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Stars Can’t Hold Lead, Fall to Panthers

by Mark Stepneski / Dallas Stars

The Dallas Stars had a chance to create a little breathing room in the race for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference Sunday evening, but couldn’t close the deal. The Stars squandered a 2-0 lead and fell 3-2 to the Florida Panthers at BB&T Center.

“Tough points to lose,” said Stars center Tyler Seguin. “It wasn’t a good game for us. No excuses, even though it was a back-to-back. Expect better.”

The Stars remained in the second wild card spot in the West, one point ahead of the Phoenix Coyotes. Both teams have four games remaining and the two meet in Phoenix on the final day of the regular season.

Sunday’s game looked a lot like Saturday’s game in Tampa. The Stars scored in the first minute to get the early lead, once again struggled in the second period when the Panthers scored twice to erase a 2-0 deficit. But unlike Saturday, the Stars couldn’t get the big goal in the third period. That went to Florida’s Sean Bergenheim, who scored the game-winner with 4:31 remaining.

“We’re trying to put together 60 minutes and even though we won last game, they won the second period in Tampa as well and we came back out in the third,” said Seguin. “Tonight we just didn’t have it in the third.”

The Stars, who were playing the second night of a back-to-back and their fourth game in six days, said fatigue wasn’t an issue.

“I’m not looking at excuses,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “We had an opportunity to make a better play in several situations and we didn’t get the plays made.”

“I think at this point in the year, being tired is just more of a mental thing than anything,” said Seguin. “We’re not going to put fatigue on any excuse. We got to find ways to get points.”

The Panthers, who have been out of the playoff picture for some time, snapped a five-game losing streak and won in regulation for the first time since March 18.

"It's probably a big blow for Dallas," Bergenheim said. "It's their thing. Personally, I don't really care much who's fighting for what. You've got to be playing the best you can every single game and whatever happens in the standings for the other teams, I don't really care."

Seguin had one goal and one assist for the Stars. Jamie Benn also scored and Trevor Daley had two assists. Kari Lehtonen made his ninth straight start and stopped 21 of 24 shots.

The Stars got off to a quick start for the second straight game thanks to a goal from Benn, who tallied 45 seconds into the game to stake the Stars to a 1-0 lead. Benn chipped a puck past two Florida defenders, won the race to the loose puck and then slipped it past Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo.

The Stars had three power play chances in the first, including a five-on-three advantage for 39 seconds, but couldn’t cash in. They had two minutes remaining on a double minor for high sticking on Bergenheim to open the second period and took advantage. A Seguin shot deflected in off the stick of Panthers defenseman Ed Jovanovski and past Luongo 39 seconds into the period and the Stars were up 2-0.

But the Panthers bounced back with two goals to tie. Erik Gudbranson’s shot from the point deflected off the stick of Seguin, off Florida forward Scottie Upshall and past Lehtonen at the 8:20 mark to cut the Stars’ lead to 2-1.

And then 16 seconds after the Stars killed off Florida’s only power play of the game, Panthers forward Brandon Pirri scored from the slot to tie the game 2-2 with 56.6 seconds left in the period.

Stars forward Erik Cole had a chance to give the Stars the lead just seconds later, but his shot went wide as he broke in alone on Luongo.

The Stars had the better of play at times in the third period and not long after Benn just missed putting the Stars ahead, the Panthers scored the game-winner when Bergenheim redirected a Colby Robak shot past Lehtonen with 4:31 remaining to make it a 3-2 game.

The Stars went on a power play less than a minute later, but couldn’t convert. They pulled Lehtonen for the extra attacker, but couldn’t get the equalizer.

“We knew it was not going to be easy. They’re not going to give us these games,” said Benn. “So we’ve got to put this one behind us. It was obviously a terrible outcome. We don’t really want to remember this one. So we’re going to put it behind us, get a day off tomorrow and come back ready to play.”

The Stars kick off a three-game homestand Tuesday against Nashville.

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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