RALEIGH — The Eastern Conference standings, updated and posted in the Carolina Hurricanes' locker room, has a red line dividing the top eight teams and the bottom seven.
Carolina was just below the red line Monday, in ninth place. And unless the Canes can find a way to start winning home games, it may be tough climbing above it.
The Hurricanes dropped their third straight on home ice Monday, losing 4-1 to the surging Dallas Stars at the RBC Center. That left everyone in the Canes' room in a sour mood.
"We're kind of treading water in and around that red line for the playoffs," said captain Eric Staal, who scored the Canes' only goal on a second-period breakaway. "We've got to find ways to get above that line. We've got to find ways to win.
"Tonight was one of those times we had to find a way to win and we didn't."
The Stars (14-8-1), who lead the Pacific Division, didn't do anything special or spectacular. James Neal scored twice, Jamie Benn had a goal and assist and Kari Lehtonen more than did his job in net, stopping 27 shots.
The Hurricanes (10-11-3) had gone on the road for a pair of games, squeezing out three of a possible four points. Carolina shut out the Boston Bruins 3-0 on Friday behind Cam Ward's 37 saves, then took the Washington Capitals to a shootout Sunday before losing 3-2.
Staal's dramatic goal with 2.2 seconds left in regulation earned the Canes a point against the Caps. But Carolina was outhustled and outchanced by the Stars, who picked up their fourth straight victory and won in the RBC Center for the first time since the 2003-2004 season.
"We just weren't any good," Canes coach Paul Maurice said. "No quickness, no pace. Missed the net eight times in the first period. Just off."
Fatigue could have been an factor. It was the second game of a back-to-back set and Carolina's fourth game in six days.
Asked about the effects of a busy November schedule, Maurice said, "Our schedule is not going to change. It's (expletive) from start to finish. We just have to deal with it.
"Everybody has their tough stretches. That's fine. ... We're just going to have to start winning some of these games."
Especially at home. The Canes are 4-5-1 at the RBC Center, have been shut out twice and have scored four goals in the recent three-game slide at home.
Neal's first goal gave the Stars a 1-0 lead after the first, and goals by Steve Ott and Neal again -- just 1:33 apart -- quickly pushed the lead to 3-0 early in the second.
Ott's goal came after the Stars killed off a penalty, with the Canes slow to react as Dallas began a rush down ice.
"You hate giving up a goal after a power play like that," Maurice said. "It's just not good hockey. ... Our legs might have been tired but I thought our heads looked tired."
Neal's second goal came after he was wide left on a shot, but collected the rebound off the back boards and blistered a shot past Ward.
"I thought we were trying but there wasn't enough jump, there wasn't enough hop in our step, and their skill made us pay," Staal said.
Staal scored at 7:57 of the second on a four-on-four, outskating defenseman Nicklas Grossman to the puck along the left boards and beating Lehtonen with a top-shelf shot to make it 3-1. Suddenly, the Canes had some life.
"There was some energy on our bench and in our crowd," Staal said. "I thought if we get another one after that, we're right there."
But Benn fought his way past defenseman Ian White to the puck in front and scored early in the third to make it 4-1.
"We recognized they had a tough game in Washington last night and we wanted to make it very difficult for them," Stars coach Marc Crawford said.
The Stars did just that. There was little or nothing the Canes could do to change it.
"It wasn't there," forward Tuomo Ruutu said. "Hopefully this doesn't happen again. I don't think we were a tough team to play against tonight."
1. James Neal, Dallas. Forward scores ninth, 10th goals of season.
2. Jamie Benn, Dallas. Young forward has goal, assist.
3. Kari Lehtonen, Dallas. Goalie has 27 saves, wins 12th game.
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