Poor start proves perilous for Stars in loss to Lightning

DALLAS, TX - MARCH 1: Martin St. Louis #26 of the Tampa Bay Lightning snipes a shot past Kari Lehtonen #32 of the Dallas Stars off a breakaway at the American Airlines Center on March 1, 2014 in Dallas, Texas.

Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images

DALLAS — Maybe Lindy Ruff truly did have a premonition about the Dallas Stars starting one of their first games after the NHL Olympic break slowly. That’s because after morning skate prior to Thursday’s game with the Carolina Hurricanes, the veteran coach said he was on full watch for any rustiness from his players after a 19-day break between games.

Of course, there was none of that as the Stars cruised to a 4-1 win over the Canes at American Airlines Center. However, maybe Ruff, who admitted he had been watching the starts of several different games prior to the win over Carolina, was just one game off in his concerns about Dallas hitting the AAC ice not ready to play.

Because in the Stars’ 4-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday afternoon, Ruff’s team looked flat and the Bolts capitalized, taking an early lead when a puck deflected in off Tampa captain Martin St. Louis just 1:25 into the game, an advantage the visitors would never relinquish.

The Lightning led 2-0 after one period and when St. Louis buried his second of the game on a breakaway in the middle frame, they were ahead 3-0. To their credit, the Stars did battle back and scored a pair late in the second when Antoine Roussel knocked one in off the skate of a Tampa defenseman and Vernon Fiddler beat Bolts goaltender Ben Bishop short side on one of his few mistakes of the day.

But in the end, it was too little too late and the Stars fell.

No one summed the loss up better than longtime Dallas defenseman Trevor Daley.

"For 40 minutes, we were good. It was the 20 we weren’t good that made the difference," Daley said. "I just think we were flat. Their push was a lot more than ours and that was the difference in the game."

Not only did the Stars lose in their second game post-Sochi, but second-year d-man Brenden Dillon missed his first game of the season with a lower-body injury. Dillon has become something of a rock at the blue line for Dallas in a very short period of time and not having him out there was definitely noticeable high above the ice from the press box.

Dallas did pepper Bishop with a number of shots and even had two huge power plays late in the game, but these chances came after the Lightning got an all-important fourth goal when Sami Salo scored his first goal in 44 games when he took Kari Lehtonen top shelf in the final period.

Ruff of course was glad to see the fight his club showed and other than the Stars’ lackluster opening 10 minutes and the game’s final outcome, he found little to take issue with.

"We needed to fight back, and we did. We hunkered down, and went to work," Ruff said."When it was 3-2, we had two or three unbelievable opportunities to tie it up. If Fiddler takes another look and just gets it up, it’s in the net."

However, the Stars will have little time before they hit the ice again as Buffalo makes their lone visit of the season to Big D on Monday. Dallas will practice on Sunday in Frisco and then have morning skate on Monday morning before facing the retooled Sabres, who in the past 24 hours have traded away the likes of No. 1 goaltender Ryan Miller and former Dallas captain Steve Ott.

"With the Olympics ending, the games are crammed into our schedule," Fiddler said. "We have to be mentally prepared for every game from the beginning."