It had been months since the Nashville Predators last saw the Dallas Stars. It took just 30 seconds, though, for their chance to claim the season series — and to reclaim fifth place in the Western Conference standings  — effectively to disappear.
Dallas maintained a decidedly defensive posture throughout the contest but broke a third-period tie with goals on consecutive shifts, and the Predators never managed a response. So it was that Nashville’s six-game win streak came to an end with a 3-1 defeat  before 15,501 at Bridgestone Arena.
“We didn’t bury our chances and they were sitting back — all five guys — and just waiting for an opportunity to capitalize,” coach Barry Trotz said. “In the end, that’s how they won the hockey game.”
The Stars took just 14 shots — five in each of the first two periods and four in the third. Only one came after their third goal.
It was the fewest against the Predators ever in a home game and the third-fewest period. The franchise record of 12 was set March 4, 2003 at St. Louis, and the fewest by an opponent in Nashville's building was 15 (New Jersey, Nov. 29, 2002).
Nashville had 14 in the first period alone and finished with 35, but Trotz and the players agreed that not enough of them were quality chances.”
“They’re a very patient hockey team,” Predators’ forward Steve Sullivan said. “They still kind of play the old trap system. They clog up the middle, don’t give you very much, make it hard for you to get any kind of forecheck and then wait for their chance. They jump on them and make the most of their opportunities.”
The decisive moment came a little more than a minute into the third period when defenseman Ryan Suter skated into the neutral zone and attempted a pass to Patric Hornqvist.
Instead, the pass was intercepted, the Stars went the other way and took a 2-1 lead 90 seconds after the second intermission. A half a minute later they scored again — and that was that.
“That was the trap,” Suter said. “I skated right into their guys and turned it over. … It was a bad play on my part, and it cost us. Hopefully it won’t happen again.”
It won’t happen against the Stars, at least not this season.
The teams met in the opener back on Oct 3 and twice more before the end of that month, and Nashville won two of those three. They had not played since.
“(Tuesday) night was one of those nights that could have gone either way,” Dallas defenseman Trevor Daley, who scored the game’s first goal, said. “We found a way to win, obviously.”
Equally obvious was the fact that Nashville doesn’t care if it ever has to face Dallas again, at least as long as it plays that particular style.
“It was a tough game to get into,” Suter said. “The emotions have been so high the last couple of weeks. A team like that coming in here … we knew they were good, but they came out kind of slow.”
They scored quickly when it counted, though.
• Nick Spaling was recalled early Tuesday and was in the lineup against the Stars. He played in place of injured Joel Ward (upper body) as the left wing on a line with center David Legwand and right wing Jerred Smithson.
The 21-year-old forward played 21 games and had three assists for the Predators from mid-December to late January before he was reassigned to Milwaukee. The 2007 second-round draft choice has 17 points (seven goals, 10 assists) in 48 games for Milwaukee.
• Ward was not the only Nashville player sidelined by health issues.
Captain Jason Arnott (head injury) missed his second straight with a head injury, and defenseman Denis Grebeshkov missed his ninth straight with a lower body injury.