The Dallas Stars stumbled out of the blocks as they opened a key-stretch of games against Central Division opponents, falling 3-1 to the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena Thursday night.
“These are the big ones. We have two more big ones on this road trip to turn it around,” said Stars defenseman Alex Goligoski. “Not the way we wanted to start it.”
The Predators scored two of their goals on the power play, cashing in on both ends of a five-on-three power play to take a 2-1 lead in the final minute of the first period. The Stars’ power play continued to struggle, going 0-3 in the game and falling to 10.5 percent, which has them ranked last in the league.
“On the power play we’re just not bearing down and burying them when we get them right now,” said Goligoski.
It was the second straight loss for the Stars, who are 3-4-3 over their last ten games and are now 14-11-5 on the season.
Nashville, which won its second straight game and improved to 15-14-3, pulled even with the Stars in the standings at 33 points. David Legwand had a goal and an assist, Shea Weber had two assists and goaltender Carter Hutton stopped 33 of 34 shots for Nashville, which snapped a four-game winless streak at home.
“We need to play well at home. It’s simple,” said Weber. “In the past we’ve done so, and this year it hasn’t been the case. We need to get back to playing the way we did tonight, and we’ll be successful.”
All the scoring in the first period came in the final two minutes, when the Stars and Predators scored three goals.
The Stars struck first with 1:53 remaining to take a 1-0 lead. Alex Chiasson won a puck battle behind the net to get it to Erik Cole, who came out from behind the goal line and roofed a backhand shot past Hutton.
But the Stars got in penalty trouble a short time later, taking back-to-back penalties to put Nashville on a 1:53 five-on-three power play with 1:08 left in the in the first. And Nashville scored on both ends of it.
Legwand set up Patric Hornqvist on the five-on-three, and Hornqvist scored from the slot with 58 seconds left in the period to tie the game at 1-1.
The Predators cashed in on the five-on-four just 28 seconds later when a Roman Josi shot from the left point deflected off a Dallas stick right to Legwand, who put the puck into the open side of the net give Nashville a 2-1 lead with 30 seconds left in the period.
“We lost the game in that two-minute span,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff.
“Things were going pretty good up until that point, we had the lead,” said Goligoski. “Five-on-three goal, we didn’t play that right, obviously. And then the one right after it, that takes the wind out of your sails.”
The Stars came close to tying it with a little more than eleven minutes left in the second when a Ryan Garbutt shot hit the post, but a short time later the Predators extended their lead to 3-1. With a delayed penalty call on the Stars, Collin Wilson set up a wide-open Paul Gaustad in the slot off the rush and Gaustad made a nice move to pull Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen out of the goal and then put the puck into the empty net with 10:46 left in the second.
The Stars ended up with 34 shots on net and directed a total of 69 shots towards the net, including those that were blocked and missed. But there weren’t a lot of quality chances and what few the Stars did get on net were turned away by Hutton.
“I thought they did a good job defending,” said Ruff. “They stayed back and made sure they stayed away from the rush chances. They were making it tough. We had a lot of zone time, but not a lot of great quality.”
The Stars pulled Lehtonen with about two minutes remaining for an extra attacker, but couldn’t get another puck past Hutton.
The Stars’ road trip continues Saturday when they play at Winnipeg.
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.