The puck was fluttering, but Scott Niedermayer was prepared to do what he had done in a million similar situations: knock it down in front of him so he could cradle it on his stick and get it out of his defensive zone.
It was a routine play for the four-time Stanley Cup champion, future Hall of Famer and perennial Norris Trophy finalist.
Until it wasn’t.
Skating backward, he looked up for an instant -- and as he did, he stepped on the puck with his left foot.
Suddenly this most elegant of skaters was sprawled on his back, giving winger Mark Parrish a clear path to Dallas’ fourth goal and complete the hat trick that fueled the Stars’ 5-2 victory over the Ducks on Friday at the Honda Center.
Niedermayer’s inglorious fall was only one of many self-inflicted wounds that led to the Ducks’ first regulation-time loss since Oct. 19, ending an 8-0-1 streak. It unquestionably was the most surprising misstep, a genuine did-you-see-that moment.
Niedermayer blamed himself for not being sharp on the play. If that’s true, he wasn’t alone.
“We were already behind the eight-ball,” he said. “We came out and they were playing hard. They’re a team that was hungry for the points. Probably hungrier than we were, and I think it showed.”
It was no shock that the Stars won, even though they’ve been hit by injuries and are still getting accustomed to one another after a roster overhaul.
They had upset the then-defending Cup champion Ducks in the first round of the playoffs last spring, and they displayed the same mastery Friday thanks to Parrish, whom they had signed as a free agent only two days earlier.
Nor was it surprising that the Ducks, the NHL’s most penalized team, took needless penalties. That’s what they do.
What the Stars do is burn them.
Ten of the 20 goals Dallas scored in that six-game playoff series last spring resulted from power plays. Two goals Friday came with a man advantage.
“The bad breaks were created by us not working very hard,” Ducks center Ryan Getzlaf said. “Their power play works well. Obviously, we got into penalty trouble and their power play clicked and ours didn’t.”
Also in the what-else-is-new category: Sean Avery was his usual yappy, agitating self.
Avery, a former King, was loudly booed by a crowd that was announced as 17,048 but appeared far smaller. Undeterred by the jeers -- he probably enjoyed them -- he earned an assist and lured Chris Kunitz into taking a double-minor penalty late in the first period that set up the Stars’ third goal.
The Ducks knew they’d have to stay out of the penalty box to give themselves a chance, and Coach Randy Carlyle had reminded them after the game-day skate. “Discipline, discipline, discipline,” he said.
So naturally, they took a bad penalty that Dallas capitalized on for its second goal.
The Stars’ first goal came at even strength, at 7:07 of the first period, after Fabian Brunnstrom swatted Mike Ribeiro’s unsuccessful wraparound attempt past Jean-Sebastien Giguere.
They padded that lead to 2-0 with Travis Moen in the penalty box for elbowing Philippe Boucher, when Parrish took a slick backhand pass from Avery and fired it past Giguere.
Brendan Morrison cut the lead to 2-1 on his first goal as a Duck, poking in a shot that had trickled under and behind Dallas goalie Marty Turco at 17:28 of the first period. Teemu Selanne was credited with an assist, his record 370th with the franchise.
But the Ducks couldn’t use that as a springboard because Kunitz, who had been chopped across the midsection by Avery a few minutes earlier, slammed the Dallas winger into the boards in the right-wing corner and got minor penalties for boarding and roughing. Dallas’ Trevor Daley got only two minutes. Parrish made the Ducks pay with a snap shot at 1:13 of the second period.
Giguere was replaced by Jonas Hiller after Niedermayer’s tumble, and Hiller gave up a tip-in to Brad Richards at 9:01 of the third period. Niedermayer was credited with the game’s final goal, deflecting home a Chris Pronger slap shot during a power play at 10:35.
Turco said the Stars’ triumph Friday had nothing to do with their victory over the Ducks last spring.
“It was just a necessity for us to play like this and up to our capabilities,” he said.
And there was the difference. The Stars knew they needed to win, and they did. The Ducks knew they needed to cut down on their penalties but fell into the same trap that undid them last spring and could cut their season short again.