The Dallas Stars and Routine Late-Season Collapses

Kari Lehtonen continues to prove himself in Dallas.
Kari Lehtonen (Icon SMI)

As the Detroit Red Wings put the finishing touches on the Nashville Predators on the night of April 25th, the  Dallas Stars already grim playoff hopes officially perished. The team limped through the third period of their match up with the Columbus Blue Jackets, falling 3-1 in a listless, flat performance that represented the mood of Dallas Stars fans everywhere.

It has now been five seasons without a playoff appearance for the Dallas Stars, but the last three have been especially cruel.

April 10, 2011

The final day of the NHL 2011 regular season and the Dallas Stars sit just one victory away from a postseason birth. They entirely control their own fate and just one team stands in their way of securing the 8th and final playoff spot.

That team? The Minnesota Wild, who were already packed up and ready for a long summer. Out of playoff contention with nothing but their pride to play for.

The Stars struggled with the Wild, but managed to tie the game in the final minutes of the second period. Their season came down to just one period. Win 20 minutes, win the game, win a spot in the playoffs. The pressure was on, but surely this team, who had played so well for the first half of the season, even leading the Western Conference for a time, could win just one more period, right? Well, that’s what we all hoped. Boy were we wrong.

As Antti Miettinen buried a puck in an open net to give the Wild a 4-3 lead, the postseason hopes of the Dallas Stars took a hit that the team would not be able to recover from. Pierre Marc-Bouchard sealed the game with an empty netter, giving the Wild a 5-3 win. The Dallas Stars season ended with a whimper.

Brad Richards would leave the team in free agency and head coach Marc Crawford would get the boot in the offseason. Had the Stars won that game, would Marc Crawford still be the coach? Would a long playoff run have convinced Brad Richards to resign? The fact that we’re still asking these questions probably has you assuming the next two seasons didn’t go well. You assumed right.

March 30, 2012

And here we are, a little under a year later. The Dallas Stars sit on top of the Pacific Division before their match up with the Vancouver Canucks, a six-game winning streak earlier in the month catapulting them back into the playoff race. With five games remaining in the season, the Stars aren’t at all guaranteed a spot in the playoffs, but as long as they don’t have a total collapse, they’re in a safe enough position to secure a playoff spot.

Collapse. There’s that word again.

This night, March 30th, would see the Dallas Stars losing to the Canucks, 5-2. More importantly, it was the beginning of an inexplicable five-game losing streak to end the season, knocking the Dallas Stars out of the playoffs. The Stars still had a chance to redeem themselves up to April 3rd, where a victory against the San Jose Sharks would give them control of their own destiny. They dropped that game 5-2 at home.

The Stars picked up the pieces, traded away two of their core players in Steve Ott and Mike Ribeiro in the offseason and signed Ray Whitney and Jaromir Jagr in free agency, hoping to simultaneously compete for a playoff spot while rebuilding their roster with an influx of youth.

April 23, 2013

To be completely fair to the Dallas Stars, absolutely no one saw them competing for a playoff spot after the trade deadline, with the Stars trading away Michael Ryder, Brenden Morrow, Derek Roy, and Jaromir Jagr in the days and weeks beforehand. We all accepted that a fifth year without the playoffs was upon us, and you know what? That didn’t sound so bad if it meant the Stars could finally get a high draft pick.

Then the Dallas Stars went and won five straight games.

Suddenly, there’s hope. The Stars are right in the mix for a playoff spot. Despite two straight disheartening losses, the team still controlled their own playoff fate on April 23rd. A win against the San Jose Sharks would get them one step closer to the playoffs.

They battled hard and had a 2-1 lead heading into the third period. With just under 6 minutes left, San Jose’s Joe Pavelski tied the game. Unfortunate, but the Stars could still win this game, or at the very least, secure a point to make their path to the playoffs more feasible. Those thoughts didn’t last long.

Logan Couture scored exactly 30 seconds later and the San Jose Sharks would hold the lead, winning 3-2. Just like that, our hearts were broken all over again. We let hope grab us, thinking that maybe, the improbable was possible. This particular late-season collapse doesn’t sting as much as the two preceding years, but the culmination of all three is almost too much.

The Stars have one game remaining against the Detroit Red Wings, but it’s meaningless. Rookies like Matt Fraser, Reilly Smith, and Alex Chiasson will be heading back to Austin to lead the Texas Stars in what will hopefully be a long and fruitful run at the Calder Cup. They are once again looking at a mid-first round draft pick, assuming the Dallas Stars don’t miraculously win the draft lottery or that Joe Nieuwendyk doesn’t move up (a far likelier scenario). Head coach Glen Gulutzan’s contract will likely not be renewed, and Nieuwendyk himself could be gone as well if new owner Tom Gaglardi prefers to go in a different direction.

Five years without the playoffs. Five years of futility and wasted opportunities. Will 2013-2014 be the season it all changes? We can hope, but hope hasn’t gotten us very far lately.