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'We're flirting with fire': Stars run out of rallies in loss to Sabres

Dallas has been tempting fate with comeback victories, and it finally caught up against Buffalo

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

DALLAS -- The Stars have been tempting fate with their comeback victories lately, and it caught up with them Thursday.

Dallas leads the NHL in wins when trailing after two periods at eight and was coming off a huge overtime win against the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday. However, Buffalo scored first, took a 2-1 lead after two periods, and cruised to a 4-1 victory at American Airlines Center on Thursday.

It was an interesting lesson in the odds of traditional hockey, as well as in the details of the game.

"You're not going to win every game coming back in this league, there's no chance," Stars coach Rick Bowness said. "So even though we have won eight coming back, we've got to try to avoid putting ourselves in that predicament."

When the Stars score first, they are 18-3-2. When they lead after two periods, they are 18-1-2. Those are the numbers they would like to pursue going forward. In the past 12 games, they have gotten off to too many slow starts, getting outscored 17-7 in first periods.

"We need to figure out those starts," said center Tyler Seguin. "We're flirting with fire, and tonight we got burned."

Video: BUF@DAL: Bowness gives update on Heiskanen after loss

During this recent stretch, the reaffirming thing has been the fact the Stars have been the better team in many of these games. After the slow starts, they received either the better team play, the better goaltending or the better special teams. As much as there were comebacks that were definitely "against the odds," Dallas also earned a lot of those breaks.

This time, the Sabres were the better team, however.

While the Stars had a 16-5 advantage in shots on goal in the second period, Sabres coach Ralph Krueger used a phrase that has been very familiar to Bowness during some of his team's lopsided shot differentials.

"Well, I thought the second period, actually, scoring chance-wise, was pretty even," Krueger said.

Scoring chance has been a big focus for Bowness since he took over as interim head coach, and while Dallas was able to get the shots on goal, it wasn't able to turn them into enough rebound chances or chaos chances. Instead, Buffalo goalie Linus Ullmark stopped 28 shots and walked away with a very nice victory.

"Give them credit, they worked very, very hard tonight," Bowness said of the Sabres. "They were clogging up that neutral zone very well and getting pucks out of there as quick as they could. Give Buffalo credit, and the kid in the net played another great game against us. We've got one goal against him in two games."

Video: BUF@DAL: Benn puts home carom off the ends boards

Ullmark had a 4-0 win in Buffalo in October, giving the Sabres the season sweep. This defeat also broke a seven-game home winning streak Dallas had going against Buffalo and drops the Stars to 8-9-0 against the Eastern Conference this season.

While all of those are numbers to remember, the real feeling that lingers is the fact the team continues to struggle to score. Dallas has had similar issues during its recent run of success (the Stars are now 7-2-0 in their past nine games), but has relied on the power play or an opportunistic goal from a depth player to get those wins.

That didn't materialize against the Sabres.

"Obviously, we want to score more goals and every player wants to score goals, too," said defenseman John Klingberg.

"I think the effort is there to go and score goals. Maybe some more poise, sometimes, but I think it comes more from having more possession time with the puck down low and grinding out there. So that's something that we have to keep working on. To be able to find more time in the O-zone and create cycles or pucks going to the net or beat someone in 1-on-1s or create 2-on-1s somewhere."

The Stars lost Miro Heiskanen to an upper-body injury in the second period. He will be re-evaluated Friday, but the team has decided to cancel its practice because of possible weather concerns with their flight to Minnesota, so there is no expected update at this time. Defenseman Stephen Johns was recalled after two conditioning games in the AHL and might be ready to return to the NHL for the first time in two years.

 

[READ MORE: Heiskanen exits with upper-body injury in Stars' loss to Sabres]

 

That decision also will probably come Saturday at the morning skate in Minnesota.

"We'll talk about that over the next couple of days but there's a good chance he'll play Saturday," Bowness said. "We'll evaluate that tomorrow and Saturday morning."

If Johns does return from post-traumatic headaches and plays after missing 129 NHL games, it will be an emotional moment for him and his teammates. Johns has played two games in the AHL on his conditioning stint and has looked very good.

"I'm really excited. I'm very happy for him," said Klingberg. "I met him here before the game and it gives me a big smile for sure. He's a really good player and he's going to give this team a lot moving forward if he can stay healthy and we're very excited to have him back."

But as it has been with different players moving in and out of the lineup all year, the key has to be the Stars sticking to their identity. And while that identity has included some strong play in impressive comebacks, the team would like to get back to something that's historically more sustainable.

"If you let teams stick around too long, then you're trying to fight and claw your way back in the third," said goalie Ben Bishop. "It was a disappointing loss, but we have one more (game) before the break, so you have to regroup here, kind of recharge your batteries, and get ready for Minnesota."

Don't miss your chance to see the Stars take on the Tampa Bay Lightning when they return home to American Airlines Center on Monday, Jan. 27 at 7 p.m. Get your tickets now!

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.

Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika, and listen to his podcast.

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