DALLAS - On the final day of last year, the Stars submitted one of the sharpest performances played against the Bruins in 2011.
In a 4-2 win at the American Airlines Center Saturday night, Dallas received top-notch goaltending from Kari Lehtonen when necessary. The Stars smothered the Bruins in front of Lehtonen, allowing only 11 shots through 40 minutes. The Stars outraced the Bruins to pucks, bumping first and repeatedly planting their opponents on their bottoms.
The Stars won more faceoffs than they lost.
They were disciplined while the Bruins lost their cool.
In short, the Stars out-Bruined the Bruins.
Boston’s latest loss was just its third regulation setback in 25 games. They are just 1 point behind the Eastern Conference-leading Rangers, with one game in hand over the Blueshirts.
But if their last two games indicate what is ahead for the Bruins, it will be unfair to expect them to maintain their current pace for the rest of the season.
Every time the Bruins square off against an opponent, they will be regularly reminded of two realities. They were the Stanley Cup champion in 2010-11. And they are, once again, one of the teams to beat this season.
For an enemy club, those two things can serve as powerful motivation. It’s a predicament that Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Detroit have felt during the three previous seasons as defending Stanley Cup champs.
“We realize that teams are ready to play us,’’ said coach Claude Julien after Saturday night’s loss. “And when we’re not ready, those types of games are going to happen to us. That’s why we’ve got to be prepared and be ready to play better than that. It’s a lesson learned.’’
The Stars were undermanned Saturday night. They were without Stephane Robidas and Sheldon Souray, two of their top four defensemen. The Bruins were at full strength, as Rich Peverley returned from a two-game absence to reclaim his spot on the third line.
But that didn’t stop depth defensemen such as Adam Pardy and Philip Larsen from doing dirty work to keep the Bruins to the edges of the rink. Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton recorded only one shot apiece. Brad Marchand and Chris Kelly had none. The fourth line of Daniel Paille, Gregory Campbell, and Shawn Thornton combined for zero shots.
“We talked about how they were going to try and keep us to the outside,’’ Julien said. “We had to work hard to get on the inside. I don’t think we did a good enough job of that. We didn’t work hard enough to get to the inside. That’s where the problem was. That’s why we only had 11 shots after two. We didn’t generate much.’’
At the other end, Dallas’s plumbers got the best of Boston’s defense. Brenden Morrow was a net-front force, doing battle with Zdeno Chara. Fourth-liners Adam Burish and Tom Wandell combined for a hard-hat goal. Skilled players such as Loui Eriksson and Michael Ryder found the back of the net when the Bruins gave them time and space.
“You have to give them credit. Yeah, they did play well,’’ Chara said. “At the same time, we didn’t play our game. Credit to them. We’ve got to be better for 60 minutes. We played pretty good for 20, 30 at most. That’s not good enough for winning a hockey game.’’
On Wednesday, Phoenix was missing No. 1 goalie Mike Smith, ex-Boston University defenseman Adrian Aucoin, and forwards Martin Hanzal and Boyd Gordon.
But like Dallas, Phoenix didn’t allow its injuries to hinder its attempts at knocking off the heavyweight champs. Just as the Stars had done Saturday, the Coyotes turned in one of their most thorough efforts of the season.
A bad bounce in overtime - Dennis Seidenberg’s fling from the high slot deflected off ex-Bruin Derek Morris and fluttered past Jason LaBarbera - was the only reason the Coyotes recorded only 1 point. They probably deserved 2.
“The information that we got was that they probably played their best game in a long time,’’ Julien said a day after the OT win. “This is what you get when you have the kind of record you’ve had the last couple months. It’s teams coming out and giving you their best.’’
The Bruins didn’t practice yesterday. After remaining in Dallas overnight, they flew to Boston yesterday morning. They are scheduled to practice today and tomorrow at Ristuccia Arena. They will travel to New Jersey after tomorrow’s practice.Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto.