Too many times this year the Stars have been unable to build momentum after a big win. It happened again in heartbreaking fashion on Thursday.
The Stars squandered a three-goal lead, including a two-goal third-period advantage, before dropping a 5-4 shootout decision to the Buffalo Sabres at American Airlines Center.
The Sabres climbed out of the hole Dallas dug for them when Paul Gaustad and Clarke MacArthur tied the game with goals 16 seconds apart midway through the third period, and took the bonus point after Jason Pominville beat Marty Turco in the sixth round of the shootout.
Jere Lehtinen scored in the fourth round, but Buffalo's Derek Roy was able to answer the tally to keep the tiebreaker going.
Despite garnering a much-needed point, the Stars were foiled in their attempt to put together a strong push to start the second half of the season three nights after downing the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings in an overtime thriller.
"Lack of commitment to the game in all aspects," answered winger Steve Ott, who scored once and added an assist. "The one-on-one battles we lost, and the consistency of our game did a complete 180. It's an embarrassment and a joke. We came to the first period and we dominated. We knew the task at hand and it slipped. It's plain not good enough. I don't think it was our defense, it was our puck play. We shot ourselves in the foot when we started turning pucks over."
After taking a commanding 3-0 lead over the first 23 minutes of the game, the Stars looked like they were going to roll. Playing a team that had lost in Chicago the night before, the Stars jumped on the Sabres early, using a hard forecheck to win most of the puck battles en route to a 12-5 shot advantage after the first 20 minutes.
But Dallas' tight grip on the game began to loosen gradually after Trevor Daley's second goal in as many games gave Dallas its three-goal cushion just 2:47 into the second period. Overall, Buffalo held a 30-13 edge in shots over the final 45 minutes of regulation and overtime before snatching the win after Pominville solved Turco with a wrist shot.
"We started to take play over in the second period," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "From the second period on I thought we deserved to win the game."
"We talk about teams that are struggling, but if you look at the standings we're right there with them, so we can't take anyone lightly," defenseman Stephane Robidas said. "We need to play better and try to get two points. It's just a bad game. We had a really good start, and we let them come back. It's a great lesson for us. You can't stop playing, even with a three-goal lead. You've got to keep playing and stay smart."
Gaustad scored twice, and Jochen Hecht also scored for the Sabres, who snapped a two-game losing streak. Goalie Ryan Miller finished with 21 saves.
"We drove the net pretty hard the last two periods," Gaustad said. "We stuck to the system, so those wins are always fun to get."
"We got comfortable and weren't doing the things we were doing that gave us the lead," countered Daley. "Thank God we had Turco back there, or we may not have even gotten a point. It's disappointing."
Hecht made it 3-2 three minutes into the third period, but Richards popped in his 11th just 48 seconds later to restore the Stars' two-goal advantage, letting a wicked wrist shot go from the right faceoff dot that went under the crossbar and over Miller's left shoulder.
At the time, it appeared that Dallas would be on its way to a nice win. Instead, it was Buffalo that became the more desperate team, nearly putting the game away in overtime if not for a terrific save by Turco on Roy with 90 seconds left. Roy took a wrist shot from about 40-feet out, but Turco speared the attempt that was labeled for the left corner with his glove.
"We let momentum get away from us, we took bad penalties, we turned the puck over and they took that momentum and ran with it," coach Dave Tippett said. "We needed to bear down and do the things that make you win games, not lose games."
Gaustad scored his second of the night with 10:07 to go in regulation just as a penalty to Mike Ribeiro expired to cut Dallas' lead to 4-3, and MacArthur tied it after he tipped-in Jaroslav Spacek's shot from the left point.
"We did some good things early and we were in full control, but we let it slip away," Niskanen said. "We changed our game, turned pucks over and handed them the momentum. We got away from our game and that's not something we can do any night."
Up by a pair of goals after one period of play, Daley increased the Stars' lead to 3-0 with his fifth of the season. From the left point, Daley let a wrister go towards the Buffalo net that was able to sneak through a maze of players before going past a surprised Miller.
Daley scored the winner in OT against the Red Wings, and has been part of a defensive corps that has accumulated nine points over the past two games.
"As a group, the D is scoring more goals and it feels good to chip in a little, but it would've been nice to get the win," said Niskanen, who has three points in those two games.
Gaustad put the Sabres on the board with his fifth while Buffalo was on the power play. Gaustad deflected Craig Rivet's shot from the left point past Turco to cut the deficit to 3-1 with 6:48 left in the second.
Niskanen opened the scoring with his fourth of the season 10:44 into the game. While on the power play, the Dallas defenseman's shot from the slot nicked Buffalo defenseman Toni Lydman's shin pad before going past Miller for a 1-0 Dallas lead.
The Stars upped the advantage to 2-0 on Ott's power-play tally just under four minutes later. Ott went in alone on Miller after a slick tape-to-tape pass by Mike Modano after Modano had crossed over the Stars blue line. Ott split the Sabres defense and bore down on Miller before slipping the puck neatly between the goalie's pads on a deke.
Dallas will conclude its short three-game homestand on Saturday afternoon when the Los Angeles Kings invade American Airlines Center (1 p.m. FSN). Entering Thursday, the Stars had a slim two-point lead on the Kings for fourth place in the Pacific Division.
Coming into its game against Detroit on Thursday, Los Angeles had lost three of its last four.
"We have to keep building, and tonight was a hard lesson, a hard point to let slip away," Tippett said. "The power play was good early and it gave us the lead, but we have to pull everything together and play complete games."
--Turco passed Cesare Maniago for the most games played by a goalie in franchise history. Turco, who assisted on Ott's goal, has appeared in 421 contests for Dallas.
--Dallas dropped to 9-0-1 when leading after the first period.
--Forward Brian Sutherby got into a scrap with Gaustad in the second period after a Turco save.
--About a minute before Gaustad's first goal, Lydman hit the crossbar with a shot that bounced away and out of harms way. The play was reviewed and upheld.
--The Stars converted 2-of-3 power-play attempts against the league's third-best penalty-killing unit.
--Defenseman Nicklas Grossman assisted on Richards' goal, and has points in consecutive games.
--Joel Lundqvist also recorded an assist on Richards' tally, his first point since returning three games ago from his second stint on the injured reserve list because of a shoulder injury.
--Richards has two points over his last two games after a four-game pointless skid.
--The Stars have gone into overtime or a shootout in eight of their last 13 games.
--Dallas was outshot for only the second time in the last 10 games.
1 - 0 DAL
Backhand shot -