CHICAGO - With nearly two periods gone in a game that was terribly one-sided, the Stars went to work. The hole they had already dug, though, proved to be too deep.
Down by three goals, the Stars nearly battled all the way back before eventually falling 5-3 to the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on Wednesday night.
With Chicago up 4-1 late in the second, the Stars began to mount a comeback with goals by Brandon Segal and Loui Eriksson to cut the deficit down to a goal after 40 minutes. But their solid third period effort went unrewarded, as the Blackhawks hung on to win for the eighth time in their last 11 games.
Chicago's Patrick Sharp iced it with an empty-net power play goal with a second left in regulation while defenseman Stephane Robidas was in the penalty box for a questionable hooking penalty.
The infraction capped an uneven night in the box, as Dallas had just one power-play opportunity compared to the Blackhawks' six. But what drew coach Marc Crawford's ire after the game was the non-call on Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook, who blatantly threw his stick at Trevor Daley while Daley carried the puck deep into the Blackhawks end with 39 seconds to go in an attempt to tie the game.
"How do guys miss that, because that's the easiest call…the easiest call in the book to make," Crawford said. "When a guy throws the stick, it's an automatic penalty shot. That's the call. Everybody in the crowd saw it, everybody in the broadcast saw it, everybody on the benches saw it, but nobody else saw it. The people that are important didn't see it. It gets frustrating when you miss obvious calls like that."
Dallas, which outshot Chicago by a 13-10 margin in the third, lost for the first time since a 4-1 defeat at Toronto on November 22, and failed to garner a point for the first time in eight games, a stretch that included a six-game winning streak that helped them climb up the Western Conference ladder.
The Stars remain two points ahead of idle Phoenix for first place in the Pacific Division, and sit in second in the West with 34 points. The Blackhawks also have 34 points, but have played in three more games than the Stars.
"We've got to stay out of the box," winger James Neal said. "We did a great job of battling back, but it's a tough one. We get a call late like that, and we're making a push to pull the goalie and get an extra man out there."
Neal had a goal and assist, Brad Richards had a pair of assists, and Eriksson also collected a helper for the Stars (16-9-2). Backup Andrew Raycroft finished with 20 saves after being pushed into duty when Kari Lehtonen developed some lower-body stiffness following the morning skate.
Lehtonen was held out and didn't even dress, with Richard Bachman serving as the backup after being recalled from Texas of the AHL on an emergency basis.
"Segal gets a big goal to make it 4-2 and gives our bench some life," Neal said. "Then we get a big goal to make it 4-3 and the momentum's turned, and we're playing with confidence, and we're going at them. It's tough when you battle back like that and you don't get the result you want."
The Blackhawks were playing without two of their offensive catalysts -- Patrick Kane (leg) and Marian Hossa (lower body) -- because of injuries. Kane was the team's second-leading scorer with 27 points, while Hossa ranked fourth on the club with 18 points.
Former Stars goalie Marty Turco was also a spectator, as the 10-year veteran has been struggling for his new team. Turco has a 2.90 goals-against average in 19 games this season.
Jonathan Toews and Bryan Bickell had a goal and assist each, and Jeremy Morin and Troy Brouwer also scored for Chicago (16-12-2). Corey Crawford finished with 28 saves to win his seventh straight game.
The second period started with a flurry of goals in a 45-second span that eventually netted Chicago a 4-1 lead after just 2:21 had elapsed. Morin started the goal-scoring surge with his first career NHL goal 96 seconds in, converting a 3-on-1 break with a shot from the slot off a feed from Dave Bolland.
Neal followed 20 seconds later with his 11th of the year. After Crawford stopped Richards' shot from inside the blue line along the right boards, Neal charged the net and pushed in a loose puck that Crawford was unable to cover up.
Brouwer gave Chicago its three-goal lead back with his sixth of the season. With Bolland once again leading a mini 2-on-1, Brouwer accepted a pass in the slot, brought the puck to his backhand, and slid it home.
But the Stars stormed back with a pair of quick goals of their own. Segal cut the deficit to 4-2 with 3:54 remaining in the second when his wrist shot from the blue line found the back of the net with the help of a Brenden Morrow screen, and then Eriksson popped in his 11th to make it 4-3 just 65 seconds later.
Eriksson finished off a pretty tic-tac-toe passing play with his linemates, as Neal first fed Richards with a cross-ice pass. Richards immediately sent the puck to Eriksson, who was left with an easy tap-in at the doorstep.
"We had to put a couple shifts together," Segal said. "We started to play better as the second period went on after a tough start."
Chicago struck first on Bickell's second of the season just 3:18 into the opening frame. On a delayed penalty, Bickell crossed the blue line and wristed a shot that went off Daley's stick before zipping past Raycroft.
Toews gave the Blackhawks a 2-0 edge with his 13th of the year with 6:27 left in the first. Toews' wrist shot from the outer edge of the right circle snuck past Raycroft after it appeared that Raycroft was interfered with by Jack Skille, who was driving towards the net. Skille clipped Raycroft's right ankle, clearing a path for the puck to enter the net.
The Stars return to Dallas for a Friday night encounter against the Carolina Hurricanes at American Airlines Center (7:30 FS-SW). The Stars handily defeated Carolina 4-1 on November 29 in Raleigh. Dallas will also bring a shiny 8-2-0 record against the Eastern Conference into the contest.
-- Defenseman Mark Fistric was activated from injured reserve and sent to Texas of the AHL for a conditioning stint prior to the game. Fistric has missed the past eight games after sustaining a lower-body injury two weeks ago during a practice in suburban Toronto.
-- Forward Adam Burish was a member of last year's Stanley Cup-winning Blackhawks team.
-- Gritty forward Steve Ott engaged in a scrap with Chicago center Jake Dowell in the first period.
-- Segal pushed his career-high points streak to four games. "Playing with Ott and Burish, we've got some click going," he said.