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Stars Fall to Panthers in Season Opener

by Mark Stepneski / Dallas Stars

The Dallas Stars found out that a good preseason record, a good start to the regular season opener and a third period lead doesn’t add up to a win. The Florida Panthers rattled off three unanswered goals over the last half of the third period, rallying to defeat the Stars 4-2 at American Airlines Center Thursday night.

“It was a bit of a wakeup call for us,” said Stars defenseman Brenden Dillon. “We went through the preseason 5-0-2 and we’re feeling good about our game, but we’ve got to understand there are going to be no easy games.”

“Maybe we thought it was going to be a little easy,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “We had a good camp. That’s what I took from the game. Situations that we battled hard and came out on top, we lost tonight. Those are battles we have to win.”

There were other issues to dwell on for the Stars. They gave up 39 shots on goal in the game. Only a superb performance by Kari Lehtonen, who made 35 saves, kept the Panthers from finding the back of the net a few more times.

“Looked like he hasn’t missed a beat,” said Stars captain Jamie Benn. “We gave up too many shots tonight, but he made some big saves for us and he played great again.”

The power play wasn’t much help. It was unable to generate a shot on goal during three chances that lasted a total of 5:08.

“We had five or six attempts and all those shots were blocked. I thought our composure on the power play a couple times wasn’t good enough,” Ruff said. “We weren’t very good on the entries either.”

The Stars dominated play early and got the game’s first power play at the 8:59 mark of the first period, but it was Florida that had the better scoring chances. Marcel Goc had a shorthanded breakaway that Lehtonen stopped and then denied a rebound chance by Jesse Winchester.

The season’s first fights game at 11:20 of the first period. Stars forward Antoine Roussel dropped the gloves with Florida defenseman Mike Weaver and Stars forward Ryan Garbutt fought Panthers defenseman Dmitry Kulikov. Both Garbutt and Kulikov received game misconducts for fighting after the original altercation.

The Panthers opened the scoring with 2:19 left in the first. Scottie Upshall drove the net from the right wing, and Scott Gomez got the puck and scored from close range to give Florida a 1-0 lead.

Lehtonen came up with a couple of big stops early in the second, stopping a wrap-around attempt by Tomas Fleischmann and then a good chance by Kris Versteeg just seconds later.

The Stars drew even with 12:35 left in the second when Alex Chiasson got to the rebound of a Ray Whitney shot and scored off a wrap-around to tie the game at 1-1.

The Stars took a 2-1 lead with 12:28 remaining in the third with a shorthanded goal. Vernon Fiddler set the Stars off on a two-on-one shorthanded chance. After a Antoine Roussel shot went wide, Fiddler centered the puck from behind the net to Dillon, who scored into the open side of the goal.

“It was one of those scramble plays and he was fortunate enough to get it to me right out in front, and I just saw an empty net,” said Dillon. “I’ll take those every time.”

Lehtonen came up big a couple minutes later, stopping a point blank shot by Upshall to preserve the Stars’ lead. But the Panthers tied it about 30 seconds later. After Lehtonen made a couple of sharp saves, Panthers rookie Aleksander Barkov scored during the scramble in front of the Dallas net to tie the game at 2-2 with 9:28 remaining.

The Stars had a couple of great chances with just over five minutes left in the third, but Erik Gudbranson blocked a shot by Dillon and Jamie Benn had a shot rattle off the post.

“We had [Gudbranson] blocking the shot,” said Florida goaltender Tim Thomas, who stopped 25 of 27 shots. “If he doesn’t block that shot, we don’t win that game. It’s just awesome.”

The Panthers took the lead with 4:55 left when Tomas Fleischmann set up Goc off the rush and Goc scored from close range to give the Panthers a 3-2 lead.

Goc scored into an empty net with 1:29 remaining to put the Panthers up 4-2 and seal the Stars’ fate on this night.

“No lead is safe,” said Benn. “They came on strong and they came right at us. They got two pretty quick goals and it is something we’ve got to learn from. We’ve got to take care of a lead, especially when you have it in the third.”

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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