BOSTON - Four was an unlucky number for a Stars team that was unable to recover from an early-game Bruins blitz.
Boston scored four times in a fight-filled first period that featured four scraps, and held off a late Dallas charge in a 6-3 win over the bruised Stars on Thursday night at TD Garden.
In dizzying fashion the game began with three fights in the first four seconds, and the fourth fight of the frame, an Adam Burish and Andrew Ference skirmish just under four minutes in, left the Stars winger with a left eye that was nearly closed shut after absorbing a vicious right.
Krystofer Barch, meanwhile, was knocked out of the game because of an eye injury incurred in his battle with Boston tough guy Shawn Thornton in a fight that occurred just a second after Steve Ott bloodied Gregory Campbell with a punch just one tick into the contest.
After the bouts, Boston struck for consecutive goals on its first two shots on Stars starter Andrew Raycroft before the game was even 90 seconds old, and scored twice more to close out the first 20 minutes with a 4-0 lead.
Coach Marc Crawford pulled Raycroft following the back-to-back tallies.
"I don't really know what set (the fights) off, maybe just a little chest-thumping just to start it off," captain Brenden Morrow said. "I think you use those things to create momentum, and they could go either way. We just made some bad decisions. We were just as excited as they were, but we were just a little bit more reckless. They deserved that lead they got."
The nasty game featured 91 combined penalty minutes, including Boston forward Daniel Paille earning a match penalty after he leveled Raymond Sawada with a lethal blow to the head while leaving his feet 11 minutes into the second period.
The suspendable cheap shot knocked Sawada out of the game and gave the Stars a five-minute power play, but Dallas was unable to cash in and climb back into a game it was trailing 4-1 at the time. Boston goalie Tuukka Rask, playing in favor of star goalie Tim Thomas, robbed Loui Eriksson on the doorstep with a brilliant left pad save while doing the splits with less than a minute to go in the elongated man advantage to help deliver a crushing blow to the suddenly struggling Stars.
After beginning the calendar year with a 7-0-1 run, the Stars have slumped by dropping four of their last five. The four defeats have been by a combined 24-9 margin.
"We're playing top teams, but we're a top team," Ott said. "We've got a good group of players in here and have been hard to play against all season long. We're going to have to find that gear that pushed us through the last couple of months, and we need to show how good of a team we are by playing together every single night. It's going to be tough hockey the rest of the way."
Karlis Skrastins, Morrow, and Brad Richards scored for the Stars, who despite the recent slide still remain in first place in the Pacific Division, five points ahead of idle San Jose.
Kari Lehtonen allowed three goals on 32 shots after taking over for Raycroft, who lost for the first time in five decisions against an Eastern Conference foe this season.
"He didn't have a very good outing in his last outing, so we had a short leash on him," Crawford said about his decision to yank Raycroft so early. "First two shots go in, we just felt it was time to make a change. It's unfortunate because he's battled really well this year."
"I felt like I let two easy goals in today, and that's way too much," Lehtonen said. "That happens sometimes…some nights you get the breaks."
Morrow cut the deficit to 4-2 with a shorthanded goal just 45 seconds into the third to get the Stars back into it, then Richards made it 4-3 when he one-timed Eriksson's pass in the right circle with 16:27 left in regulation.
But Boston rookie Tyler Seguin helped squash the rally with a goal with 14:29 left to give the Bruins a 5-3 edge, and Brad Marchand capped the scoring with an empty-net tally with 2:20 to go.
"The fifth goal was a tough one," Crawford said. "But we made a game of it."
Patrice Bergeron had two goals and an assist, Milan Lucic and Thornton also scored, and Marchand added two assists for the Bruins, who won their third straight.
Rask finished with 30 saves while Thomas watched from the bench. Thomas came in leading the NHL in goals-against average, save percentage, and shutouts.
Down by four, the Stars cut the deficit to 4-1 with 9:24 left in the second period when Skrastins scored his third of the season. After taking a backhand pass from Burish in the left circle, Skrastins snapped the puck in.
The Bruins opened the scoring just 35 seconds into the first period. Off the rush, David Krejci slipped the puck to Lucic, and the big winger wristed the puck between Raycroft's legs from the left circle.
Boston took a 2-0 lead -- and chased Raycroft in the process -- when it scored on its second shot of the game 1:20 into the first. From the top of the left circle, Marchand sent a pass to Bergeron, who was skating toward the right post. The puck wound up bouncing in off Bergeron's right skate.
Bergeron pushed the opening-period lead to 3-0 with his second of the game and 19th of the season midway through. Driving up the middle of the ice, Bergeron slid the puck to Marchand in the left circle before accepting a return pass and beating Lehtonen from the slot.
The Bruins continued the onslaught when Thornton made it 4-0 with just under four minutes left in the first. From the top of the right circle, he drilled a slap shot that blistered past Lehtonen.
The Stars face their third straight division-leader when they play at Philadelphia against the Atlantic Division Flyers on Saturday night (6 p.m., TXA-21). The Flyers were blanked, 4-0, by Tampa Bay on Tuesday.