The Dallas Stars played solid team defense while putting together a seven-game points streak against some top Western Conference teams. Thursday night they sprung a leak against one of the better teams from the East, falling 6-4 to the Montreal Canadiens at American Airlines Center.
“I was concerned after going through the stretch we went through, and a couple of emotional wins, that we might get loose, and we were loose,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff.
The Stars outshot Montreal 32-28 and directed more pucks towards the net by a 72-56 margin. They won 42 of 63 faceoffs. But when it came to quality scoring chances and capitalizing on them, the edge went to Montreal.
“I don’t think we deserved to win tonight’s game. We had some plays we just didn’t defend well on,” said Stars defenseman Brenden Dillon. “They capitalized on their chances, credit to them for that, but we have to take responsibility for that. It’s getting in shooting lanes or winning one-on-one battles, whatever it might be.”
Added Stars center Tyler Seguin, “We gave them a lot of opportunities. Our goalie made some unbelievable saves and we kind of left him hanging out to dry.”
Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen allowed five goals on 27 shots, but he also came up with some spectacular saves to keep the Stars in the game.
The loss snapped the Stars points streak at seven and was their first in regulation since the Dec. 26 loss in Colorado.
Defenseman P.K. Subban had one goal and three assists and forward Max Pacioretty scored two goals and assisted on two others for Montreal, which had scored one goal or fewer in seven of its previous ten games.
“That’s what we needed. Been struggling scoring goals, been struggling to put 60 minutes together,” Pacioretty said. “We came out slow, found a way to bounce back after a bad start. Carey (Price, Montreal goaltender) bailed us out early in the game and I think we took it from there.”
Both teams had good chances early in the game. Erik Cole hit a post with a great move to the net off the rush. Montreal forward Rene Bourque broke in on net all alone, but was denied by Lehtonen.
The Stars got on the board first when Seguin sent a cross-ice pass to Jamie Benn, who scored off a blast from the right circle at 6:12 of the first.
The Stars went on the game’s first power play two minutes later, but couldn’t extend the lead. They had a great chance off a Cole shot from the bottom of the right circle, but Price made a slick save to keep it a 1-0 game.
A short time later the Canadiens tied the game when Subban set up Pacioretty on a breakaway, and Pacioretty beat Lehtonen with a snap shot at the 11:00 mark.
Montreal took the lead early in the second off a great play by Subban, who made a slick series of moves and then backhanded the puck to David Desharnais, who scored from the slot at the 1:35 mark.
There were two fights after that. Cameron Gaunce and Ryan White dropped the gloves thirty seconds after the Montreal goal and then a few minutes later there was a spirited fight between Antione Roussel and Travis Moen.
Stars forward Valeri Nichushkin got a penalty shot at the 5:23 mark when Montreal defenseman Josh Gorges pulled him down as he drove the net, and Nichushkin scored off a wrist shot to Price’s glove side to tie the game at 2-2.
But Subban put Montreal ahead 67 seconds later, when he danced across the slot to get an open shot and scored from the right circle at 6:30 of the second.
“He was really good offensively, took some great decisions. He took the ice they gave to him,” Montreal coach Michel Therrien said of Subban. “He didn’t force any plays and he was solid defensively too. He played a great game.”
The Canadiens went on their third power play of the night early in the third period and cashed in to take a 4-2 lead at the 3:30 mark. Brendan Gallagher knocked home the rebound of a Pacioretty shot that bounced off the end boards.
The Stars went on their third power play of the game three minutes later and they scored to cut the Montreal lead to 4-3. Seguin broke into the Montreal zone and ripped a shot past Price from the right circle at the 7:42 mark.
Just 47 seconds later the Stars tied the game when Dillon scored off a shot from right point make it a 4-4 game.
A little more than two minutes later, Montreal had the lead again when Lars Eller beat Lehtonen with a shot from the bottom of the right circle to put Montreal up 5-4 with 9:21 remaining.
“Even when they tied up the game, we didn’t panic,” Therrien said. “I thought we played the game under control and thought we created some chances.”
“That was a turning point in the game to let them get a quick one back, putting us behind the eight ball again,” said Stars defenseman Kevin Connauton, who had two assists on the night.
Lehtonen kept the Stars within a goal coming up with big saves on Brian Gionta and then two more on Desharnais to keep it a 5-4 game.
The Stars pulled Lehtonen with a little more than a minute remaining, but Pacioretty scored into an empty net to make it a 6-4 game and seal the win for Montreal.
“I’ve got to be honest, I didn't believe we deserved to win that game,” said Seguin. “I didn't think we earned it. I think they were faster than us tonight, they competed harder than us tonight, and I think we got a little complacent after having a solid few games in a row. We’ve got to be good at practice tomorrow and get ready for a heck of a team in Detroit on Saturday.”
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.