DALLAS - A couple of bad breaks left the Stars shaking their heads at what might have been.
Philadelphia capitalized on a pair of costly Dallas cough-ups, allowing the Flyers to earn a 3-2 win over the Stars on Thursday night at American Airlines Center.
"That's almost like playoff hockey, the type of game it was tonight," defenseman Mark Fistric said. "It was a close match, and just the little errors like turnovers and not getting pucks deep are what cost us."
The loss kept the 12th place Stars seven points out of the final Western Conference playoff spot being occupied by the eighth place Detroit Red Wings, who were idle on Thursday.
"I hate losing as much as anybody, but when there's pride in losing and character in losing, that's what tonight was," said Steve Ott, who potted both of the Stars goals in the first period. "Every single line played very well. Kari (Lehtonen) played great, the D played good. It's pretty hard to be super upset when the guys put so much pride and character into it.
The Stars, though, let a golden opportunity to pick up a pair of points in their playoff hunt slip away, as the Flyers were starting little-used goalie Brian Boucher. The veteran backup was thrust into the starting role against Dallas after Michael Leighton hurt his ankle on Tuesday in a loss to Nashville.
Boucher hadn't started since a Dec. 21 loss to Florida, and entered winless in his last seven decisions. But the former 1995 first-round pick was sensational in his first game as the new starter -- Leighton is expected to be out for the rest of the regular season -- finishing with 27 saves against a Stars team that peppered him with 12 early shots in the first period.
"I thought that we had a great start," defenseman Mark Fistric said. "We got pucks in behind their D, and had a lot of possession in our offensive zone. I think any time we can get off to that good of a start and get pucks to the net, it gives us a great chance to be able to win the game."
Boucher was especially sound late in regulation. With 80 seconds to go, the Stars pulled goalie Kari Lehtonen for the extra attacker, and then were handed a power play when Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger cross checked James Neal behind the Philadelphia net with 29 seconds to go, giving Dallas a 6-on-4 advantage.
The Stars were able to send three shots on Boucher over those final 80 ticks, with the 33-year-old netminder preserving the win with a solid save on Stephane Robidas' one-timer from the left face-off dot with six seconds to go followed by another stop on Neal's rebound.
Steve Ott scored twice, and Lehtonen, making his second straight start, finished with 28 saves for Dallas (31-26-13), which fell to 2-6-1 since the Olympic break.
"I thought the good things we did tonight were when we got the puck behind their defensemen and made their defense turn," coach Marc Crawford said. "It allowed our forwards to establish a forecheck and we did end up getting some sustained pressure in the offensive zone. Ultimately it led to some very good puck movement on the goals. It's a game of inches right now. There are probably five or six shifts tonight that we'd like to have back. We have to continue to try to execute almost as well as you possibly can."
Simon Gagne and Mike Richards both had a goal and assist, and Scott Hartnell garnered the winner in the third period for the Flyers, who won for only the second time in their last five games.
"I'm sure it is a confidence boost for (Boucher)," Philadelphia coach Peter Laviolette said. "He's been waiting a long time. We're going to keep playing hard here. We've got a good goaltender, we've got a good team, and we'll keep playing hard and playing for the points."
Hartnell notched the go-ahead goal 7:53 into the third following a costly turnover by Dallas defenseman Jeff Woywitka. Philadelphia center Jeff Carter was able to take the puck away from Woywitka at the hash marks along the right boards before handing it off to Daniel Briere in the right circle. Carter then received the puck back from Briere and let a shot go from the high slot that went off Hartnell's leg before barely trickling in over the goal line.
"Carter took a shot from up there and I kind of lost it," Lehtonen said. "It hit somebody and went in. It was kind of a lucky bounce for them. We had some good chances but their goalie came up big when needed. I think that was the difference."
With Dallas up 2-1 after the first 20 minutes, Richards scored his 27th to tie the game 5:27 into the second period, and while the teams played with four skaters apiece. Gagne stole the puck away from Mike Ribeiro at the Flyers blue line, and then lugged the puck up the right wing before sliding a pass to a surging Richards in the slot. The Philadelphia captain pulled the puck to his backhand before slipping the puck between Lehtonen's pads.
Ott staked the Stars to a 1-0 lead on the power play 9:41 into the game. After receiving a pass from Brad Richards at the blue line along the left boards, rookie Jamie Benn skated about halfway in before sending a feed to the high slot where Ott one-timed it past Boucher.
The Flyers tied it with 4:59 left in the first when Gagne notched his 15th of the year. During a scramble in tight, Gagne finally jammed the puck home after Lehtonen had denied Gagne's first two whacks at it.
Ott restored Dallas' lead with his second of the period, and 15th of the year, when he cashed in on a nifty tic-tac-toe play. Near the left corner along the goal line, Loui Eriksson fed Nicklas Grossman at the top of the left circle, and Grossman quickly sent the puck to Ott at the bottom of the right circle. Staring at a gaping net, Ott easily swept it in for a 2-1 Stars advantage.
The Stars continue their six-game homestand when they host the Northeast Division Ottawa Senators in a Saturday afternoon matinee (1 p.m., FSSW) at American Airlines Center. The Senators have lost seven of eight since the Olympic break, including a 6-3 loss at Atlanta on Thursday.
-- Defenseman Matt Niskanen and forward Fabian Brunnstrom were healthy scratches, while center Mike Modano missed his second game because of an appendectomy.
-- The Stars donned their road whites for the contest.
-- Center Brian Sutherby and Flyers forward Ian Laperriere got into a scrap late in the first period.
-- Ott also scored twice for Dallas in the Stars' 6-3 loss in Philadelphia in January.
-- The Stars are 6-9-2 this year against the Eastern Conference.
-- Dallas has power-play goals in two straight games after going scoreless with the man advantage in five of six games.
-- Lehtonen remains winless in 10 lifetime appearances against the Flyers.
-- The Stars have earned at least one point in every home encounter except two against Philadelphia since moving to Texas in 1993 (5-2-3).
-- It was the Flyers first win in Dallas since December 1996.
1 - 0 DAL
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 DAL
2 - 2 Tie
3 - 2 PHI
Holding the stick