DALLAS -- The Stars kept hitting the snooze button Tuesday in a 4-2 loss to the New York Rangers.
The alarm went off after back-to-back shutouts against Nashville, and the Stars reached over and went back to sleep to start the game.
Giving up a goal 19 seconds into the game, the buzz sounded loudly at American Airlines Center, and the Stars decided they still needed a little more shuteye.
[READ MORE: Hintz's goal ends lengthy scoring drought for Stars in loss to Rangers]
Then, after New York went up 2-0 after 20 minutes and Dallas had a full intermission to ponder if it was time to wake up, they decided to pull the covers up for one more period, falling behind 4-0 in a display that brought many in attendance to boo.
It was a puzzling experience.
"If we don't prepare ourselves properly the day of a game, it's just not going to work," said Stars interim coach Rick Bowness. "If we are not prepared to work and play the right way and play from our net out, then we are going to be embarrassed like we were for 40 minutes tonight."
Dallas was well-rested after two days between games, and well aware of the need for a statement. But instead of roaring out of the gate, this team meandered around and fell to 0-4-2 in its past six games. It allowed a goal-less streak to reach 175:39, gave up the quickest goal of the season, and lost for the third straight game on home ice.
Video: Bowness on Stars' disappointing loss to Rangers
"We're going to have to change something," said captain Jamie Benn. "In the last six games here, it's not working. We've got to prepare better, and I think we're preparing well as a team. Individually, we might have to change things up. You've got to look at how you prepare for a game."
That's not a good sign for a team that is supposed to be taking advantage of a cozy March schedule to nail down a playoff spot. Instead, a group of three teams is pushing up from behind and bringing to mind a late-season collapse from 2017-18. Nashville won Tuesday and now sits four points behind the Stars. Winnipeg is four points back. Minnesota is five points back.
Two of those teams are in the wild-card playoff spots and would still qualify for the postseason, so Dallas hasn't truly fallen into dangerous quicksand quite yet. But when you consider this team was flirting with first place in the Central less than a month ago, the current situation could quickly deteriorate into a full collapse if it's not addressed.
"We've got a lot of new players from two years ago," Benn said when reminded of the slide that ended Ken Hitchcock's one-year return to coaching Dallas. "We've already been through this once this year (a 1-7-1 run to start the season). It's got to stop next game. It starts with myself. We've got to find a way to win a game here."
As for Tuesday, it was just bad.
Tyler Seguin had a puck on his stick in the slot and instead of trying to shoot or at least go to the net, he quickly passed it backward. That led to a transition for the Rangers and Artemi Panarin found Adam Fox alone in the slot. Fox snapped his sixth goal of the season past Ben Bishop, and the Stars were on high alert just 19 seconds in.
"We gave them one right off the bat, which is just completely, completely unacceptable," Bowness said. "We've got our veterans on the ice -- should that happen? Absolutely not. No excuse for that."
Video: DAL Recap: Hintz, Cogliano score in loss to Rangers
But this team has bounced back from allowing the first goal 14 times to win a game, so that surely wouldn't be last you heard from the Stars. And yet, there was no real response, no immediate answer. Dallas was outshot 7-2 in the first 10 minutes and got down 2-0 when Mika Zibanejad scored his 40th goal of the season at the 10:12 mark.
"Tough to give up the first goal that early and the second goal was just a weak play by myself," said forward Blake Comeau. "So, to be down by two goals to start off the game was not ideal. We talked about it after the game, we have to figure out a way to get off to a better start. Individually, just look at yourself and figure out how to be ready at the start of the game."
The Stars seemed positioned to roar out of the first intermission with some real steam. After all, this team was 11-12-1 when trailing after one period heading into Tuesday.
But, once again, nothing.
The Rangers dominated play, they kept the puck in the offensive zone, and they forced the Stars to scramble just to avoid a third goal. That tally inevitably happened at the 7:03 mark of the second period, and a fourth goal followed at the 17:18 mark. Both were monumental team breakdowns that left Bishop exposed. Both were demoralizing examples that could allow you to call this one of the worst games of the season.
The Stars did rally back in the third period, holding a 13-8 advantage in shots on goal and getting tallies for Roope Hintz and Andrew Cogliano. On the good side, the Stars did break their scoreless drought, and did build some momentum.
On the realistic side, they scored two late goals against a team that was trying to take a win and end their own 1-4-0 slump.
Video: Benn, Comeau and Klingberg break down Stars' defeat
"They sat back on a 4-0 lead, so you can't get excited about that," Bowness said. "It's how you play the game for 60 minutes that you have to look at."
So, did this team really wake up in the third period? Are they finally up and out of bed and ready to compete against the Florida Panthers at home on Thursday? Or will the nightmare continue and possibly get even worse?
"Bottom line, we didn't do a good job tonight," Comeau said. "We've done some good things throughout this losing streak, but it's a results-based business and we've got to start seeing results. We've battled back pretty well from a slow start to the season and put ourselves in a position where we control our own destiny.
"We've let some teams back in the chase with us, so we've got to turn this around and figure this out quickly."
Because there is a strong belief the answers are in the room.
"You have 13 games to go; we're still in a playoff spot and we can dig ourselves out of this," Bowness said. "I believe in these guys. They are pros. We have had a lot of great games and this is the first real adversity we have faced in terms of home play since I have taken over … We are going to fix it together."
Maybe they did get that wake-up call after all.
Don't miss your chance to see the Stars battle the Florida Panthers as the homestand continues at American Airlines Center on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. The first 5,000 fans receive a Stars License Plate Frame, thanks to AAA. 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.