the foot like we are, you’re not going to win overtime taking penalties.”
In his first game this season after missing the opening 51 because of offseason hip surgery, Seguin was anxious to get out there.
“A lot of excitement, a lot of nerves, and frankly a lot of emotion,” he said. “It was a long journey to get to this point.”
The third-place Lightning have clinched a playoff berth and need to be mindful not to be caught looking ahead to their two games later this week against down-state rival Florida.
The second-place Panthers possess a two-point lead over Tampa Bay, with the Lightning’s games Wednesday and Friday making up the two games in hand.
The first meeting with Florida will be Saturday — the third game in four nights for the Lightning, while the Panthers are off until then — and the Sunshine State foes will close their regular season on Monday night.
But first, coach Jon Cooper and his Lightning must take care of their business at hand in dealing with the Stars.
They have played tight, defensive-oriented hockey against Dallas in the previous six contests, outscoring the Stars 19-8 and posting three of their five wins (5-1-0) via shutouts.
Despite losing 1-0 in a shootout last Saturday to the seventh-place Red Wings — who have spent much of the year in the Central’s basement — Cooper said he likes the way his team is playing as it heads toward the finish.
On Tuesday, injured captain Steven Stamkos and right winger Nikita Kucherov practiced in regular jerseys, although neither will play the rest of the regular season.
“It’s a good first step,” Cooper said of Stamkos being on the ice.
–Field Level Media