DALLAS -- The Dallas Stars are heading for the Christmas break in good position to break their three-year playoff drought.
Michael Ryder finished with a goal and two assists as the Stars grabbed an early three-goal lead and beat the Nashville Predators 6-3 on Friday night in their last game before the break. Dallas (20-13-1) is seventh in the West -- the Stars are even with Pacific Division-leading San Jose but have played two more games -- and off to a much better start than almost anyone expected.
"It was a nice win to get here and getting 20 wins at Christmas time was a nice way to have a break," first-year coach Glen Gulutzan said.
Six Stars had multi-point nights and rookie goaltender Richard Bachman stopped 34 saves in his seventh consecutive start for Dallas.
"He made some key saves for us at the right times. He has played a lot of hockey here," Gulutzan said of Bachman, who has filled in for injured starter Kari Lehtonen after backup Andrew Raycroft struggled. "He's played seven games and has basically been our starter."
Dallas opened the scoring at 9:25 of the first period when Vernon Fiddler beat Pekka Rinne to his right with a 20-foot wrister from the left circle. Just 1:16 later, the Stars doubled their lead when Loui Eriksson buried a 30-foot snap from the top of the right circle for his 12th of the season.
When Steve Ott redirected a long-range shot from Trevor Daley into the net at 12:30 for his sixth of the season to give Dallas three goals in a span of 3:05, Rinne's night was done -- he was replaced by Anders Lindback.
"We're down 3-0 right away," said Nashville coach Barry Trotz, whose team rallied from a 5-2 deficit for a 6-5 home win against Columbus on Thursday. "You can't dig yourself a hole and come out of it every night.''Nashville (18-13-4) failed to capitalize on back-to-back penalties by Eriksson and Daley late in the first period, but got on the board at 8:56 of the second when Matt Halischuk knocked a rebound over the goal line for his seventh of the season. Bachman stopped Blake Geoffrion's original shot, but Halischuk broke through a scrum in front of the goal to poke home the carom.
The Stars gave Nashville a 5-on-3 power play when Adam Burish and Niklas Grossman took penalties 37 seconds apart. Nashville converted during the two-man advantage at 11:45 when Martin Erat beat Bachman with a 25-foot wrister from the right circle, his eighth goal of the season and second in two nights -- Erat had the winner with 8.4 seconds left Thursday .
Mike Ribeiro made sure there would be no three-goal comeback this time when he fired a 15-footer into the top of the net at 14:10 following a great cross-ice pass from captain Brenden Morrow.
"A lot of times 3-0 is a hard lead," Ribeiro said. "They score two and we were able to come up with a big goal at the end of the second. Third period we just rolled ‘em. We were able to stay composed and follow the game plan."
David Legwand's power-play goal 4:38 into the third period made it 4-3, but Jamie Benn restored the two-goal lead 30 seconds later by snapping home a passout by Eriksson. Trotz pulled Lindback with 2:15 remaining, but just eight seconds later, Ryder scored an unassisted empty-netter, dashing up the ice almost untouched after Nashville won a face-off.
After playing just one shift in the second period, Dallas blueliner Sheldon Souray did not return, leaving with a lower body injury. The Stars were already without veteran defenseman Stephane Robidas, who has missed the last two games with a foot injury.
"He [Souray] has an ankle injury but to the extent, we don't know," Gulutzan said. "We don't think it's too bad but we'll have him evaluated on the 26th. A guy fell on him."
Not only was the Stars coach elated to see his club score six times, he was also pleased with how his team scored in the win.
"I think more important for us was the way we got the goals," Gulutzan said. "We got a tip-in. We got a couple of deflections. Those are the type of goals you need. We need to score more ugly goals. That was our battle cry at the start of the game and it was nice to see it executed."
Each team returns to action on Monday. Nashville hosts Detroit while Dallas heads to St. Louis before starting another three-game homestand next week.