DALLAS - It was gut-check time for the Edmonton Oilers as they had one last opportunity to try and salvage something out of a season-long seven-game road trip.
Unfortunately for the Oilers, the desire was there, but the legs were not as the travel caught up to them in a 4-1 loss to the Dallas Stars.
The Oilers had little left in the tank heading into the third period tied, and were overwhelmed as the Stars poured on the pressure and squeezed out whatever life was left in the visitors.
Jamie Benn scored a pair of goals for the Stars, while Mike Ribeiro added the other two. Taylor Hall responded for the Oilers, who also lost the services of forward Jordan Eberle.
The Oilers sophomore sensation left the game in the first period with a knee injury after getting tangled up with Benn.
“It’s definitely been a long trip,” said Hall. “We didn’t get the results we wanted. We had a 1-1 game going into the third period and we had a couple of lapses and stuff you can’t allow in a game like that.
“It’s tough, you would almost rather lose a game 7-1, when it’s really clear what you’re doing wrong. We’re in every game, they are one- or two-goal games and we’re in them until the bitter end. We just have to be a better team of closing it out.”
The Oilers were out-shot 16-8 in the third period as the Stars sensed they were facing a tired and banged up team that is looking likelier to get a lottery pick than a playoff spot this season.
By the time Benn collected the go-ahead marker in the third period, the Oilers had been out-shot 11-1 in the frame.
Had it not been for the play of Nikolai Khabibulin things would have been far worse.
“I think to a point we had some fatigue, with a short bench, I think it has an effect on you,” said Oilers head coach Tom Renney. “But I think athletes are in good enough shape to push through it. I think it was as much mental as it was physical at some point and time.
“They go on to get the third one, then you start wondering how you’re going to pull it off. They’re trying, they worked hard, and it just wasn’t enough.”
Ribeiro’s first third-period marker, banking a centring pass off defenceman Colten Teubert and then Josh Green past Khabibulin, gave the Stars a 3-1 lead and sealed the Oilers fate.
Ribeiro then added an empty-netter to ice the contest.
It was the ninth time this season the Oilers have gone into the third period tied with an opponent, but they have yet to pull out a victory. They have seven regulation losses and two shootout defeats to show for their efforts.
“Most teams are pretty happy with being tied on the road after two periods,” said centre Sam Gagner. “I think we were pretty happy as well, we just wanted to continue to push forward and be patient and wait for our offence.
“But when they got that second goal, it seemed like we pressed too much and lost that patience and it ultimately cost us.”
Hall had opened the scoring in the first period, getting a fortunate bounce as goaltender Richard Bachman was unable to cleanly handle the shot then had the puck hit defencemen Alex Goligoski and bounce over him into the net.
The goal came after the Oilers had lost Eberle. The Oilers leading scorer will be evaluated further at home to determine the extent of the injury.
“It’s unreal how the injuries are going with our season,” said Hall. “Gibby (Tom Gilbert), Nuge (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins), Ebs, (Ryan) Whitney, those are really key guys on our team, on our power play, on our penalty kill, everything. When those guys go down, you have to play a little bit more and at the end of the trip it gets taxing. Just having those guys be out in the first place is tough as well.”