The Dallas Stars began a five-game road trip in Denver Tuesday night and saw their four-game winning streak come to an end with a 5-3 loss to the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center.
The Stars struggled through the first 40 minutes of the game and were down 4-2 as they headed into the second intermission. They made a strong push in the third but couldn't make up the deficit.
"By no means did we put out the right effort to win the hockey game," said Stars captain Jamie Benn. "[The Avalanche] came ready to play and we weren't sharp enough."
"The first two periods were disappointing," said Stars coach Ken Hitchcock. "We were slow, light on the puck. We've seen it before, and we are trying to get it resolved."
Ben Bishop got the start in goal but was pulled six minutes into the second period after allowing three goals on 17 shots. Kari Lehtonen played the rest of the way and stopped 14 of 15 shots. Bishop was not happy about getting pulled.
Video: Stars can't complete comeback in Denver
"There was no reason for me to come out. I guess that's the coach's decision," Bishop said. "It was a 3-2 hockey game with more than half the game left, so I am not very happy with the decision."
Hitchcock said the decision wasn't about goaltending.
"It has nothing to do with Ben Bishop. It has to do with wake up, let's get playing, and that's exactly what we did," Hitchcock said. "It has nothing to do with Ben, and I'll do the same with any other goaltender. If I think it is going to help the team and change their mindset, I've got to do whatever it takes."
The Stars also played a good part of the game with just five defensemen. Stephen Johns left the game in the first period after he was hit high by Avalanche forward Matt Duchene. He did not return due to concussion-like symptoms. Hitchcock had no update after the game.
"He obviously sustained an upper-body injury," Hitchcock said. "We'll evaluate in the morning and see what we do."
Video: DAL@COL: Ritchie pots Seguin's incredible feed
Benn recorded one goal and two assists, John Klingberg tallied one goal and one assist, and Brett Ritchie also scored a goal for the Stars who fell to 5-4-0 on the season.
Matt Nieto scored three goals, and Semyon Varlamov stopped 34 shots for the Avalanche who snapped a three-game losing streak and improved to 5-4-0 on the season.
"It's awesome," Nieto said of his first career hat trick. "The team had a couple losses there and to come back in our building and get back in the win column and for me to be able to contribute, it's a good feeling."
Benn opened the scoring at 8:03 of the first, keeping a puck in at the blue line, skating to the left circle and having his shot deflect into the net off a Colorado defender. The Avalanche answered at the 13:45 mark when Gabriel Landeskog put a shot on net off the rush and Nieto scored on a rebound.
The Stars had a great chance to take the lead late in the period with a four-minute power play after Alexander Kerfoot took a double minor for high sticking Tyler Pitlick, but the power play couldn't generate much, and it was a 1-1 game after 20 minutes.
Video: DAL@COL: Lehtonen comes out to stone slap shot
Nieto struck for his second goal of the game 2:14 into the second period to put the Avalanche up 2-1, backhanding home the rebound of a Carl Soderberg shot. The Stars tied the game 30 seconds later when Tyler Seguin set up Ritchie, who scored from close range to make it a 2-2 game at the 2:44 mark.
Just 80 seconds later, Colorado had the lead again. Gabriel Landeskog picked off a Julius Honka pass in the Dallas zone and then outdueled Honka in front of the net before scoring on a backhand shot to put the Avalanche up 3-2 at the 4:04 mark.
A couple minutes later - at the next TV timeout - Lehtonen replaced Bishop in goal. Lehtonen stopped the first eight shots he faced, but Colorado scored on the ninth. After Tyson Barrie's shot from the right point went wide, the rebound kicked out to defenseman Mark Barberio who scored from the top of the left circle with 9.8 seconds left in the second to give the Avalanche a 4-2 lead.
The Stars dominated play in the third period and cut the lead to 4-3 when Benn's blast from the high slot was tipped into the net by Klingberg midway at the 10:12 mark. But Varlamov came up with several big saves to keep the Stars one goal away, and Nieto sealed the win with an empty-net goal to make it a 5-3 final.
"It's one game. You can't be too negative, but you do have to take it serious and understand that we can't afford to let games like this slip by because it's going to haunt us later on in the season," said Stars defenseman Marc Methot. "You don't want to be in March and regret all the games that we are letting slip away. We know what kind of group we have in this team, and there's no excuse for the kind of game we had tonight."
Video: DAL@COL: Klingberg redirects home Benn's shot
The Stars are 1-3-0 on the road.
The Stars are 1-3-0 vs. the Central Division.
The Stars outshot the Avalanche 37-33 and had a 67-52 advantage in shot attempts.
John Klingberg and Mattias Janmark led the Stars with five shots on goal apiece.
Klingberg and Tyler Seguin led the Stars with nine shot attempts apiece.
The Stars were 3-3 on the penalty kill and 0-3 on the power play.
The Stars won 33 of 66 faceoffs (50 percent). Mattias Janmark won 7 of 13 (54 percent). Tyler Seguin won 8 of 16 (50 percent). Radek Faksa won 7 of 14 (50 percent).
John Klingberg led the Stars with 29:06 of ice time. Esa Lindell was next with 26:15.
The Stars continue their road trip Thursday when they play the Edmonton Oilers. The Oilers are off to a rough start this season at 2-5-1. They are coming off a 2-1 overtime loss in Pittsburgh on Tuesday.
Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Alexander Radulov
Remi Elie - Martin Hanzal - Jason Spezza
Antoine Roussel - Radek Faksa - Tyler Pitlick
Devin Shore - Mattias Janmark - Brett Ritchie
Marc Methot - John Klingberg
Dan Hamhuis - Stephen Johns
Esa Lindell - Julius Honka
Scratched: Jamie Oleksiak, Greg Pateryn, Gemel Smith
This story was not subject to approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.