EDMONTON, Alberta (Ticker) -- The Dallas Stars bounced the Edmonton Oilers out of the playoffs for the fourth year in a row, rallying for a 3-1 victory in Game Six of the conference quarterfinals on Joe Nieuwendyk's go-ahead goal with 2:53 left.
Nieuwendyk had not played since injuring his right knee in Game Two. But Brett Hull's pass from the neutral zone bounced off the skate of Oilers defenseman Igor Ulanov and found Nieuwendyk alone in the right faceoff circle. The 1999 Conn Smythe Trophy winner snapped a wrist shot between goaltender Tommy Salo's pads for his second goal of the series.
"I didn't feel great out there, but I just tried to stick with it. I was hoping for an opportunity and I finally got one with three minutes to go," Nieuwendyk said. "It was just kind of a late-developing play and kind of lucky, too. It went off of Igor Ulanov's skate and came right to me. I was able to get some separation from the other defensemen and just put it on net."
Mike Modano scored into an empty net with 44 seconds left to seal the win for the Stars, who have lost just four of the last 20 playoff meetings with the Oilers.
"They pushed us to the limit again," Modano said. "They got some real warriors over there. (Ryan) Smyth and (Doug) Weight and Salo and (Eric) Brewer played a great series, too. That's a really good nucleus and they're going to keep getting better."
Nieuwendyk's goal helped these teams avoid a fourth straight overtime while Modano's tally made this the first game in the series that was decided by more than a goal.
"They came with the attitude that the gap between our two teams was closing or had closed, and I'm not going to deny them that at all," Stars coach Ken Hitchcock said.
Held without a goal in the first five games of the series, Hull started Dallas' comeback 8:57 into the third period. After Ulanov coughed up the puck in front of his own net, Salo stopped two shots by Modano before Hull lifted the puck over the sprawled goalie from the top of the crease.
After giving up Smyth's goal 4:44 into the first period, Dallas' Ed Belfour stopped everything he saw and improved to 17-2 when able to eliminate an opponent.
It was another disappointing ending for Edmonton, which has not gotten past the first round since 1998. The Oilers had chances to pad their lead but failed on five power-play chances.
"Disappointment isn't even close to the right word," said Edmonton captain Doug Weight. "We had a firm belief in this room that we could be the better team and that we should come out on top. It doesn't get any easier to do this. ... We underachieved in one area and it's the same area Dallas is strongest in -- not making mistakes."
The Oilers had third-period leads in each of the last two games, losing in overtime Thursday before Saturday's setback.
"In my heart, I really felt and still do that the series was ours to win. That may sound optimistic but if we had executed, which we didn't do, it might have been a different story," said Edmonton coach Craig MacTavish. "The last two games were maybe as bad as we've played in a long time."
Game Six started well for Edmonton, which grabbed the lead on Smyth's third goal of the series. After taking a pass from Weight at the right side of the net, Smyth jammed the puck between Belfour's pads as he was being taken down by defenseman Richard Matvichuk.
Todd Marchant had a chance to double the lead but wristed a shot off the goalpost while killing a penalty in the opening minute of the second period.
The Oilers failed to score on back-to-back power plays later in the period and squandered another just before Hull tied it on Dallas' 22nd shot of the night.
The win gave the Stars a few days off before a second-round meeting with Detroit or St. Louis.
"The real key is to get it over with as quick as you can and get the extra days to rest while Detroit and LA go at it," Modano said. "We didn't want a Game Seven situation, especially against a hungry team like Edmonton."
Salo made 23 saves but fell to 3-12 lifetime in the postseason.
"We still have the goaltending, and that gave us the opportunity to stay in the game. We just continued to have players -- and I won't name them -- that we were expecting big things from, and we didn't get them," MacTavish said.