BUFFALO - Two days after completing a magical third-period rally that eventually led to a shootout win at Washington, the Stars couldn't duplicate the feat in Buffalo.
Down by a goal after the first 40 minutes, the Stars were unable to put together a strong enough final-period push, and eventually fell 5-3 to the Sabres at HSBC Arena on Wednesday night.
It was Dallas' fifth consecutive loss to Buffalo, but more importantly it kept the Stars from gaining ground in the tight race for the eighth and final playoff seed in the Western Conference. Dallas continues to trail ninth-place Detroit by four points, and eighth-place Calgary by five. All three teams have played 66 games.
"Every game is just so vital," said goalie Marty Turco, who once again sparkled in net by kicking out 38 shots. "We're not getting any farther behind, but we just have to win to stay afloat, and then we need a little bit of help from some other teams. But we still think our destiny is in our control if we win all our games. If we can't do that, we have to go to the next one."
Dallas also squandered a golden opportunity to beat Olympic goalie Ryan Miller, who seemed shaky while making his fourth straight start for the Sabres. Miller, who backstopped the United States to a silver medal in Vancouver 10 days ago, surrendered three goals in a wild first period that saw the two teams trade tallies in rapid-fire style that ultimately led to a 3-3 tie after the first 20 minutes.
The Sabres sent 16 shots Turco's way in that crazy first, and then threw another 15 at the net in the second, with Thomas Vanek's attempt midway through the second eluding the veteran netminder for the eventual winner.
The Stars have given up 73 shots in the first two periods combined in their last two games, and have surrendered 30 or more shots on net overall in nine of their last 12.
"If one guy breaks down, it all breaks down," said Steve Ott, who scored in the wacky first period. "I think that's what's it's been more of. The defensive responsibility of guys to commit to their position and to their play, I think that's where it's resulting in an awful lot of shots in the last little while. I think if there's a 4X8 foot piece of plywood in there, if they get that many shots on it, one of them is going to go through it eventually because it's going to break down. Marty's played awesome, and he's playing his heart out for us."
"Both teams had their chances in the first period, and it was run-n-gun," Benn said. "They just took advantage of everything in the second. I don't think we tested (Miller) enough, but that's the way it goes sometimes."
With the game tied at 3-3, Vanek popped home his 20th of the year midway through the second period to give the Sabres a 4-3 lead they never relinquished. Vanek was left alone in front of the net, and his wrist shot eluded Turco on the glove side for the winner.
Derek Roy added an empty-net tally with 18 seconds to go to ice it.
"It was a game that was there in the balance, and we were guilty of turning over a few too many pucks and trying to make the game a little bit more complicated than it needed to be," said coach Marc Crawford, who was denied in his bid to win his 500th career NHL game as a coach. "You win games at this time by playing mentally tough and making sure that you don't over-complicate your game. We were guilty of not doing that."
The Sabres struck first just 55 seconds into the game when the rookie Tyler Myers' shot from the right point appeared to bounce of defenseman Trevor Daley in front of the crease before lazily floating in past Turco.
Dallas tied it just over a minute later when Petersen notched his eighth of the season. Standing in front of Miller, Petersen was able to deftly get his stick on Daley's wrister from the top of the left circle.
Just under 5 minutes later the Sabres regained the lead on Mark Mancari's first goal of the year that made it 2-1. From the inner edge of the right circle, Mancari one-timed Craig Rivet's feed from along the goal line, with the puck squirting through Turco's pads.
The Stars once again knotted things up with Ott's 12th of the year with 7:33 to go in the back-and-forth first period. Loui Eriksson stole the puck away from Buffalo defenseman Andrej Sekera at the red line before dishing it off to Brad Richards along the right boards. Richards lugged the puck in and sent a slick pass in the slot to Ott, who promptly let a wrister go that beat Miller on the glove side.
Benn then gave Dallas its first lead of the game, registering his 16th of the year with 2:04 to go in the opening stanza. Cutting to the left side of the ice in the neutral zone, the rookie skated into the left circle before sending a wrist shot that slipped between Miller's left arm and body.
But Jason Pominville got the equalizer with 57 seconds remaining to cap the wild six-goal first period. Pominville was able to get his stick on Myers' shot from the middle of the blue line, with the puck rising over Turco.
Miller finished with 17 saves, while Myers added three assists to his first-period goal.
The Stars return to Texas to start a crucial six-game homestand on Friday against the Los Angeles Kings (7:30 p.m., FSSW). The Kings handed Dallas a 5-1 defeat in the first game following the Olympic break last Tuesday.
"Quite frankly, it's our season," Ott said about the upcoming half-dozen games. "We've been pretty good at home, and we can't really rely on just being good at home in this league. Things are going to be extremely tough. It's 12 points, and those are huge. If we don't get the ship in the right direction here on our homestand, we may as well call the season."
-- Defenseman Nicklas Grossman (back) and right wing Jere Lehtinen (ill) were scratched. Grossman missed his second straight game. Brian Sutherby (shoulder), who was activated off IR earlier in the day, was the other scratch. Fabian Brunnstrom was inserted into the lineup for Lehtinen.
-- The Stars last win in Buffalo came in Game 6 of the 1999 Finals, a victory that gave Dallas its first Stanley Cup. The last Stars regular season win in Buffalo came in 1997.
-- Daley played in his 400th career NHL game.
-- Ott and Patrick Kaleta got into a spirited battle 7 minutes into the second period, with Ott still landing punches after the pair hit the ice.
-- Benn recorded his third two-point game in his last 11 contests.
-- Both teams were 0-for-2 on the power play.
-- Richards extended his points streak to five games, and he's registered at least a point in 10 of his last 11 games.