During the Dallas Stars current slump, they've been having problems putting together a full effort for the entire game. That didn't change on Saturday against the league-doormat Los Angeles Kings.
Michael Handzus (twice) and Lubomir Visnovsky each scored late in the third period for Los Angeles, as the Kings erased a one-goal deficit en route to a 4-2 come-from-behind win over the Stars at American Airlines Center. Rob Blake also scored for the Kings, who won for the first time in eight games in Dallas.
Brenden Morrow and Stu Barnes scored for the slumping Stars, losers of four straight and seven of their past eight.
It was the second game in a row that Dallas was unable to hold onto a first-period lead, and the second-straight time they lost because of goals late in regulation. Leading 2-1 with just over three minutes to go, the Stars allowed three goals in a 1:42 span to blow a golden opportunity to move to within a point of Anaheim for fourth place in the Western Conference.
Instead, they continue to search for answers for this ill-timed, late-season slump that has sent them plummeting down the conference ladder. Dallas is now just three points ahead of Calgary and Vancouver, with the Flames playing Minnesota late Saturday night.
"It's obviously a cliché, but small plays make big differences," Barnes said. "You have to play complete 60-minute games, or the puck is going to be in the back of your net. We had some different line combinations which brought some spark, but the bottom line is we didn't win the game."
Throughout the ugly span, the Stars have shown they can play solidly, but not consistently, throughout all three periods. That was the case again against the last-place Kings, as the Stars gave up some scoring chances during the first two periods, but none that gave goalie Marty Turco many fits. Turco calmly steered clear all the attempts, while not allowing the Kings many second and third opportunities in any of their flurries.
Offensively, Dallas played patiently, conservatively refusing to generate a risky play or make an ill-advised decision with the puck after Barnes made it 2-1 midway through the second period. But that conservatism bit them hard late, as Los Angeles jumped on Dallas' wishy-washy play to pick up only their fifth win in 41 games when trailing after two periods.
"We are making mistakes and not covering up for each other, and it's ending up in the back of our net," coach Dave Tippett said. "Every play in a game counts. If you don't like that, or you don't think that, then it's going to come back to hurt you."
Turco finished with 26 saves, while Kings rookie goalie Erik Ersberg, making just his eighth start and ninth appearance of his career, made 25 stops.
"We needed the two points today against a team like L.A.," center Mike Ribeiro said. "That's the result you get when you don't work for the full 60 minutes. We are making mental mistakes that are costing us games, and there's no excuse for that. It's time to start playing as a team again because this is unacceptable."
Three days after Anaheim's Todd Bertuzzi scored with 28 seconds to go to give the Ducks a 2-1 win over Dallas, Handzus began the Kings late-game onslaught with 3:01 left in regulation. Handzus scored his first goal in 42 games after picking up defenseman Trevor Daley's whiff at a clearing attempt in the high slot, then whipping a shot past Turco.
Nearly a minute later Los Angeles took its first lead of the game when Visnovsky's shot from the left point got past a stunned Turco.
Forty seven seconds later, Handzus capped the stunning collapse with his seventh of the year, banking home a rebound off Alexander Frolov's backhand attempt.
"It's a 60-minute game, and 56 or 57 minutes isn't enough," said forward Steve Ott, who returned from a three-game suspension. "We have to work. That's where we go from here. For some reason, we haven't been strong at finishing games lately. We had a similar stretch earlier in the season, and we turned the ship around then by playing hard and pushing. We have to be strong on the puck and forecheck hard. We aren't hungry enough right now, and we need to start winning games and collecting points."
Down by a goal after the first 20 minutes, the Kings got the equalizer nearly six minutes into the second period, scoring while Loui Eriksson was in the penalty box for a goaltender interference penalty. Standing in front of the net, Blake knocked home Mike Cammalleri's initial shot from in tight that was stopped by Turco.
Barnes restored the Stars' one-goal edge with his 10th of the year almost six minutes later, converting a nifty tic-tac-toe passing play that also involved Ribeiro and Mark Fistric. After accepting Ribeiro's pass in the slot, Barnes took a couple of strides before unleashing a wrist shot that eluded Ersberg.
Morrow opened the scoring for the second consecutive game, notching his team-leading 29th goal while the Stars were enjoying their first power-play opportunity. Matt Niskanen let go a slap shot from the left point that deflected off a Kings player before Morrow re-directed the puck again to get it past Ersberg.
"The only way to get out of this is to regroup, but I know we've said that before," defenseman Stephane Robidas said. "Everybody has to look themselves in the mirror and figure things out. We are much better than we are showing, and we need to be that team we know we can be. Everybody needs to give a little more and be better with the details."
Dallas will be off until Thursday when they embark on a three-game road trip that starts in San Jose (9 p.m., FSN). The Pacific Division-leading Sharks have been the hottest team in the league, and have won 14 of their past 15.
"We have to play better and more aggressively," Barnes said. "We can't be tentative and hesitate like we did. The only formula to get out of this funk is hard work. We'll be back on the ice tomorrow, trying to work out our way back. But it's frustrating and disappointing to not be able to close it out and win these close games."
--Morrow's goal was his team-leading 11th on the power play. It was Dallas' fourth man-advantage goal in its last 34 chances.
--Ribeiro has 11 points in his last 11 games.
--The Stars fell to 5-3-1 in afternoon games.
--Dallas is 9-for-28 (24 percent) on the power play in seven games against the Kings this year.
--The two teams close out their season series next Saturday in Los Angeles.
--Barnes has scored in double figures in every season but one in his 16-year NHL career. He scored a career-low eight goals in 46 games for Winnipeg as a rookie in 1991-92.
--Dallas had outscored Los Angeles by a 12-2 margin in the first three games against the Kings at home this season.
--The Stars have mustered just 15 goals over the last eight games.
--Dallas has now lost three straight at home, and five of its past six.