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Benn boosts Stars into Western wild-card spot

by Lonnie Herman

TAMPA -- The Dallas Stars improved their Stanley Cup Playoff chances with a 5-2 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday, and the Lightning were left struggling to find some answers.

Jamie Benn had two goals and an assist in the first period, and Kari Lehtonen made 27 saves for Dallas (38-28-11), which moved into the second wild-card position in the Western Conference, one point ahead of the Phoenix Coyotes with a game in hand.

Tampa Bay (42-27-9) fell four points behind the Montreal Canadiens for second place in the Metropolitan Division. The Canadiens defeated the Detroit Red Wings 5-3.

The Lightning scored two goals in the second period to get within 3-2. Stars coach Lindy Ruff asked his team for a full third period effort, and he got it.

"What we talked about after the second was that we won the first and they won the second, and now it's time to make a statement that we were going to take it to them and not sit on the lead," Ruff said.

"At 3-2 any bounce can beat you. But we got on our toes and we confronted every puck and every battle we were there. We didn't give them a lot of time. As confident as you can be about the team playing a good period, you want to go out there and see them do it, and I thought they did it."

An errant pass from Steven Stamkos started the sequence that led to Vernon Fiddler picking up a loose puck in the slot and backhanding the puck past Lightning goalie Ben Bishop for the goal that stretched the Dallas lead to 4-2 at 1:26 of the third period.

"The second period was great, we dominated them and we got back in the game," Stamkos said. "I made a costly mistake for the fourth goal and it just sucked the life out of us. I know I can't make that particular play at that point of the game. But every turnover we make is in the back of our net right now. Hopefully we can get this out of our system now instead of a week from now."

Stamkos made it 3-1 with a slap shot from the slot that dribbled through Lehtonen's pads for his 24th goal of the season, first in four games, 1:57 into the second period.

Tampa Bay's second goal was scored by Andrej Sustr, his first in the NHL coming in his 41st game. Sustr, who was recalled from the Syracuse Crunch of the American Hockey League on Friday, snuck down to the side of the Dallas net and scored off a rebound at 6:44. Sustr hadn't played for the Lightning since Jan. 14.

"We talked before the faceoff that I was going to go to the net," Sustr said. "The play just kind of happened, I was going to the net and I was fortunate to get the bounce off the goalie's pad and put it back in. I just happened to be there at the right time and the right spot."

Lehtonen agreed Sustr was right where he should have been.

"I gave it to him right on his tape," Lehtonen said. "That was a tough one but we kept playing and came out strong in the third and took over again."

It took 40 seconds for Benn to score the first of his two goals. After Teddy Purcell's clearing pass was intercepted in the Lightning defensive zone, Alex Goligoski fed the puck to Benn, standing alone to the left of the net.

Benn then scored his 32nd goal of the season at 5:37 when his wrist shot from the circle to Bishop's left slipped through the goaltender's pads.

Tyler Seguin topped off the first-period scoring with his 35th goal of the season, assisted by Benn. Antoine Roussel completed the scoring with a goal at 7:57 of the third.

The Lightning did not manage a shot on goal until 12:30 into the first period and for the second consecutive game fell behind by multiple goals. That is a trend that has Lightning coach Jon Cooper concerned.

"Outscored 5-0 the first period in our last two games, at home," Cooper said. "Not good. We have to pull a little more of an urgency level out of these guys. As a coaching staff, we apparently have to find a better way to get them playing a little bonus hockey after the regular season ends. I don't know, maybe we're hanging our hat on making the playoffs. Is that what we're doing? If that's the case, the playoffs won't last very long if that's the way we're going to handle this.

"You'd think we'd come out and get more than five shots in the third period in a game where we are down a game at home. You'd think we'd have the pedal to the metal."

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