The Dallas Stars still have hope.
The Carolina Hurricanes still have games to be played.
That aptly sums up the situation of the two teams in the final stretch of the NHL season and it showed in the Stars’ 5-3 win over the Canes Thursday at PNC Arena.
The Stars were the quicker, more aggressive and determined team. They outhustled and outskated the Hurricanes until late in the third period, building a 4-1 lead.
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The Canes, who got an early goal from Victor Rask, made a late push. Andrej Nestrasil and Chris Terry crashed the net to score 48 seconds apart in the final six minutes of regulation, and Jeff Skinner and Eric Staal both had other scoring chances before the Stars’ Patrick Eaves scored an empty-netter.
“You’ve got to dig deep for 60 (minutes) and we didn’t do it,” Nestrasil said. “The better team won tonight.”
It was the best game of the season for Rask, a rookie center who had a goal and two assists and was plus-3. Rask also won seven of nine faceoffs.
But the Canes managed just 18 shots, four in the first period, in dropping their fourth game in the past five.
“We never executed,” Canes coach Bill Peters said.
Dallas, with goalie Kari Lehtonen playing his 500th career game, were in 12th place in the Western Conference before Thursday, eight points out of playoff position. The Stars went 3-5-2 in the 10 games star forward Tyler Seguin missed with a knee injury, but have him back in the lineup for the stretch run.
The Stars (31-27-10) took a 3-1 lead after the opening period, getting goals from forward Curtis McKenzie and defensemen Alex Goligoski and Jason Demers. Forward Cody Eakin, held out of the Philadelphia Flyers game on Tuesday because of a discipline issue, added a third-period goal for the 4-1 lead.
“We didn’t handle the puck very well,” Nestrasil said. “We weren’t crisp enough and threw bombs at each other and couldn’t handle the puck.”
The Canes (25-33-8) got just the start they wanted as Rask gave them a 1-0 lead.
Rask won a draw in the offensive zone four minutes into the game, beat Stars center Jason Spezza to the net and backhanded the rebound of a Bellemore shot.
It was Rask’s 10th of the season, making the Swede the first Hurricanes rookie since Skinner in 2010-11 to score 10 or more.
But the Carolina advantage was shortlived. The Stars quickly began to wear down the Canes with a relentless forecheck.
McKenzie outfought Canes defenseman Rasmus Rissanen for the puck by the post for a 1-1 tie, and the Stars’ second goal was a snapshot of their speed and grit.
Dallas pushed the puck into the Canes zone and kept it there for more than two minutes. The Stars made a few shift changes in the process, with Goligoski finally ripping a shot past goalie Anton Khudobin from the slot.
Demers then pushed the lead to 3-1 with a rising shot from the right point that Khudobin could not track.
The Canes had their chances in the second period, twice getting power plays but no shots. Lehtonen also did his part in the second, stopping Alexander Semin on a breakaway.
“The team that deserved to get two points got two points,” Peters said,