ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) -The Minnesota Wild set a franchise record for points last season and hoped to become one of the NHL's elite teams in 2007-08.
So far, the Wild have been good, but nowhere near elite. Maybe Thursday night was the first small step in reaching that next level.
Pavol Demitra, Eric Belanger and Mark Parrish also scored for the Wild, who improved to 1-5 against the top three teams in the Western Conference: Detroit, Dallas and San Jose. Niklas Backstrom stopped 25 shots for his 16th win.
"We've been looking for that all year," Wild coach Jacques Lemaire said about his team finally beating a top conference opponent. "I like it even more because our game is better."
Minnesota scored on four of its first eight shots to lead 5-1 midway through the second period before goals by Steve Ott and Minnesota native Matt Niskanen cut the gap to 5-3.
"They got the lead early and they kept on coming and coming," Stars defenseman Stephane Robidas said.
Dallas has lost three in a row and failed to rebound after a poor showing against conference-leading Detroit on Wednesday. The Stars' top line of Brenden Morrow, Mike Ribeiro and Antti Miettinen hasn't scored during their three-game skid.
"Our ability with the puck lately is not really good. Play with the puck, passing, it just seems to be a real struggle to get the puck up and down the ice," Stars forward Mike Modano said. "It's not going to spell too much success for us."
|Minnesota Wild winger Marian Gaborik, left, flips the puck over fallen Dallas Stars goalie Marty Turco to score a shorthanded goal in the first period on Thursday, Jan. 3, 2008, at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)|
The Wild scored first when Gaborik tipped the puck past defenseman Trevor Daley and outraced him to the net for a short-handed goal midway through the first period.
"I don't usually play short-handed," Gaborik said. "It was good to get out there. It felt good to get on the ice in that situation and hopefully I will see ice there even more."
Demitra made it 2-0 a minute later, and Bouchard increased the lead to three with just under 7 minutes left in the first.
The win against the Stars not only gave Minnesota a win over a top conference opponent, but also helped avenge an 8-3 drubbing at the hands of Dallas on Dec. 26.
"It was a good lesson for us that we have to play 60 minutes, from the beginning to the end," Gaborik said. "I think that is what we have been doing since then."
However, the Stars team Minnesota beat likely will look different the next time the teams play. Dallas was without star defenseman Sergei Zubov and forward Jussi Jokinen, as well as Philippe Boucher and Jere Lehtinen.
"For us to be a good team, we have to have all the pieces in place," Dallas coach Dave Tippett said. "And we're missing a lot of pieces right now. It's just as simple as that."
It took less than a period for goalie Marty Turco to get pulled. After giving up three goals, Turco was replaced by Mike Smith with 6:46 remaining in the first.
Entering Thursday, Dallas had earned at least a point against Minnesota in its last eight games. That streak was ended, along with the Stars' streak of 24 straight penalty kills.
While Lemaire was very pleased with finally beating an elite conference foe, Parrish was happy to get the two points.
"Yeah, you certainly want to beat everyone in the league and you want to be beating teams that are above .500 and good hockey clubs, and gain some confidence against those teams, especially going into the playoffs," Parrish said. "Those are the teams you are going to have to beat. But at the same time, we will take two points against anybody. Everybody is so good nowadays. You look at the standings and they are so tight. I think it is a little overblown."
Notes: The fans cheered when it was announced before the game that Wild defenseman Martin Skoula was scratched. Skoula's misplay of a bouncing puck led to the deciding goal in a 3-2 loss to San Jose on Monday. The 6-foot-3 former first-round pick has made several costly mental errors recently. ... Zubov might return Saturday when the Stars return home to play Detroit. ... Niskanen, a native of Virginia, Minn., had about 300 friends and family at the game, which explained the small section of cheers when he scored.