NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Dallas center Mike Ribeiro lost a couple of teeth but gained two goals and plenty of respect from his teammates in a 4-1 win over Nashville on Thursday at Bridgestone Arena.
With 33.3 seconds left in the second period and the Stars on the man advantage, Ribeiro was hit in the face by teammate Trevor Daley's point shot from distance and needed the help of teammates to leave the ice. He did not take his next shift until nine minutes remained in the third period, and he did so wearing a cage.
Stars defenseman Stephane Robidas took notice late in the third period when Ribeiro stepped in front of a shot by Nashville's Shea Weber, who finished second in the 2011 Honda NHL SuperSkills competition for the League's hardest shot.
"Yeah, it was really gritty," said Robidas, who was a teammate of Ribeiro's with Montreal when the latter broke into the NHL. "… We're up 4-1 and there's like two minutes to go. He went down and Shea Weber, when he's got time to (shoot) … (Ribeiro) showed a lot of courage and came back and played a really good game.
"He's a big piece of our team. When he's on his game and plays real well, a lot of time we're successful because we have other guys that go, too, but he's a big part of our game."
Dallas goalie Kari Lehtonen also stopped 24 shots as the Stars pulled into eighth place in the Western Conference and within a point of seventh-place Nashville.
For Lehtonen, it was his second win in his fourth straight start since missing 12 games with a groin injury. It's been a streaky season for the Stars, who have winning streaks of five, four and three games and a losing streak of five.
They have not won back-to-back games since notching three in a row from Dec. 10-15 while battling numerous injuries. They were 7-5 without Lehtonen in the lineup. The Finn now has wins in 15 of 23 starts.
"I think it's getting better and better," Lehtonen said of his play since returning. "The first two, I didn't feel very comfortable at all. Now the last two, they've felt normal. It's been fun to play again."
Ribeiro earned the game's first goal at 4:18 of the first period. He skated down the left side on a 2-on-2, stick-handling around rookie defenseman Roman Josi to the inside and swept a back-hander past Preds goalie Pekka Rinne.
He helped the Stars take a 2-1 lead into first intermission with his second goal at 19:21. Rinne made the initial save on Nicklas Grossman's shot, but the puck fell behind him and Ribeiro backhanded it in before Preds defenseman Kevin Klein could keep it out.
Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said the team had some good-natured fun at Ribeiro's expense as a result of his wearing the cage. They called him Michael and Noah – the names of his sons who wear such helmets playing youth hockey.
"He's not as good-looking as he was before," Gulutzan said in response to a question about Ribeiro's health. "He's lost some teeth and he's got some stitches in his mouth and he swelled up pretty good, but we're just thankful it wasn't a broken jaw or anything like that."
Gulutzan said Ribeiro, who was not available to talk to the media, showed elusiveness and that "his compete level was real high."
Nashville's Jordin Tootoo, who earlier fought Mark Fistric, the Star whose hit concussed Weber on Dec. 23 and sidelined him for four games, set up the Preds' only goal. He skated behind the net and centered the puck to Gabriel Bourque, who went to his knees to swat the puck into the net from just outside the blue paint for his first career goal at 8:31.
Dallas went up 3-1 with a bizarre play by Nashville's Ryan Suter, one of the League's better defensemen. Rinne stopped a dump-in for Suter, who, without looking, played it off the boards behind him. The problem was that Dallas' Jamie Benn stood waiting in the wings, easily passing into the net before Rinne could recover.
Suter said the Predators often practice that play, and that he expected center Nick Spaling to be there.
"I knew he was behind me," Suter said. "He just didn't follow me behind the net. He turned off to the corner. It's a routine play. It just didn't execute the way we wanted."
Said Predators coach Barry Trotz: "The center-ice man didn't support the puck on the reverse. That … sort of seemed to take the life out of our bench right there."
Gulutzan said that even what he called probably the best defense pairing in the League, Weber and Suter, make mistakes at times like that. Then he quipped that Benn will "have to send (Suter) a Christmas card for next season."
The final score could have been worse for Nashville, as Dallas hit posts three times. One came on Steve Ott's second-period penalty shot. Suter hooked Ott during a shorthanded breakaway to earn the call.
Adam Burish made it 4-1 with 7:07 left in regulation when he tipped in Tom Wandell's shot.
"We missed a lot of chances early and then as the game went on, we got less and less chances and then every goal I can point to us rather than them," Trotz said.
In his first game back after missing four with a concussion, Weber logged 25:45 and was minus-2 with 4 shots, 5 hits, 1 giveaway and 1 blocked shot. Weber said he thought his play was "not bad."
"I think conditioning was pretty good, actually," he said. "I thought I felt pretty good skating-wise. Just maybe my hands weren't quite where I wanted them to be."