The deficit reached three points in the Pacific Division, the games in hand seem less significant and 2006 just became a bigger challenge.
Even two power-play goals by Mike Modano in a third-period charge couldn't change facts or improve the Stars' mood after a 3-2 home loss Saturday night to the Los Angeles Kings.
"As exciting and fun as that third period was for everybody in the house, it was a moot point in the locker room," goaltender Marty Turco said. "We need to play a lot better and more consistent."
Los Angeles leads the Stars by three points in the Pacific. While the Stars have played four fewer games, their difference is mitigated by the Kings' success at American Airlines Center.
Los Angeles gained six of a possible eight points in Dallas. Now the Stars must play the Kings four times at the Staples Center, beginning Monday.
The New Year's Eve mystique couldn't save the Stars, who lost for the first time in nine December 31 games since their move to Dallas.
For coach Dave Tippett, the champagne glass was definitely half-empty and flat. "You learn every game what you like about your team and what you don't like," Tippett said. "We did some things we liked in the third period and did a lot of things we didn't like in the first two periods."
At least the Stars slowed down a Kings' offense that had scored 17 goals against them in the first three games. After the Stars managed 17 shots in third period, Tippett wondered where the urgency was in the first 40 minutes.
"We decided to play with some pace in the game," Tippett said. "It just came too late."
The Stars had talked about the improvement in their confidence and team game since a 6-3 loss to the Kings on November 2.
But the Kings were just as opportunistic.Sure, the first goal by Alexander Frolov was a fluke, a slow roller that bounced off his shin pad and went between Turco's skate and the post.
Deft work by Craig Conroy behind the net on a Kings power play led to Derek Armstrong's power-play goal in the second period. That ended the Stars' streak of successful penalty kills at 38.
"After the first two, it was like,'Give us a break,'" Jason Arnott said.
A defensive breakdown later in the second period left Tom Kostopoulos alone cutting across the slot for a goal that made it 3-0.
Modano rallied the Stars with goals just 85 seconds apart in the third period, his 14th and 15th of the season, but the Stars could get no closer. For the second time this week, they came up short in a benchmark game, just as they did against Detroit. Modano saw comparisons between the two.
"They're a lot like Detroit," Modano said. "A lot of puck possession. Their defense is very mobile. They have three or four good defensemen who can control the pace of the game."
In other NHL action: Pittsburgh 4, NY Rangers 3; Washington 4, Philadelphia 3 (SO); Anaheim, St. Louis 4 (SO); Minnesota 4, Vancouver 3; Toronto 6, New Jersey 3; Detroit 5, Columbus 2; Colorado 5, Phoenix 2; Carolina 5, Montreal 3; Calgary 6, Edmonton 5.