How many times can this story be told?
The Dallas Stars played a heck of a hockey game on Monday night against the Calgary Flames, dominating the puck and peppering it at the opposing net with reckless abandon, but it would be the Calgary Flames that ended up escaping the game with a 5-3 win.
The Stars had a 2-1 lead after the first period but capitulated defensively and in goal in the second, giving the Flames a 4-2 lead that they would never surrender.
In a scenario that has become maddeningly familiar for Stars fans this year, Dallas attempted 99 shots in the game only to have Jonas Hiller stop 33 and the Flames team in front of him to block 32.
Kari Lehtonen allowed four goals on 19 shots, which was enough to end his night. Jhonas Enroth stopped all five shots that he faced in 23 minutes of action in relief.
The Stars started the game with a bang a mere 40 seconds in. Spezza knifed through the neutral zone, broke into the Flames end and fired a picture-perfect wrist shot into the top corner above Hiller's glove to take a 1-0 lead on Dallas' very first shot.
Calgary would tie things up at 1-1 on the powerplay when the Stars' forward penalty-killers Shawn Horcoff and Ryan Garbutt got caught out of place, allowing Flames defender Dennis Wideman a ton of time and space to walk into the prime scoring area and beat Lehtonen clean with a perfect wrist shot of his own.
Dallas retook the lead, also on a powerplay, with less than a minute left in the first period. The resurgent Tyler Seguin, who has been red-hot since coming back from a knee injury, scored his 35th goal of the year after some good puck work between him, Spezza and Jamie Benn.
The great first period, however, would all be for naught as the Flames roared back in the second with three unanswered goals.
The first was a matter of bad luck, as a Jiri Hudler shot banked off of Alex Goligoski and through a moving Lehtonen. 2-2.
What happened next will likely go down as one of the most painful bloopers of the Stars' season, as Flames defenseman Raphael Diaz skated in down the right wing, drew Lehtonen way out of his crease, and tucked in a neat wrap-around to make it 3-2. To borrow on an old phrase, Lehtonen went fishing and wound up falling out of the boat completely.
Still reeling from the goal that made it 3-2 the entire team got caught looking instead of actually skating only four minutes later when Sean Monahan found a wide-open Johnny Gaudreau, who fired the puck home to make it 4-2. That would be all she wrote for Lehtonen on the night.
Jason Demers' hard point shot, aided by a Ryan Garbutt screen, found twine at 03:44 into the third period to cut the lead to 4-3, but that would be as close as the Stars got. Miakel Backlund iced things into an empty net with seven seconds remaining.
In the end, the Stars left everything that they had out on the ice, but it still wasn't enough. They're still technically alive, from a mathematical perspective, but let some crucial ground that could have been gained slip through their fingers. Suddenly the impending vertical climb is a lot steeper.