Frustrating. That's all you can say about what happened this year.
With a playoff spot and destiny in their own hands, the Dallas Stars went out and failed miserably for the fourth straight season. It's the second straight season that their playoff spot was forcibly ripped out of their own hands at the end of the season.
The playoff spot wasn't all lost at the end of the season though, there were signs of trouble throughout the wildly up-and-down year. Here's a breakdown of just how the season went for this team, as well as other key moments from the other Pacific Division teams that actually made the playoffs:
October 7 - November 8
Dallas got off to a great start this season, one of the best in the NHL as they only lost three of their first 14 games of the season. They beat multiple teams that would prove to be Cup contenders by the end of the year (New Jersey, Phoenix, St. Louis and Chicago). They were the surprise of the league (along with Edmonton and Minnesota at the time) and looked for real when they dominated the Washington Capitals on the road.
San Jose would start strong as well while the Phoenix Coyotes and LA Kings stumbled out of the gate. Dallas makes a key move in the middle of October when they sign a recently released Eric Nystrom. He would lead the team in goals for the first couple months of the season.
The first hiccups of the season for Dallas. It all started with a road game in Pittsburgh that took a turn for the worse when Alex Goligoski broke his thumb. Dallas would lose five straight games, two shutouts and their worst home loss of the season (6-0 to the Florida Panthers).
The first signs of a really ineffective power play show without Goligoski to run the point. A unit that scored 10 power play goals in the first 14 games of the season (10 of 52, 19%) would play 28 more games before they scoring 10 more power play goals (10 of 89, 11%). Discipline issues are also evident as the Stars can't stay out of the penalty box.
November 26 - December 8
Kari Lehtonen suffers a groin injury in the first minutes of a game against the Coyotes, forcing Andrew Raycroft to step into the starter's position. Raycroft proceeds to allow three goals and Trevor Daley and Vernon Fiddler are also injured. Raycroft would actually win his next two games before returning to his usual poor form. He's sent back to the bench and rookie Richard Bachman is called up from the minors to be the new starter. Daley and Goligoski return from their respective injuries on Dec. 8.
December 10 - 26
Bachman plays great and wins five of his seven starts. Dallas looks back on track as Kari Lehtonen finally makes his return from a groin injury. At the same time, the LA Kings fire coach Terry Murray and end up hiring Darryl Sutter after continuing to play poorly. LA would slowly show signs of getting back into the playoff race. Phoenix also goes on an extended losing streak.
December 29 - January 24
From Christmas till the All-Star break, the Stars would play some of their worst hockey of the season (the Coyotes would as well). Dallas would only win five of 13 games during this stretch of this season. Included in this stretch is a embarrassing 4-1 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets, the worse team in the NHL. The Stars would also prove that they would be a terrible team on the second night of back-to-backs and it would haunt them the rest of the season.
The offense hits a terrible rut when both Jamie Benn and Mike Ribeiro suffer injuries. The Stars would score only six goals five games while those two were out and lose each of those five games. Dallas enters the All-Star break on a bad losing streak.
The LA Kings would have one of the most controversial wins of the season in the first game back from the All-Star break. In a home game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Kings are entering the final seconds of the game tied at 2-2. During the run of play, the LA Kings clock operator stops the clock at 1.8 seconds for a full second, giving the Kings extra time. LA would take advantage of that extra time and score a goal with less than a second left in the game. The clock stopping would go unnoticed by the officials and the league takes no action after the game. LA gains two crucial extra points as a result. This becomes Clockgate.
February 2 - 19
Dallas continues their poor play that they had before the All-Star break. They would only win four of the next 11 games and looked like they had no chance to make the playoffs. After struggling all season, Brenden Morrow goes on the injured reserve with back, neck and shoulder issues. He would miss the next month+ and would be nowhere near the player he was last season. The Kings and Sharks struggle mightily as well. San Jose would only win six games in the next month and a half to bring themselves back to the pack while the Kings would only win five games in February. The Coyotes play incredible hockey in February, winning 11 of the 12 games they play.
February 21 - March 13
Dallas plays their best hockey in 13 years as they win 10 of the next 11 games and gather points in 11 straight games. They suddenly find themselves atop the Pacific Division after languishing in the 10-12 spots in the Western Conference for much of the season. The lead is very slim though as the Coyotes, Sharks and Kings are all within striking distance.
March 14 - 24
With the Division lead and a playoff spot in their own hands, the Stars lose three of the next five games and cling to a two point lead. San Jose finally sees the end of their dark days on March 15 as they're finally able to string together two wins again. The Kings play their best hockey of the season through March by winning eight of the first 10 games while the Coyotes meander along. It becomes clear that the final three playoff spots will go to three of these four teams as Calgary and Colorado fade away.
This is the killer loss of the season for the Stars. They are on the road to play the Calgary Flames clinging to their spot atop the Pacific Division and needing to win with the most difficult portion of their schedule still ahead. Dallas takes a 2-1 lead in second period as Jamie Benn plays like an MVP. The turning point in the playoff race and season happens 10 minutes into the second period. Mike Ribeiro has the puck in the Stars zone after winning a puck along the boards.
He sees Jarome Iginla skating towards him from the face-off circle and for some insane reason Ribeiro just throws the puck into the slot right in front of his own goaltender. There's only one guy waiting there, Flames forward Blake Comeau He has the easiest goal of his career, tying it at 2-2. The Flames would ride that sudden rush of momentum and score three more times in the period, taking a 5-3 lead into the last period that would hold up for the rest of the game. It would be the Flames only win in nine games and the Stars suffer a huge blow to their playoff hopes.
March 28 - April 3
Dallas wins one game against the Edmonton Oilers before entering the most difficult part of the entire season. They proceed to get blown out in three straight games against the Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks. Their offense is putrid and their defense is Swiss cheese on ice Kari Lehtonen has the worst stretch of games he'll have all season and the power play finally shows that it is literally the worst in the history of the NHL.
In the last crucial moment of the season, the Stars have a full minute and a half on a five-on-three power play against the San Jose Sharks with the game tied at 1-1. They spend that entire time passing the puck around and never even attempt to shoot at the net. Their two man advantage ends and the Stars would end up losing 5-2, dropping them out of the playoffs.
The final blow to the Stars season. They lose 2-0 to the Nashville Predators, their second shutout in three games. The Stars show no urgency throughout the game and just look despondent. Immediately after the loss is an advertisement for Stars playoff tickets even though they had just been officially knocked out. In the span of one week, the Stars go from Division leaders to out of the playoffs. In the three most important games of the season against the Sharks and Predators Ribeiro, Benn, Eriksson and Ryder would combine for a total of two assists and the Stars would be shutout twice as a result.
Meanwhile the LA Kings get some karma for Clockgate. With two minutes left in the game, the Kings find themselves on an odd-man rush along the benches. Sharks forward Ryane Clowe, off ice at the time, reaches over the boards and slaps the puck away from Kings forward Jarret Stoll. No official sees the incident while the entire Kings bench and crowd is going ballistic. San Jose would end up winning the game in a shootout, tying the Kings for the division lead.
And that is how a team blows their playoff chances for the fourth straight season. It was a lot later this season, but the end of year collapse happened again to the Stars. There's a lot to be hopeful for though as the offseason hits Dallas. They'll finally have some money to get some good free agents and the youngsters are making an impact on the team. Perhaps next season will (finally) be different.