DALLAS — Every time the Kings teetered during the first 40 minutes against the Stars on Tuesday, a sharp and agile Jonathan Quick kept them in it with a chest save here, a pad save there. Though he was in rare vintage form, he couldn't continue to work miracles, and his strong effort was swept away in the flood of his teammates' missteps and miscalculations.
"The wheels fell off tonight," Dustin Brown said, "and that doesn't happen to this team very often."
It happened Tuesday in the form of a four-goal outburst in the third period by the Stars, who romped to a 5-1 victory at the American Airlines Center despite losing starting goaltender Kari Lehtonen to a lower-body injury 14 minutes and 18 seconds into what was a 1-1 game.
Backup goalie Richard Bachman stopped 22 shots and earned the win, benefiting from his teammates' pluck and persistence. Ray Whitney and Vernon Fiddler each scored twice in the final period as the Kings couldn't get out of their own zone or out of their own way.
"That was probably one of the worst periods we played all year," Brown said.
No "probably" about it.
The horror show led to the Kings' largest margin of defeat this season, an uncharacteristic and poorly timed performance by a team that built its Stanley Cup run last spring on diligent defense and must repeat that formula to have a chance at defending its title. Coach Darryl Sutter emphasized that little of the blame Tuesday belonged to Quick. "It wasn't really a goalie issue," he said.
It was more an issue of giveaways and bad decisions. Turnovers by defenseman Robyn Regehr on Dallas' third and fourth goals doomed the Kings (22-14-4) to their third loss in four games against the Stars this season, and the Kings' newest acquisition bravely took the blame.
"It falls on my shoulders there," he said. "Bad plays there in the third period and two turnovers, and they make us pay. That's what that Dallas team does. They were just hanging in there, hanging in there, and waiting for their opportunities."
Regehr, minus-3 defensively, wasn't alone. Brown and center Anze Kopitar were each minus-4, and Justin Williams was minus-3.
"It was just sloppy play, really," Kopitar said. "I don't know how else to put it. Turnovers killed us."
The Kings' start was fine, highlighted by Drew Doughty scoring on a one-timer from the left circle at 1:13 of the first period, after Dallas forward Loui Eriksson had drawn a double-minor for high-sticking. Doughty has scored a goal in three straight games, a career-best streak.
Quick was screened on the goal that made it 1-1, a slap shot by Alex Goligoski with Eric Nystrom standing in front, and he stopped all 10 Dallas shots in the second period.
But things fell apart quickly in the third. "We turned the puck over pretty regularly tonight, so I think eventually it got us," Sutter said.
Whitney rifled a shot past Quick's glove 52 seconds into the period, and Fiddler redirected a shot by Stephane Robidas at 7:58, after Regehr failed to clear the puck at the point. A bad pass by Regehr to Brown was intercepted by Cody Eakin, a play Whitney finished off with a wrist shot from the slot at 11:06, his fourth goal against the Kings in three games this season. Fiddler completed the scoring at 13:56, off a deflection.
"Every time we lose it bothers me, but with this schedule you don't really have time to do that," Sutter said. "We've got to get our top players to play better. Unfortunately, some of them have not played well against Dallas this year."
Few Kings played well on Tuesday.
"We let our goalie down for sure tonight," Brown said. "He's one of those guys that has been there for us over the last three years, so we've got to not let that happen again."
In any case, they have no time to dwell on it. They return to Staples Center to face Colorado on Thursday and the Ducks on Saturday.
"The hard part about the season and the great thing about the season is we have an opportunity to get back on track right away," Brown said, "and that's what our focus will be."
And they can't make a mistake about that.