After a promising start, things were looking good for the Dallas Stars. But a wild second period in which five combined goals were scored turned the tide on their optimism, and sent them reeling to another painful finish.
Following Brenden Morrow's first-period goal just seven minutes into the game, the Stars never led again in a 6-3 loss to the upstart Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday night at American Airlines Center.
The Stars were unable to win back-to-back games once again this season, five days after beating Phoenix 3-2, as their unmerciful early-season slumber continues.
"We had a good first period, a bad second and couldn't get anything going in the third," defenseman Stephane Robidas said. "If you are not willing to work, you are not going to win hockey games. We need consistent effort from everyone, and we are not going to win until we get that. It's frustrating and it's unacceptable with the talent and expectations we have here."
Mike Modano had a goal and assist, and James Neal also scored for the Stars, who lost for the second time in regulation in the last three games. Brad Richards added a pair of assists, and Marty Turco finished with 24 saves in the loss, Dallas' second this season against the Blackhawks.
Chicago, which came in as the sixth-best team in the Western Conference with 21 points, defeated the Stars 5-2 at the United Center on Halloween.
Kris Versteeg had a goal and two assists, Patrick Kane scored twice, Ben Eager and Brian Campbell had a goal and assist each, and Martin Havlat also scored for the Blackhawks, winners of two straight overall and three in a row on the road. Goalie Nikolai Khabibulin finished with 31 saves to improve to 6-1-4.
Dallas came out flying, and put eight shots on Khabibulin before the Blackhawks sent one Turco's way midway through the first. But the Stars' inability to grab the game at that point came back to haunt them, as Kane scored late in the first period to take the spark away.
"You lose some momentum," Richards said. "I think we played a great first period, but then we had a breakdown and we were tied at one. I still thought we played great, but couldn't carry that momentum into the rest of the game."
The Stars also surrendered a late second-period goal that gave Chicago a 4-3 lead after 40 minutes, destroying any pull Dallas had mustered following Neal's game-tying tally with less than four minutes to go in the middle frame.
"Those goals were back breakers and those are the breakdowns we have been having this year," Modano said. "It makes us keep coming from behind, which is tough. We have to take away time and space through the neutral zone and have our offense come from good checking and defense. Chances and goals come from turnovers and tight checking."
Up by a goal heading into the third, Havlat's sixth of the season iced it at 6:40. Havlat used defenseman Darryl Sydor as a screen before letting go a wrist shot that beat Turco to give Chicago a 5-3 advantage.
"It has been a tough climb," Richards said. "You get one thing working and you want to get them all working. We talked about what we wanted to do defensively but we had breakdowns. We're frustrated right now with what's going on, we don't like what's going on. You can take what we did pretty much the whole first period. I think we kept it simple, kept our shifts short and got momentum. It just wasn't our game, we weren't in control."
"I think we're a little bit inconsistent," said defenseman Matt Niskanen, who was paired with Sydor in the veteran's first game after being acquired from Pittsburgh on Sunday. "They're getting quality scoring chances and they capitalized on them tonight."
With the contest knotted at 1, Eager gave Chicago its first lead at 6:44 of the second. Off the draw just outside the Stars blueline, Eager chipped the puck past Sydor in the neutral zone and skated into the Dallas zone before letting a shot go from the right circle that beat Turco through the legs for a 2-1 Blackhawks lead.
Modano tied it 66 seconds later on the power play with his 534th of his career, capitalizing on a Jonathan Toews holding penalty. Modano ripped a slap shot from the left point past Khabibulin to make it 2-2.
The tie, though, was short-lived, as Campbell restored Chicago's lead on the power play over a minute later, sending a slap shot from the right point that eluded a screened Turco.
Neal got the equalizer with 3:54 to go in the second, just as a Chicago penalty was expiring. Neal scored his third of the year after pouncing on a loose puck just in front of the Chicago net following Richards' slap shot that went off Sean Avery.
Versteeg capped the wild second period with another power play goal with just 29.3 seconds to go. The rookie slipped past Sergei Zubov on the left wing before cutting to the front of the net and shoveling the puck in for his seventh of the year that made it 4-3 going into the third.
"We had a great start and dictated a lot of play," coach Dave Tippett said. "Our power play kept us in it and then we shot ourselves in the foot and couldn't catch up. We all have to be at the top of our game every night, otherwise you get what happened tonight. We have shown glimpses but we just can't sustain it for one reason or another. We start chasing games and don't push all the way through. I like our group…they really care. Losing is frustrating."
Morrow notched his fifth of the year 7:37 in to open the scoring. Off the rush, Modano lugged the puck in along the left side before sliding a pass to Mark Parrish skating into the right circle. Parrish's shot was stopped by Khabibulin, but Morrow was able to jam home the rebound to make it 1-0.
Chicago tied it with just 37 second left in the first. Kane's wicked wrister from near the top of the left circle beat Turco above the blocker to tie it heading into the second period.
Kane capped the scoring with an empty-net goal with 16 seconds remaining, his 10th of the season.
"We have to get things together, and we have to stop talking about it," Neal said. "We need to win hockey games, and we need points."
Dallas continues its short two-game homestand on Saturday by hosting Anaheim at American Airlines Center at 7 (FSN). The Ducks are second in the Pacific Division, and will be coming to Dallas after a Friday night encounter at the St. Louis Blues.
"We need to put a few games together and build some momentum," Modano said. "It's been a long time since we have allowed this many goals, and that's frustrating."
--Forward Jere Lehtinen returned to the sidelines with an upper body injury that will keep him off the ice for the next week. Lehtinen had missed the first 14 games because of an injury before playing in three contests.
-- Defenseman Doug Janik was scratched with the addition of Sydor, who's on his third stint with the Stars.
--Dallas dropped to 5-2-1 when scoring first.
--Morrow snapped a seven-game goal-less streak.
--Zubov extended his points streak to four games with a helper on Modano's power-play goal.
--Modano pulled to within four points of 1,300 for his NHL career.
--Dallas lost for only the second time in its last 12 games against the Blackhawks dating back to 2001-02.
--Dallas fell to 2-3-2 at home.
1 - 0 DAL
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 CHI