With Dallas' high-octane offense matching up against a club that had allowed 14 goals over the past two games, the stage was set for a wild game with the Nashville Predators. It never materialized the way the Stars had hoped.
One week after trouncing the Predators with a six-goal outburst, Dallas had trouble solving Nashville goalie Dan Ellis, who made 24 saves in the Predators' 3-1 win on Saturday night at American Airlines Center.
The loss, only Dallas' third in the past 16 games, snapped the Stars four-game winning streak, and denied them an opportunity to climb to within a point of Detroit for the top spot in the Western Conference. The Stars, though, maintained their eight-point lead over idle Anaheim in the race for the Pacific Division crown.
Mike Ribeiro scored the lone goal for Dallas, which also lost for the second time in the last nine meetings with the Predators. Goalie Marty Turco finished with 25 saves, losing for just the third time in his last 13 starts.
"It was a tight game, and anytime pucks go through you, you need to tighten up," Turco said. "We know the games are gonna be like this down the stretch, but we need to do the little things and have good habits. We recognize our schedule until now emphasized gathering points, and we've done a good job of that. We will have some windows of rest now and we need to finish the season strong."
David Legwand, Jordin Tootoo and J.P. Dumont scored third-period goals for the Predators, who won for just the first time in four games while battling for their playoff lives.
"It was one of those games where you need to be patient," forward Brad Richards said. "We got a little sloppy in the third and had a little letdown compared to the other night."
Richards, who picked up five assists in Dallas' route of the Blackhawks Thursday, was held without a point in his second game since being acquired from Tampa Bay at the trade deadline this past Tuesday.
"It's been an up and down week, and I didn't feel as good tonight," he said. "We have a lot of teams fighting for position and little plays here and there will be the difference. I think the rest will do everyone good. I know I'm going to see different combinations every night, and we know it's not going to be like Chicago each game. I'm looking to fit in and I'm sure I'll see different combinations. It's getting to know tendencies, and I wasn't reading my teammates as well as I hopefully will down the road."
Ellis, a former Star, rebounded from last week's sloppy effort in which he allowed four goals on 18 shots in 40 minutes against Dallas. Saturday's showing was more like his game on New Years Eve when he blanked his ex team.
Ellis made several superb stops throughout the contest, and was steady when Dallas was able to generate quality scoring chances. He continually frustrated the Stars shooters, as did Nashville's suddenly stingy defense. Coming in, the Predators had given up an average of nearly five goals per game over their last seven contests.
"You have to give Nashville a great deal of credit," Stars coach Dave Tippett said. "They worked awfully hard. It's been an emotional week for us, some ups and downs, and I was worried about our emotional level for this game."
Following two blank periods on the scoresheet, the Predators opened the scoring just 48 seconds into the third period when Legwand notched his 15th of the year. Off the rush, Legwand accepted Ville Koistinen's pass in the slot and whipped a wrist shot that got past Turco, who was being screened by Nashville forward Martin Erat.
Two minutes later, Brenden Morrow ran into Ellis on a collision that shook the goalie up a bit behind the Predators net while the Stars were enjoying their seventh power play of the night. Defenseman Ryan Suter jumped in to fight Morrow, who also received a minor penalty for interference.
The two teams then combined for three goals over a 53-second span that ended with Nashville boasting a 3-1 lead. Tootoo started the frantic stretch with his ninth of the year, snapping a shot past Turco from the right faceoff dot at 7:53.
Ribeiro cut the deficit in half at 8:23 with his team-leading 27th of the season. Carrying the puck into the right circle, Ribeiro made a quick move to the inside before depositing a wrist shot that eluded Ellis.
Dumont capped the scoring 23 seconds later with his 24th, converting a 2-on-1 with Jason Arnott from in tight.
"It's a good thing for us to play these desperate teams because it will help our guys maximize down the stretch," Tippett said. "It came down to execution and the little things that we didn't do very well tonight, which is why we were on the losing side."
The third-period surge was par for the course for the Predators. They rank third in the league in final-stanza tallies, and have outscored their opponents by a 16-8 margin in the third over the past 10 games.
After a scoreless first period, the Stars had several glorious opportunities to pot the first goal in the second period, but were denied by Ellis. Their best chance came late in the frame when Niklas Hagman was actually foiled not by Ellis, but by defenseman Dan Hamhuis.
While on the power play, and with Ellis sprawled on the ice, Hagman sent a wrist shot from in tight that was headed into the net, but Hamhuis was able to block the attempt by falling to his right along the right post.
Hagman and Stu Barnes also had four shots on goal while short-handed earlier in the second, but again Ellis was there to thwart the chances.
"Emotionally we have been through a lot over the past week, and those guys are battling hard to get in the playoffs," Ribeiro said. "We'll get back to work on Monday with practice and get our focus back for our next game. It will be nice to have a month where we are playing two games a week, instead of four. We know we need to outwork teams in order for us to win, and that won't change."
The Stars will conclude their short three-game homestand on Wednesday when they host Phoenix (7:30, FSN). It will be the first of the final three meetings between the two teams this season.
The Coyotes had won two of their past three before hosting Calgary Saturday night.
--Defenseman Matt Niskanen missed his third straight game because of a bruised foot.
--Defenseman Philippe Boucher played in his 700th career NHL game.
--Dallas dropped to 14-4 all-time at home against Nashville.
--Right wing Loui Eriksson extended his points streak to five games with an assist on Ribeiro's goal.
--Defenseman Trevor Daley now has five points in his last five games after his helper on Ribeiro's goal.
--Turco remains one win shy of reaching 30 for the fifth straight time.
--Dallas was 0-for-7 on the power play, and was held without a goal in 26 man-advantage opportunities in the four meetings with Nashville this season. The Stars had a 43-second two-man advantage in the second period but failed to capitalize.
--The Stars will play three fewer games in March compared to February.
1 - 0 NSH
2 - 0 NSH
2 - 1 NSH