The Dallas Stars dug themselves a deep hole in Denver Saturday night and almost climbed out of it.
The Stars overcame an early 3-0 deficit and tied the game in the third period, but the Colorado Avalanche broke the tie with 3:20 remaining and went on to defeat the Stars, 6-4, at Pepsi Center.
The Stars, who were down 3-0 after one period and 4-2 after two, scored twice in the third period to draw even. But just 1:16 after Stars captain Jamie Benn made it at a 4-4 game, Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog tipped in an Erik Johnson shot to give Colorado a 5-4 lead at the 16:40 mark of the third and then Colorado would score an empty-net goal to seal the victory.
It was a valiant comeback effort by the Stars, but the poor start stood out. A start that saw the Stars give up three goals in the first period and get outshot 20-9. It could have been worse because Colorado had two other goals overturned for goalie interference.
"The comeback showed the character of the team. We didn't give up. That's the one positive thing," said Stars defenseman Roman Polak. "Still, because of the beginning, we lost the game."
"Our start was pretty embarrassing," said Stars center Tyler Seguin. "They took it to us right from the early on."
Video: DAL@COL: Seguin stays with play, buries rebound
The Stars came up short in the special teams battle, putting Colorado's power play, which came into the game ranked third in the league, on the job seven times and the Avalanche cashed in on three of the opportunities.
"They were buzzing all over the ice. It was tough," said Polak. "We were taking too many penalties. Too many stupid penalties."
Seguin scored two goals and Benn and Esa Lindell scored once for the Stars, who lost all four games on their road trip, which concluded on Saturday and fell to 16-14-3 on the season. Anton Khudobin got the start in goal and played the first period, stopping 17 of 20 shots. Ben Bishop played the final two periods and stopped 14 of 16 shots.
Colorado's top line of Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, and Mikko Rantanen combined for nine points (five goals, four assists) as the Avalanche (18-9-6) snapped a three-game skid.
"We were really great early in the game," said MacKinnon. "It's unfortunate that we let them come back, but [Landeskog] had a big goal to get us ahead again. … It'd be nice to just close them out earlier than what we did, but it was nice to end the losing streak."
Colorado opened the scoring at the 5:45 mark of the first period, cashing in on their first power play when captain Landeskog scored from the right circle to make it a 1-0 game. The Avalanche pushed the lead to 2-0 a little more than two minutes later after Matt Nieto stole the puck from Alexander Radulov and set up Matt Calvert, who beat Khudobin from close range at the 7:45 mark.
Video: DAL@COL: Seguin whips home one-timer for PPG
The Avalanche appeared to score goals at 8:30 and 11:34 of the period, but both were challenged by the Stars for goaltender interference and both times officials agreed and that kept it a 2-0 game. But Colorado went on the power play late in the first and scored to get their third goal. MacKinnon picked off a Blake Comeau clearing attempt and set up Rantanen, who scored from the slot at 19:45 of the first to push the Colorado lead to 3-0.
The Stars came out with a strong push in the second and scored two goals in 44 seconds to cut the Colorado lead to 3-2. Lindell scored shorthanded to make it a 3-1 game, finishing off a 2-on-1 rush after taking a pass from Mattias Janmark at the 8:36 mark.
After a Colorado turnover, Seguin scored on the rebound of his own shot and Dallas was within 3-2 at 9:20 of the second.
The Stars went on a power play at 12:24 of the second with a chance to tie, but couldn't take advantage and 16 seconds after the power play expired Janmark took an offensive zone slashing minor, and Colorado took advantage. With Janmark in the box, Rantanen scored on the power play, taking a cross-ice pass from MacKinnon and scoring from the right circle to extend the Avalanche lead to 4-2 at 14:53 of the period.
The Stars made another push in the third and tied the game at 4-4. Seguin scored on a power play at the 13:14 mark, taking a pass from Taylor Fedun and blasting a one-timer past Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov from the top of the left circle to make it a 4-3 game. Benn tied the game 4-4, scoring on the rebound of a Seguin shot at the 15:24 mark.
But just 76 seconds later the Avalanche were back on top when Landeskog tipped in an Johnson shot to put Colorado up 5-4 with 3:20 remaining. MacKinnon sealed the win with an empty-net goal.
Video: DAL@COL: Benn stuffs home rebound in 700th game
The start of the game was brutal for the Stars, especially when you consider the Avalanche had played the night before in St. Louis.
Colorado looked like the fresher team in the first. The Avs scored three goals, and it could have been five if not for the Stars winning two challenges for goaltender interference. The shots in the first were 20-9 Colorado. The website naturalstattrick.com had the scoring chances at 18-3 Colorado and high-danger chances at 9-0.
The Stars eventually overcame the deficit, but you won't win many with starts like that. And they didn't Saturday.
Video: Montgomery breaks down tough loss in Denver
Three stars of the game
Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado: Avalanche captain scored two goals, including the game-winner with 3:20 remaining.
Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado: Avalanche forward tallied four points (one goal, three assists) and had a game-high seven shots on goal.
Mikko Rantanen, Colorado: NHL's leading scorer tallied three points (two goals, one assist) and ran his points streak to 14 games.
Video: DAL@COL: Lindell goes five-hole for shorthanded goal
They said it
"You've got to play a full 60 minutes in this league to win games, and we didn't do that tonight." - Stars captain Jamie Benn
"I don't know why we weren't ready with how we've gone the last few games on the road. We've got to expect more from ourselves and each other, and just a bad start and we couldn't catch up." - Stars center Tyler Seguin
"[The comeback] shows that we have a lot of fight in us and you like the way everybody was battling. But every time we started to gain the momentum we took unnecessary offensive zone penalties. And to me, that is the thing that really hurt us down the stretch." - Stars coach Jim Montgomery
Video: Benn shoulders blame for loss to Avs
The Stars are 6-11-2 on the road.
The Stars are 1-3-1 against the Central Division.
The Avalanche are 4-3-2 vs. the Central.
The Stars outshot the Avalanche 42-37 and had a 60-56 advantage in shot attempts.
Tyler Seguin and Miro Heiskanen co-led Dallas with 6 shots on goal. Seguin led the Stars with 11 shot attempts.
The Stars were 1-for-3 on the power play and 4-for-7 on the penalty kill.
The three power-play goals against were a season-high for the Stars.
The Stars won 42 of 86 faceoffs (49 percent). Seguin won 12 of 22 (55 percent). Jamie Benn won 8 of 12 (67 percent). Martin Hanzal and Jason Spezza both won 7 of 14 (50 percent). Radek Faksa won 3 of 11 (27 percent).
Heiskanen led the Stars with 25:54 of ice time.
Forward Denis Gurianov, who was called up from the AHL Friday, played 13:41, had three shots on goal, a plus-1 rating, and four hits.
Video: Seguin tallies twice in Colorado
The Stars have Sunday off, will practice Monday at StarCenter Frisco and then take on the Calgary Flames on Tuesday to begin a four-game stretch heading into the NHL's holiday break.
After Tuesday's game, the Stars host Chicago Thursday, play at Minnesota on Saturday and then host the New York Islanders on Monday before the three-day break.
Video: The Stars got real like Dr Phil
Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Alexander Radulov
Devin Shore - Martin Hanzal - Denis Gurianov
Mattias Janmark - Jason Spezza - Valeri Nichushkin
Jason Dickinson - Radek Faksa - Blake Comeau
Esa Lindell - Julius Honka
Miro Heiskanen - Roman Polak
Gavin Bayreuther - Taylor Fedun
Scratched: Tyler Pitlick, Brett Ritchie, Joel Hanley
Injured: John Klingberg (hand), Connor Carrick (foot), Marc Methot (knee), Stephen Johns (post-traumatic headaches)
Video: DAL Recap: Seguin scores twice in 6-4 loss to Avs
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.
Mark Stepneski has covered the Stars for DallasStars.com since 2012. Follow him on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.