There was no comeback for the Dallas Stars Tuesday night. The Toronto Maple Leafs took the lead 55 seconds into the game and kept it the rest of the night, defeating the Stars, 4-0, at American Airlines Center.
“We just didn’t come out. We were flat,” said Stars center Vernon Fiddler. “We gave up an odd-man rush off the start and we were down 1-0. It’s not a good way to start.”
“They came in here losing games and we give the first one up like that,” said Stars center Jason Spezza. “It gives them life.”
The Stars had their chances in the game, putting 43 shots on Toronto goaltender Jonathan Bernier, who was superb in net. The Stars directed 86 shot towards the net, including those that missed or that the Maple Leafs blocked. But they had nothing to show for it at the end of the night.
“You can get all the shots in the world, but you’ve got to finish and put it in the back of the net,” said Stars defenseman Jason Demers. “You’ve got to sometimes get that ugly goal and it can’t always be pretty. I think we just lacked a little grit around their net.”
Stars forward Tyler Seguin hit the post three times and had another excellent chance deflect high off the stick of a Leafs defender. Bernier made a slick glove save on a Ryan Garbutt point blank shot.
“We had more than enough chances,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “You have to give Bernier credit. He was fabulous.”
Toronto added two goals in the second period to extend their lead to 3-0. One of those goals came on the power play. The Stars went 0-4 with the man-advantage, giving the special teams edge to the Maple Leafs on this night.
“Special teams weren’t good enough,” Ruff said. “They could have made a difference.”
The Stars, who saw a four-game winning streak snapped, fell to 14-14-5 on the season. They head into the NHL’s holiday break eight points out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
James van Riemsdyk registered three points (one goal, two assists) for the Maple Leafs, who snapped a three-game losing streak and improved to 20-12-3 on the season.
“We wanted to go in on a winning note,” van Riemsdyk said. “We didn’t get the result we wanted last few games, and it’s a good result going into the break. And now taking these few days to kind of regroup and get back at it.”
“Losing streaks, you don’t want them to linger and that one was lingering long enough for us,” Toronto coach Randy Carlyle said. “Hopefully we can use this as a little bit of a breather for us, enjoy the holidays. Best Christmas present we could have given ourselves.”
The Maple Leafs struck in the first minute of the game to take a 1-0 lead. Nazem Kadri tallied off a van Riemsdyk centering pass at the 55 second mark. It was not the start the Stars were looking for.
“We’re naïve if we don’t look at it and figure out why we’re not having better starts and giving up the first goal on the first shot, in the first couple shifts,” Spezza said. “I hope we don’t make it a thing. It’s definitely something the coaches will look at and let us know. Just have to get guys back early in games and not give up chances.”
Toronto scored twice in the first half of the second to extend its lead to 3-0. After Tyler Seguin put a close range shot off Bernier’s glove and the post, Kadri set up van Riemsdyk on a breakaway. The Toronto forward beat Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen with a backhand shot to make it a 2-0 game at the 6:21 mark.
The Maple Leafs made it 3-0 with a power play goal when Tyler Bozak knocked in the rebound of a Dion Phaneuf shot from the point at 10:30 of the second.
Lehtonen came up with big saves on Phil Kessel and Jake Gardiner early in the third to keep the Stars within three goals, but the Stars couldn’t crack Bernier, who made 19 of his 43 saves over the final 20 minutes. His best was a glove save on close range bid by Garbutt.
The Stars pulled Lehtonen with more than four-and-a-half minutes left for the extra attacker, but Toronto’s Mike Santorelli scored into an empty net with 3:51 left to round out the scoring and send the Stars into the holiday break on a losing note.
“It’s disappointing,” Fiddler said. “At the same time we have to regroup. We have these three days [off] to get a mental and physical break and get back to work in St. Louis (Saturday).”
Notes: Stars assign Oleksiak to AHL
*The Dallas Stars assigned defenseman Jamie Oleksiak to the Texas Stars of the AHL after Tuesday’s game. Oleksiak was a healthy scratch vs. Toronto.
*The Stars outshot the Maple Leafs 43-26 and had an 86-46 advantage in shots directed towards the net, including those that missed the net or were blocked.
*Tyler Seguin put 14 shots toward the net, including six on goal, two that were blocked and six that missed. Three of those misses hit the post.
*The Stars were 0-4 on the power play and 1-5 on the penalty kill.
*The Stars won 38 of 71 faceoffs (54 percent).
*Jason Spezza won 9 of 13 draws (69 percent). Jamie Benn won 8 of 13 (62 percent). Vernon Fiddler won 10 of 17 (59 percent). Travis Morin won 5 of 11 (45 percent).
*Stars forward Antoine Roussel and Toronto defenseman Dion Phaneuf picked up fighting majors with 7:40 left in the game. The fight came after a Phaneuf hit on Stars center Jason Spezza.
*There was a big ovation during the first TV timeout when the Stars played a video tribute to former Stars defenseman Stephane Robidas.
*Attendance Tuesday night was 18,532, a sellout.
Jamie Benn – Tyler Seguin – Ales Hemsky
Travis Morin – Jason Spezza – Erik Cole
Antoine Roussel – Cody Eakin – Ryan Garbutt
Shawn Horcoff – Vernon Fiddler – Colton Sceviour
Jyrki Jokipakka – Trevor Daley
Alex Goligoski – John Klingberg
Jordie Benn – Jason Demers
Scratched: Travis Moen, Jamie Oleksiak
Injured: Patrick Eaves (ankle), Valeri Nichushkin (hip), Patrik Nemeth (arm)
This story was not subject to the 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.