DALLAS — The Dallas Stars entered Thursday’s game with the Columbus Blue Jackets with a glimmer of hope that the organization’s four-season playoff drought could end.
However, the Stars ultimately ended their chance at an opening-round date with the Chicago Blackhawks, losing to Columbus at home, 3-1.
“It’s the absolute worst,” Stars winger Eric Nystrom said. “There’s nothing worse than sitting at home and watching other teams compete for what we want.”
Dallas (22-21-4) began the game with its back to the wall, allowing Columbus’ first goal just 19 seconds into the game. Blue Jacket right winger Cam Atkinson scored the first of his two goals on a quick shot off passes from Blake Comeau and Brandon Dubinsky.
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A fight between Nystrom and Dalton Prout shortly after the Columbus goal seemed to awakened the Stars, but they waited until early in the second period to tie the game 1-1.
Just under nine minutes into the second period, Stars center Jamie Benn scored for the 12th time this season — and fourth in the past six games. Assists by Erik Cole to Ray Whitney set Benn up.
Late in the second period, the Stars’ playoff fate was sealed when the Detroit Red Wings beat Nashville 5-2 to move past Minnesota into seventh in the Western Conference.
The Stars knew they had been eliminated before taking the ice in the third period and it affected their performance.
“Everybody knew the score of the other game so I’m sure that had a little bit to do with it,” Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen said. “We weren’t as desperate as they were and that turned it.”
In turn, Columbus’ chances at the final playoff seed were saved by a third-period goal by Mark Letestu. The Blue Jackets center cashed in on Stephane Robidas’ second penalty of the game, tipping a shot by Brandon Dubinsky past Lehtonen just seconds into the power play. The goal snapped a 1-for-22 power play drought for Columbus.
“It couldn’t have been any more of a perfect tip into the top corner,” Nystrom said.
The Blue Jackets added an insurance goal with a 1:40 left. A shot from the point trickled lose to the right of Lehtonen and Atkinson shoved it in. Jack Johnson and Prout had assists on the goal.
Sergei Bobrovsky made 31 saves for Columbus, which is even in points with the Wild, who hold eighth place due to the non-shootout wins tiebreaker.
Columbus needs to beat the Predators on Saturday, and have the Stars beat the Red Wings in regulation on Saturday, or have the Wild earn no more than one point in their two remaining games, for just the second postseason berth in franchise history and first since 2009.
The Stars will finish the lockout-shortened season Saturday against against Detroit, which will be fighing to catch Columbus for the No. 8 seed.
The Stars have lost four straight (0-3-1) to miss the playoffs for the fifth straight season, the longest drought in franchise history.