The Dallas Stars returned to the American Airlines Center for Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals on Tuesday night, hoping for a crucial win to get them back into the series.
Instead, the team fell flat, allowing the Vegas Golden Knights to score three times on their first five shot attempts as goalie Jake Oettinger was pulled just 7:10 into the game.
“The start didn’t help [the team] at all,” forward Joe Pavelski told the media after the game. “It was a weird game. It never got going for us. It is what it is now, and we’ll figure it out.”
To make matters worse, Dallas lost captain Jamie Benn to game misconduct and forward Evgenii Dadonov to an injury in the first period, and fans started throwing debris onto the ice in the second period.
“Just an unfortunate play,” Benn said of the call as he met with the media Wednesday. “I think I just need to be more responsible with my body and my stick. I put my team in a tough situation, so it was pretty unfortunate.”
The disastrous start was the perfect recipe to put the Stars on the brink of elimination for the second time in 10 days entering Thursday’s Game 4.
“I’m not sure we could script much worse,” Coach Pete DeBoer said in his postgame press conference. “I liked our energy, and I loved us on the penalty kill. Even though we gave up the first goal and Jamie took the penalty, we had the legs, energy, and attitude to survive it.”
“We didn’t,” he continued. “That’s an unfortunate part of it, and now we’re in a big hole. We have to find a way to win a game on Thursday.”
Oettinger and Benn have been two of the Stars’ best players all season, particularly in the playoffs. Benn is tied for fourth on the team in points with 11 this postseason (three goals, eight assists), while Oettinger has put together some fantastic performances to help his team advance.
Tuesday’s lackluster results have the team looking for answers as it prepares for Game 4.
“We’re concerned with our whole team,” DeBoer explained. “We’re in a 3-0 hole. We wouldn’t be sitting here playing without Jake Oettinger, we wouldn’t be sitting here playing without Jamie Benn. Those guys have been huge pieces of us getting here. We all have to be better to get out of this hole.”
The loss was marred by images of fans throwing things onto the ice in response to a penalty call, forcing both teams off the ice with 21.6 seconds left in the second period.
“We have tremendous fans,” Pavelski said. “I love playing for them. They were engaged, they wanted it as much as we did, and they showed it in that way. You don’t like to see it, but we have to be better for them. We’re all in this together, and they wanted a better performance. They didn’t get it out of us, and now it’s up to us to bring it.”
Stars President and CEO Brad Alberts apologized for those actions on Wednesday.
“On behalf of the Dallas Stars organization, I would like to apologize to the Vegas Golden Knights and the National Hockey League for the actions of a few of our spectators at last night’s game.” Alberts began. “Their actions were unacceptable and put the safety of the players and fans at risk.”
“We take pride in providing the best experience for everyone who enters our arena. The actions of these individuals certainly do not reflect our great city, organization and loyal fan base,” he concluded.
The Western Conference Finals continue at 7 p.m. CT Thursday at the American Airlines Center.