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Cole, Lehtonen lead Stars past Canucks

by Steve Hunt

DALLAS -- The Dallas Stars started fast and never looked back.

Erik Cole had a goal and two assists to back a 27-save performance by Kari Lehtonen and lead the Stars to a 4-1 victory against the Vancouver Canucks at American Airlines Center on Thursday night. Dallas led 2-0 less than five minutes into the game after Jamie Benn and Colton Sceviour scored 15 seconds apart.

"That was a real good win for us," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. "We got off to real good start."

Benn opened the scoring at 4:34 when he went top shelf and beat goaltender Roberto Luongo with a wrister from just inside the left circle. Sceviour's goal, his second in as many games and third in four games since being recalled from the American Hockey League on Dec. 9, came on a tip-in at the far post following a great pass by Rich Peverley, one of his two assists for Dallas.

"We got caught on a bad change, causes one [goal]," Canucks coach John Tortorella said. "And Tommy Sestito thinks it's a 3-on-2, really he should have stayed with his guy [Sceviour], the one who taps it in. Yeah, so it's bang-bang, but we came back."

Vancouver made it 2-1 when Chris Higgins beat Lehtonen with a wrister from the right circle that went top shelf at 7:38 of the first, but Cole restored Dallas' two-goal lead at 16:56 of the second period with his sixth of the season. Cole's wrister from the left circle struck Luongo in the chest before eventually going through his legs.

"I think it might have fallen between my legs or something and just trickled in, something along those lines. But whatever it is, it's inexcusable at that point in the game," Luongo said.

The Stars also had an apparent goal by Cody Eakin waved off 22 seconds before the second intermission after Ryan Garbutt was called for interference on Dan Hamhuis in the high slot. Dallas also had a near-miss by Peverley at 5:31 of the second, a wrister from the left circle that rang off the far post.

Valeri Nichushkin's sixth of the season 2:23 into the third period made it 4-1 and ended Luongo's night. He allowed four goals on 19 shots before being relieved by Eddie Lack.

"Val has really got himself on a nice little run," Ruff said. "The first month was sort of an adjustment. He seemed fatigued at times. He looks strong now. He's done a real nice job."

Lehtonen delivered a stellar performance for Dallas, a good sign after he had struggled in his previous eight starts. His biggest stop came at 1:17 of the second period when he robbed Jannik Hansen with a spectacular glove save at the right post.

One of Lehtonen's teammates aptly dubbed that bit of larceny on Hansen one of the game's biggest plays.

"The defining moment in the game was that save he made in the second," Peverley said. "It could have been a 2-2 game right there."

Lehtonen, who had a 3.40 goals-against-average in his past eight starts prior to Thursday, was clearly pleased with how well he bounced back.

"It gives me more confidence," he said of his performance. "Playing goalie at this level, you might feel bad, then you go out there and make a couple of good saves and turn it around."

Vancouver, which is 0-1-1 on its road trip, went 0-for-3 on the power play and generated six shots, including several high-quality opportunities. But being unable to convert cost the Canucks dearly.

"Especially the one power play where we were in their end for a minute and a half, we got some good shots and some good looks," captain Henrik Sedin said. "But the game can turn around and we're right back in it, but they killed it off and all of a sudden the game's over."

The Stars won consecutive games for the first time since mid-November, when they won three straight from Nov. 13-17.

"We can't be a team that is going to win three, lose two, lose three and win one," Cole said. "You're not going to gain any ground, especially in the West. We all know what a big stretch of games this is against all teams that we are chasing. It's nice that we were able to get another two here, especially where we have struggled."

Vancouver completes its quick three-game trip with a visit to the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday night. Dallas begins a two-game road trip prior to the Christmas break on Saturday against the San Jose Sharks.

"We've got to get there and play against a really good team," Tortorella said of facing Chicago. "We've got to move by this one right away and get ready to play."

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