TORONTO - The Stars were hoping a trip to Canada would be the tonic to help start curing their ailing road game. Instead, they were dealt another dose of discomfort.
Beginning a stretch in which they play four of five games away from Texas, the Stars got off on the wrong foot and were done in by the Toronto Maple Leafs, 4-1, on Monday night at Air Canada Centre.
It was an inconsistent and flat effort from a team that has now lost four straight away from home.
"We talked about them coming hard and with pressure, and we didn't handle it well at all," center Brad Richards said. "You're not going to just turn switches on in the NHL, score three or four, and you're back in games. We got what we deserved tonight. We have to start winning some road games. The West is too tight. This was a game that we were rested, with a day off yesterday. We just didn't support each other out there and weren't playing the way we usually do."
Richards scored the lone goal, and Kari Lehtonen finished with 22 saves for the Stars (10-8-1), who lost in regulation for the first time in the last four games.
Lehtonen was making his sixth straight start, and 17th of the season, and took the defeat to heart despite a loose defensive game in front of him against a team that scored 11 goals in its previous four games.
"I felt like I could have done a better job," he said.
The game was nearly a carbon copy of Dallas' previous two in which they fell behind early. But unlike their games against San Jose, where they won in overtime, and Colorado, where they garnered a point in a shootout, the Stars were unable to mount another comeback after falling behind by two goals after two periods.
"It's hard to come back and do that every night," Lehtonen said. "We have to figure out what's going wrong."
Nikolai Kulemin scored twice, and Tyler Bozak and Kris Versteeg also scored for the Maple Leafs, who rebounded from a 2-0 shutout loss to Montreal on Saturday to win for the third time in their last four games, and snap the Stars' four-game winning streak against them.
Jonas Gustavsson finished with 21 saves in his third straight start. He's allowed just four goals in those three games for the Maple Leafs, who were 12th in the Eastern Conference coming in, but owners of the fourth-best home record in their conference.
"It was a little bit of everything. There are no consolations in games like this," head coach Marc Crawford said. "They played harder than us, and deserved to win. You can't look at anybody on our team that can't feel a little responsible for this, coaches included. The only positive thing is there's a billion people in China that don't know that we played terrible tonight."
Down 3-1, Crawford pulled Lehtonen for the extra attacker with 2:25 to go in regulation, but the Stars were unable to mount a serious threat. They were held to just a single shot on goal with six skaters on the ice before Versteeg iced it with an empty-net tally with 11 seconds to go.
"I'm surprised," Crawford said. "I thought we'd have a little bit more energy than we did, but we didn't. The whole group didn't have it, and not one guy can be satisfied with this game. We thought as coaches our preparation was good, but obviously we have to look again."
Up by a goal after 20 minutes, Toronto pushed its lead to 2-0 on Kulemin's second of the game with just under six minutes to go in the middle frame. His initial shot from the left circle was blocked by Lehtonen, but the Maple Leafs' forward was able to collect his own rebound and deposit the puck in.
Richards cut the deficit in half with his team-leading 10th of the season 86 seconds later to make it 2-1. Circling behind the net, Steve Ott hit Richards with a perfect backhand pass in the slot, and Richards promptly one-timed it past Gustavsson.
Toronto regained its two-goal edge on Bozak's third of the season with 2:53 left in the second. After accepting a cross-ice pass from Nazem Kadri, Bozak wristed in a shot from the right circle.
The Maple Leafs opened the scoring at 10:52 of the first period with a double-deflection that was capped by Kulemin. Luke Schenn's pass from the point was re-directed into the air by Mikhail Grabovski, who was cruising in the slot. Kulemin then changed the direction of the puck again, tipping it over Lehtonen's right shoulder while standing at the tip of the crease.
The Stars continues their tour of the Northeast Division on Wednesday when they visit Ottawa to take on the Senators (6:30, FS-SW). The Senators had lost three straight before beating the Los Angeles Kings 3-2 on Monday night.
"You park it quickly and move forward quickly and get ready for Ottawa," Crawford said.
-- Forward James Neal missed the second half of the second period when he sustained a cut near his knee that required stitches. He returned to play the entire third period, and Crawford said he doesn't believe the injury will keep Neal out of Wednesday's game. Ott replaced Neal on the top line alongside Richards and Loui Eriksson.
-- The Stars dropped to 5-2-0 against Eastern Conference foes.
-- Krystofer Barch squared off with Toronto tough guy Colton Orr in a first-period scrap.
-- Captain Brenden Morrow finished with a game-high seven shots. The line of Ribeiro, Morrow and Jamie Benn combined for 10 of Dallas' 22 shots.
-- Only three minor penalties were doled out, and none came after Kadri was whistled for hooking at 10:11 of the second period.
-- There was an emotional 2-minute video presentation honoring the late Pat Burns, who passed away Friday after a bout with cancer. Burns coached in Toronto for four seasons starting in 1992.
1 - 0 TOR
2 - 0 TOR