DALLAS – The Stars put plenty of rubber on net against Columbus early on, but their failure to find the twine ultimately brought them down.
With Kari Lehtonen making his return from a groin injury, the Stars weren’t able to solve Blue Jackets goalie Steve Mason in a 4-1 loss on Thursday night at American Airlines Center.
Taking 19 shots in the first period, the Stars only found themselves deadlocked at a goal apiece with the league doormat. That in turn left the door open for Columbus to snap a six-game winless streak with the help of Rick Nash, who scored twice to lift the Blue Jackets to their first regulation road win this season.
The disappointing outcome left the Stars collectively scratching their heads.
“We put a lot of pucks on the net, but I think it’s a story of self-inflicted wounds,” coach Glen Gulutzan said. “We made three mistakes that cost us goals, and we couldn’t get a puck to go in.”
Lehtonen was solid in his comeback, making 25 saves after missing the previous 12 games because of his injury. He made several quality stops in the second period when Columbus sent 13 pucks his way to keep the Stars in it, but the effort went for naught as Dallas couldn’t find a way to punch through Lehtonen’s counterpart at the other end of the rink.
Mason played big in the net for the Blue Jackets, smothering long-range shots and keeping the Stars at bay with his second straight strong start. He allowed just one goal in regulation in Columbus’ shootout loss to Calgary on Tuesday, and handcuffed the Stars throughout a game that had long stretches of muddled play.
“Guys were putting in a strong effort on the backcheck to make sure to break up any odd-man rushes,” Mason said. “The road’s not an easy spot to win, so it’s nice to get a good feeling.”
Vernon Fiddler scored for the Stars (20-15-1), who failed to leapfrog idle San Jose and into first place in the Pacific Division. Dallas stayed at 41 points, and lost for the third time in its last four games.
“The first half we were all over them, but their goalie played good,” Lehtonen said. “That was a big key for them. I had an ok game, but their goalie was just phenomenal.”
Still, the Stars had a golden opportunity to get back into the game when they were handed successive power plays starting with Jared Boll’s charging penalty with 6 minutes to go in regulation, then Nikita Nikitin’s hooking infraction immediately afterwards. But the Blue Jackets neutralized Dallas’ struggling power play, and even generated a pair of 2-on-1 rushes that Lehtonen was forced to make saves on.
In all, it made for a frustrating night.
“They didn’t give us much,” Eric Nystrom said. “We got a pretty high number of shots, but in the third period they really shut it down. They had a great effort and a great road win. They came in and executed a strong road game against us.”
Antoine Vermette scored in the second period, and Fedor Tyutin capped things with an empty-net goal with 2 seconds to go to seal the win for the Blue Jackets (10-22-5). Mason, meanwhile, won for the first time in nine road decisions.
“You have to remember that this is the NHL and that’s a good team,” Gulutzan said. “They’ve been playing hard and not getting a result, and tonight they got a result.”
Up by a goal after 40 minutes, Nash scored his second of the game 6:09 into the third by releasing a snap shot from the right circle that eluded Lehtonen that gave Columbus a 3-1 advantage.
Though he wound up getting the loss, Lehtonen was pleased with his comeback performance, but admitted it took a little bit to get back into the swing of things.
“It’s just getting more comfortable and playing better,” he said. “I was trying to do too much, so I have to be more patient…flopping around on my back, I usually don’t do that.”
“Kari gave us exactly what we needed,” Gulutzan said. “I thought he looked like Kari. We just couldn’t reward him. I was encouraged by his first game, for sure.”
With the game knotted at 1-1 after the first period, Columbus took a 2-1 lead 2:10 into the second period on Vermette’s fifth of the year. Lehtonen was able to stop John Moore’s attempt from the point, but Vermette collected the rebound, and did a quick backhand-to-forehand maneuver with the puck before stuffing it in.
The Blue Jackets struck first on Nash’s 11th goal of the season just under 4 minutes into the opening frame. Rookie Ryan Johansen lugged the puck around the net before dishing it to Nash, who was able to sweep it in uncontested from in tight.
Fiddler got the equalizer midway through the first with his fifth of the season, making it 1-1. After Mason was able to block Nicklas Grossman’s shot from the point, Fiddler swooped in and whacked in the rebound.
The Stars continue their three-game homestand on New Year’s Eve when they host the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins at American Airlines Center (7 p.m., TXA-21). The Bruins entered Thursday’s action as the top team in the Eastern Conference with 49 points, and will bring a seven-game winning streak to Dallas.
-- To make room for Lehtonen, the Stars placed Stephane Robidas on injured reserve because of a lower-body injury.
-- Captain Brenden Morrow left the game early in the third period with a lower-body injury.
-- Boll leveled Adam Burish behind the Stars net on his charging penalty, barreling into Burish and hitting Burish’s head with his left shoulder. Burish was able to continue after being slow to get up.