Boston closed out the calendar year with a disappointing effort in Dallas on New Year's Eve, falling 4-2 to the Stars on Saturday night. The loss snapped the Bruins' win streak at seven games and prevented them from retaking the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
"They played a good game tonight," Bruins goalie Tim Thomas said of the Stars. "There are some good teams in this league and you're not going to win them all. They played a good game and we didn't play as good as we have most of the time, a great, great majority of the time over the past two months."
The result was an unfamiliar one for the Bruins, who are now 21-3-1 since the start of November. But what was more disturbing was how uncharacteristic the club's effort was for most of the night.
Bruins coach Claude Julien credited the Stars for taking it right to the Bruins from the start, but didn't mince words about his own club's performance.
"They did, they certainly did," Julien said of the Stars. "They played really well. They played hard. They came at us aggressively and from our end of it we probably played our worst game in a long time. I don't think there was much positive to take out of this game. Even as players, I don't think there were too many players that had their best games or even a good game tonight."
Tyler Seguin showed some spark early when he briefly tied it 1-1 in the first with a deflection off a David Krejci shot, and Seguin nearly scored again when he hit the post later in the opening period. Milan Lucic dished out some big hits at the end of the second and gave the Bruins some hope when he scored on a one-timer early in the third, but those highlights were not nearly enough.
"We didn't play the way we wanted to the first two periods," Lucic said. "We just talked about having some pride. It didn't matter if we won the game or lost it, we just wanted to finish off playing the game that we know how to play. I think if we played a lot more like we did in the third period in the first two periods, we would have given ourselves a much better chance to win."
The Bruins showed some of that pride in the final frame, but the hole they dug for themselves was far too great. And make no mistake, this was a hole they dug themselves. Dallas struck twice on the power play in the first period as the Bruins' lack of discipline cost them dearly.
The first power-play goal came on a two-man advantage when Dennis Seidenberg cleared the puck over the glass just seven seconds after Chris Kelly took a holding penalty. Former Bruin Michael Ryder scored the eventual game-winner when he made it 3-1 late in the first with Zdeno Chara in the box for interference when he was caught retaliating for a cross-check by tackling Brenden Morrow in the crease.
"They played well," Chara said. "You have to give them credit, yes they did play well. But at the same time we didn't play our game. Credit to them. We need to be better for 60 minutes. We played pretty good for 20, 30 at the most, but that's not good enough for winning a hockey game."
The Bruins were also caught with too many men on the ice in the second, giving Dallas another brief two-man advantage and overall handed the Stars six power-play chances. The Stars converted two as the Bruins gave up more than one power-play goal in a game for the first time since Nov. 23 in Buffalo. They had been 47-for-49 on the penalty kill in 14 games since, including 21-for-21 in the last six games before the Stars, who came in 0-for-11 on the power play in their last four games, changed all that.
Some of the calls were questionable, but the Bruins knew they bore a lot more responsibility for this loss than the men in stripes.
"What can you do?" forward Rich Peverley said. "The refs make the decision and you can't cry about it because they're not going to change their minds. The refs — it is what it is with them."
The Bruins contributed more to Dallas goals than the officials. Trevor Daley's strike to break the 1-1 tie may have been a bit flukey when his shot caught Thomas up high, bounced up and then went in off the Bruins netminder's back. But the odd-man rush that led to the shot was created when Lucic was caught up ice going for an ill-advised hit with both of his linemates already trapped in the offensive zone.
Tom Wandell's backbreaker in the final minute of the second to make it 4-1 also came on a 2-on-1 break when Joe Corvo was caught up ice on a poorly-timed pinch.
The Bruins turned things around in the third, but other than Lucic's early strike, they were unable to get anything past Kari Lehtonen to make more of a game of it.
"It wasn't our best game," Peverley said. "Obviously in the third they're sitting back a little bit and we're taking it to them, but it was too little, too late."
Julien agreed that the one decent period wasn't nearly enough to earn a victory.
"It took us two periods to get ourselves going," Julien said. "We got going a little bit in the third period, but there was a lot of damage done and they didn't allow us to get past that second goal. All they kept doing was getting the puck out of their own end and putting it deep in our end, so that was taking some momentum away from us. They played us smart. This is something that sometimes a team needs in order to respond stronger the next game. And hopefully we hate losing enough that we'll be better next game."
Julien is confident the Bruins will respond well when they get back into action Wednesday in New Jersey.
"Our character is formed," Julien said. "And I guess it's just one of those things when once in a while you lose the way we did tonight, it certainly puts things in perspective. And I think our guys understand how bad they were tonight and how bad we were as a team. So it's about bouncing back and that's something we've done well in the past. So I would anticipate our team to respond well again."