DALLAS - The Stars have been so good this year when scoring first, or rallying from a deficit to secure points. Against Columbus, they fell short on both fronts.
Dallas went up early but failed to hold a first-period lead en route to a 2-1 loss to the Blue Jackets at American Airlines Center on Sunday afternoon.
Brad Richards scored the lone goal for the Stars, who despite the loss and a 1-4-1 slide remain in first place in the Pacific Division.
"We're doing some things that just don't work," Richards said. "We're not quite on the same page for whatever reason. There's little things and stuff that we haven't been doing all year."
Richards put the Stars up 1-0 just 4 1/2 minutes in, a positive sign for a team that entered having lost in regulation just twice in 27 games that it's been able to score the initial goal in. But the lead was short-lived against the pesky Blue Jackets, who tied a franchise mark set earlier this season with their fifth straight road win.
"We have to get it into our mind that we're going to play the entire 60 minutes at the level that we have to," coach Marc Crawford said. "While I don't think there was any sad minutes tonight, there were a few that were casual and they ended up costing us. Casual play can't be accepted at this time of the year. We have no one to blame but ourselves for that."
Dallas fell flat after the Richards goal, but remained in the game thanks to goalie Kari Lehtonen, who spit out 28 of Columbus' 30 shots over the first 40 minutes. The Stars began pushing back during the second part of the second period, and then outshot the Blue Jackets by a 14-9 margin in the third, but fell short in their attempt to finish their three-game homestand on a high note.
"It always hurts to lose, especially against teams that are below us," said Lehtonen, who finished with 37 saves overall. "You really want to win and get the two points."
"He gave us an opportunity," Richards said about Lehtonen. "I can't explain it, but they were more into it in the first period than we were. We chased the game after that. We didn't compete like they did at the start."
Two days after erasing a three-goal deficit against the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks to earn a 4-3 shootout win, there were no such dramatics against Columbus, though there were plenty of opportunities for another scintillating comeback win.
But the Stars biggest problem over the last few games reared its ugly head Sunday, as they once again couldn't get production from a power-play unit that's been struggling. After Richards converted on Dallas' first man-advantage opportunity, the Stars came up empty on their next five power-play chances.
Over the past nine games, the Stars have scored just three times in 33 power-play opportunities, and that lack of firepower has assisted in Dallas' ugly 2-6-1 mark over that stretch.
"We're moving it around good, and it's getting a little bit more dangerous, but we'll keep working on it," Richards said about the power play.
"I though our power play probably could have generated a few more chances for us," Crawford said. "That's usually the difference in games like that."
Columbus goalie Steve Mason finished with 29 saves, and he helped preserve the win with a terrific left pad save on a rebound attempt by Steve Ott with seven minutes to go in regulation.
"All in all it was a pretty hard-fought game," Ott said. "We were in it. If we play like we did in the third period in the first two, we win that game. Kari gave us a chance to be able to stick around and win that game. Mentally we were there, and you see the different push we can bring when we are down and our character starts showing"
Matt Calvert and captain Rick Nash scored for the surging Blue Jackets, who won for the fifth time in their last six games to pull back into playoff contention. Columbus came in six points out of the final postseason berth in the Western Conference.
"The last two periods we did a good job, but today we couldn't (come back)," Lehtonen said. "It's a tough loss. I felt good after the first and made some saves, so that helped me to keep going. But it was just a frustrating game."
With the game knotted at 1-1 after 20 minutes, the Blue Jackets took their first lead of the game when Nash potted his team-leading 26th of the season 6:33 into the middle frame. Streaking down the left wing, Nash accepted a pass from Jakub Voracek at the Stars' blue line before cutting past Stephane Robidas in the left circle and then lifting the puck over Lehtonen on the backhand.
Richards opened the scoring with his 24th of the season to give the Stars a 1-0 lead 4:36 into the game. While on the power play, he was able to sneak a wrist shot past Mason from the right circle.
The Blue Jackets, though, tied it at 1 just 46 seconds later when Calvert banged home a rebound from the slot after Lehtonen kicked out Anton Stralman's shot from the point.
The Stars open a three-game road trip on Tuesday when they visit Edmonton to take on the Oilers (8 p.m., FS-SW). Dallas will also face Calgary (Wednesday) and Vancouver (Saturday) before returning home for its next two of three.
"It doesn't matter where we are, we need to get our game back to consistency," Richards said. "We're going to learn from these games, and keep building."