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Stars can't hold late lead, fall to Leafs 3-2

by Mark Stepneski / Dallas Stars

The Dallas Stars have been strong in third periods this season, but the final 20 minutes didn’t go their way Tuesday night. The Stars couldn’t hold a 2-1 third-period lead and fell, 3-2, to the Toronto Maple Leafs at American Airlines Center.

"It's unacceptable. I think we came together as a team and decided this year that stuff like that wasn't going to happen,” said Stars defenseman Jason Demers. “You can call it what you like, but that's just giving away two points.”

The Stars grabbed a 2-1 lead early in the third on a goal by Vernon Fiddler, but the Maple Leafs tied the game with 7:22 remaining when a P.A. Parenteau shot bounced in the net off the skate of Dallas defenseman Jordie Benn. Toronto defenseman Jake Gardiner scored the game-winner when his point shot deflected in off the stick of Stars forward Colton Sceviour.

“We got the lead, and we decided we wanted to sit back. That’s not what we need to do in our building. We’ve got to keep going,” Fiddler said. “There’s something we need to learn from this game for sure. We can’t find ways to lose. You’ve got to put it in the bank, and we didn’t find a way to do it.”

Fiddler and Patrick Sharp scored for the Stars and Demers had two assists. Antti Niemi stopped 27 of 30 shots. The loss snapped a three-game winning streak for the Stars, who are 12-4-0 on the season. It was just the second loss at home for Dallas, which is now 5-2-0 at the AAC. Both losses have come in the first game back after a long road trip.

"We missed too many opportunities,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. “We had two-on-ones, three-on-ones. Our power play had an empty net to put it in. On the rush, we probably have five or six point-blanks where you don't score. Energy-wise, coming off the trip, I thought we had real good energy as a team and skated well.”

Toronto won its third game of the season (3-8-4), two of the victories coming against the Stars. James Reimer stopped 36 shots, and Gardiner had one goal and one assist for the Maple Leafs, who are 2-1-2 in their past five games.

“We needed the points, but more important than the points, we needed confidence, so suddenly I think we got points in four of five games and we start to feel more like a hockey team,” Toronto coach Mike Babcock said. “And confidence is everything in life. You got to earn it. Coach can’t give it to you, media can’t give it to you, parents can’t give it to you, you got to earn it and so this is part of that process.”

The Stars outshot the Maple Leafs 12-8 in the first and had a couple of good chances to take the lead, but Reimer made good saves on Mattias Janmark and Ales Hemsky to keep it a scoreless game. The Maple Leafs went on a power play late in the first and scored to take a 1-0 lead when Peter Holland tipped in a Gardiner shot from the point with 1:22 remaining.

Niemi came up with a big stop 1:31 into the second to keep it a 1-0 game, making a glove save on a point-blank bid by Nazem Kadri. Tyler Seguin had a couple of good looks on a Dallas power play, but the Stars didn’t crack Reimer until the final minute of the second. After Sharp and Demers combined to win a battle for a loose puck behind the Toronto net, Sharp scored from close range with 33.3 seconds left to tie the game at 1-1.

The Stars took the lead 5:39 into the third when Demers stole the puck in the Toronto zone and set up Fiddler, who scored off a backhand shot from a sharp angle. But Toronto would bounce back to win. And now the Stars will look to bounce back from this loss with two games against division rivals Winnipeg (Thursday) and Minnesota (Saturday) looming on the horizon.

“Two biggest games of the year,” Demers said. “Should be considered playoff games for us and that’s how we should handle it. We have to win our division games because it is so tight in the Central.”

The Stars were on the penalty kill once Tuesday and surrendered a power-play goal. The penalty kill has been an issue recently, allowing a power-play goal in seven of the last eight games and going 16-25 (64.0 percent) during that stretch.

“We had a failed clear that cost us (tonight),” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. “If we get that down the ice, the power play's over, which we didn't and it allowed them one more shot, and we didn't get in the shot lanes, which is frustrating. Obviously, we've got to get better. We can't give up a goal a game and expect to win.”

“It’s been brutal,” said Stars center Vernon Fiddler. “We need to be more detailed. When we have a chance to execute, we have to execute. We aren’t looking for offense. We’re looking to get the puck out, and our penalty kill has to be way better.”

*The Stars outshot the Maple Leafs 38-30 and had a 67-55 advantage in attempted shots.

*Alex Goligoski led the Stars with five shots on goal.

*John Klingberg led the Stars with seven shot attempts.

*Patrick Sharp has scored seven goals in the past eight games.

*The Stars were 0-1 on the power play and 0-1 on the penalty kill.

*The Stars are 4-2-0 when tied after two periods.

*The Stars won 31 of 67 faceoffs (46 percent).

*Tyler Seguin won 12 of 16 faceoffs (75 percent). Vernon Fiddler won 7 of 14 (50 percent). Jamie Benn won 4 of 8 (50 percent). Jason Spezza won 4 of 10 (40 percent). Radek Faksa won 3 of 11 (27 percent). Cody Eakin won 1 of 8 (13 percent).

*Alex Goligoski led the Stars with 26:26 of ice time. John Klingberg was next with 25:32.

The Stars continue the homestand with games against Central Division foes Winnipeg (Thursday) and Minnesota (Saturday).

Jamie Benn- Tyler SeguinPatrick Sharp

Mattias JanmarkCody EakinJason Spezza

Colton SceviourVernon FiddlerAles Hemsky

Antoine RousselRadek FaksaValeri Nichushkin

Alex Goligoski
John Klingberg

Johnny OduyaJason Demers

Jyrki JokipakkaJordie Benn

Antti Niemi

Kari Lehtonen

Jamie Oleksiak, Patrik Nemeth, Devin Shore

Injured: Patrick Eaves (lower body), Travis Moen (upper body), Curtis McKenzie (hip)

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 reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.

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