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Cole scores twice to lift Stars past Predators

by Steve Hunt

DALLAS -- Erik Cole scored twice and Kari Lehtonen stopped 33 shots when the Dallas Stars defeated the Nashville Predators 4-1 Friday at American Airlines Center.

"I think Erik has played well for a good bit of time," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. "He's physical. When he's on the puck, he's hard to knock off."

Each of Cole's goals came in the second period. His first was at 7:38 when he put Dallas ahead for good at 2-1, 24 seconds after the Predators tied it on Kevin Klein's first of the season. Cole beat Nashville goaltender Carter Hutton with a wrister from the right circle.

"I didn't see it," Hutton said. "I kind of came off the post because I don't know who passed it to him, walked around, fed it to Cole. They walked in front and I was leaning on my blocker trying to see. I knew he released it, so I just tried to go down and take away the net, and it went over my shoulder and in. He's a pretty good shooter, so that's the way it goes."

Cole's second came at 14:04 when he outfoxed Hutton by stopping just outside the crease, forcing the goalie to the ice. Cole then deftly slipped a backhand between Hutton's left pad and the right post for his eighth of the season.

"They chipped the puck into the neutral zone," Cole said. "I built up speed and got the pass right on the tape. I had a great lane to the net. I just tried to make him think I was going to keep going across. There wasn't as much room as I thought there would be, but there was enough."

Stars captain Jamie Benn scored his 12th of the season 42 seconds into the game, and Dallas got a third-period goal from Ryan Garbutt.

"It was a good win for our team," Benn said. "I thought we played a pretty good group effort. Our goalie was great. The best part is it's two points."

Dallas, which started a five-game homestand, is 4-0-0 this season when Cole has a multipoint game.

"It's very important [to start this homestand off right]," Cole said. "It has been tough to find any rhythm here. We haven't had a lot of home games consecutively. I thought it was a great start when [Benn] made that great play; it set the tone."

Nashville saw its winless streak reach five games.

"We've got to score some timely goals," Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. "We've got to play good defense and we need everybody [to contribute]. Our margin of error has been pretty small lately."

Benn received a pass from Alex Goligoski, who finished with two assists, in the neutral zone, then dashed up the left side of the ice, around the right side of the Nashville net and slipped the puck in to make it 1-0.

Stars wing Antoine Roussel was awarded a penalty shot with 3:25 left in the first period after Nashville's Victor Bartley tripped him on a breakaway. Roussel flipped his backhand attempt to the right of the net.

That missed penalty shot was one of several opportunities Dallas failed to convert that Ruff addressed postgame.

"We could have been talking about a missed penalty shot, and 3-on-1s and 2-on-1s," Ruff said. "To answer right away [after Nashville's goal] was important."

Hutton stopped 30 of 34 shots.

"Well, we've been giving up a lot of early goals lately and I can't blame the goaltenders tonight," Trotz said. "Carter was pretty decent tonight, but in the last few games, [giving up early goals] has been [an issue]. Our goaltending was adequate tonight but we needed some guys to snipe."

Nashville hosts the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday; Dallas plays again Sunday afternoon when the St. Louis Blues make their first visit of the season.

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