Despite mounting a late flurry of offense with Antti Niemi pulled that was calmly defused by Dallas defenseman Trevor Daley blocking roughly two billion shots, errors made early in the first period cost the Sharks in their 2-1 loss to the Stars on Saturday. The defeat represented a failure by San Jose to step on Dallas' collective neck in the playoff race and overtake the Los Angeles Kings for 4th place in the conference.
An unwise pinch by Dan Boyle two minutes into the game allowed the Stars to spring Eric Nystrom and Vernon Fiddler on a 2-on-1 that Nystrom cashed in for his third goal in five games. Minutes later, a Raffi Torres leap into Philip Larsen was deemed interference and the red-hot Alex Chiasson converted on the ensuing power play for Dallas.
For the remaining 53 minutes of the hockey game, the Sharks were pretty decisively the better team, building a significant territorial advantage even if they failed to convert that territory into grade-A scoring opportunities as often as they would have preferred in the second period. Still, an impressive-looking power play that created a Joe Pavelski one-timer and subsequent rebound chance, beautiful set-ups in the crease for Raffi Torres and Patrick Marleau on separate occasions and attempts off the rush from both wings by T.J. Galiardi could have closed the gap for San Jose. None did.
The goal that drew the Sharks to within one came on a third period power play off the stick of Brent Burns who shoveled a backhand past goaltender Richard Bachman after he stopped an initial shot from Galiardi. That was all the scoring the Sharks would muster but, at least on this night, it wasn't for a lack of effort. On the other hand, despite dominating Dallas in every manner last season, the Sharks are now 0-2-1 against the Stars with one game between the two remaining. Speaking of Dallas' remaining schedule, there's still miles to go before the Stars solidify a playoff spot despite the win vaulting them into eighth place. They face a murderer's row of opponents the rest of the way, drawing the Sharks, Canucks, Blues and Kings before the finale against Detroit that could very well determine eighth place in the West.
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Richard Bachman
2nd Star: Eric Nystrom
3rd Star: Justin Braun
Overall, it's difficult to be too upset at the result in this game. At this time of year, with things relatively in place for the Sharks as far as their shot at the playoffs is concerned, it's the process that really matters and there were a lot of positives in their game, particularly in their in-zone forecheck and success in puck battles, to draw from and build upon. It was a blown opportunity, but one of the variety that suggests the Sharks are unlikely to blow these kinds of games very often in the future.