This time, the Dallas Stars couldn't erase a two-goal deficit.
Joffrey Lupul scored twice, James Reimer made 43 saves in net, and Nazem Kadri was nominated for an Oscar as the Stars dropped a 3-1 decision to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Dallas controlled play for most of the game, outshooting the Leafs by a hefty 44-26 margin, but just couldn't crack Reimer, who was spectacular. Jamie Benn had the lone Stars goal. Throw in some bad bounces, some questionable penalties and a few hit posts and tonight definitely wasn't their night.
The Leafs, who were 1-7-2 coming into the game, had been routinely putting up good possession numbers but getting awful goaltending, so the argument could be made that the team was "due" for a win. The Stars fall to 9-3 but, important to keep in mind, still hold onto 1st place in the Western Conference despite the loss.
Both teams turned out to be a little more similar than their record would suggest, trading early chances as forwards crashing down main street towards the opposing net hoped to connect and deflect centering passes. Valeri Nichushkin was plowing towards the Leafs net with reckless abandon, but couldn't quite bury any of his chances.
The Leafs opened the scoring 8:24 in as a bouncing puck went right through Jordie Benn. Unluckily for him, Brad Boyes had snuck behind both he and defense partner Patrik Nemeth, where he took the puck and lifted it above an outstretched Niemi.
The lead wouldn't last long, however, as the Stars captain answered a minute later, taking a Tyler Seguin pass into the offensive zone and throwing a weak wrister on net that somehow found its way through Reimer to even the score.
Boyes thought that he had added his second of the night before the end of the period, scoring a clean goal off of a Johnny Oduya turnover. But wait! The Stars surprisingly used a coach's challenge on the goal, citing the Leafs being offside on their zone entry quite a few seconds prior. The video review proved that, yes, the Leafs were indeed offside, and the goal was disallowed. It might not have been pretty, but it was the right call.
Toronto would, for real this time, take a 2-1 lead just 21 seconds into the second period. Oduya's clearing attempt got cut off by defenseman Morgan Rielly, who fired the puck on net through traffic. Niemi had trouble controlling the rebound and Lupul was waiting in the slot to bang home the loose puck.
The Stars came oh-so-close to tying the game midway through the frame when Radek Faksa skated in alone on a shorthanded breakaway only to have his shot ping off the crossbar. So close to his first career NHL goal, and yet so far.
And, as it so often does in the NHL, the Leafs would immediately come back down the ice on the very next play and actually convert on their chance. After Alex Goligoski got tangled up and brought down in the neutral zone the Leafs flew in on an odd-man rush. Nemeth broke up the first Toronto centering pass but then got beat on the second one from behind the net, with Lupul left all alone in front of Niemi to pot his second goal.
The Stars went hard after the Leafs in the third period, piling up all the "score-effects" that you could possibly want, but couldn't get rewarded for it. A deft Goligoski redirection slid into the post. A Nichushkin breakaway turned into a penalty shot, but his backhand was lifted wide. And for most other attempts beyond that Reimer stood sky-tall.
Rielly iced things with 12 seconds left, turning a 4-on-1 chance into the game's final 4-1 score.
In the end, luck was not on the Stars' side tonight, just like it won't be on many occasions this season. Nothing to do about it but pack up, learn the prerequisite lessons from the loss, and then ship out to Boston.