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Spezza hat trick lifts Stars to Central title

Dallas defeats Nashville, earns No. 1 seed in West

by Steve Hunt / NHL.com Correspondent

Spezza's goal delivers hat trick

NSH@DAL: Spezza secures hat trick on top-shelf goal

4/9/16: Jason Spezza fires past two defenders to score top-shelf with a minute left in regulation, earning the hat trick

  • 01:47 •

DALLAS -- Jason Spezza scored his seventh NHL hat trick, and Antti Niemi made 28 saves to help the Dallas Stars win the Central Division with a 3-2 victory against the Nashville Predators at American Airlines Center on Saturday.

Dallas (50-23-9, 109 points) will be the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Stars will play the Minnesota Wild, the second wild card into the playoffs from the West, in the best-of-7 first round.

It is the Stars' first division title since 2005-06, when they won the Pacific Division, and their first time as the No. 1 seed in the West since 2002-03.

"It's a heck of an accomplishment," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. "First, to finish on top of this division, there weren't a lot of people that picked us to be there. To be honest, I didn't think we could get there ourselves, but as the year went on, I thought we had a chance."

Video: NSH@DAL: Spezza beats defense to net his 31st goal

Spezza, who scored 30 or more goals for the fifth time in his NHL career, had two goals in the second period before completing the hat trick with the game-winner with 1:00 remaining in the third period when he beat goalie Carter Hutton with a wrist shot high to the far post.

"The work just starts now. We've known that we were going to be in the playoffs. It doesn't matter who you're going to play in the first round, it's going to be a tough matchup," Spezza said. "And we wanted to win the game just to finish what we set off to do. You kind of raise your standards and want to win the division. It feels good to win that game ourselves and you always want to be playing good hockey going into the playoffs."

Ryan Ellis and Calle Jarnkrok scored for Nashville (41-27-14), which rested forwards Mike Fisher and Mike Ribeiro, defensemen Roman Josi and Shea Weber, and goaltender Pekka Rinne.

The Predators, the first wild card from the West, will face the Pacific Division champion, either the Anaheim Ducks or Los Angeles Kings, in the first round.

Video: NSH@DAL: Spezza nets PPG for his second goal

"I really like the way we played. Chances were in our favor, shots were in our favor, did a lot of good things out there tonight," Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said. "Scoreboard [was] not in our favor, so that's the disappointing thing about it. But as far as effort goes and what the guys brought to the ice tonight, I really liked it."

Ellis scored 19 seconds into the first period by beating Niemi with a slap shot from the right circle.

"[Ellis] has a bomb with the shot," Predators forward Filip Forsberg said. "We saw it last time here in Dallas and [in] kind of the same situation. Obviously, he should keep shooting it."

Ruff was not happy with the Stars' performance in the first period, when they were outshot 15-6.

"We didn't play well at all. Talked to the team after the first. I didn't like the way we skated, I didn't like the way we competed," Ruff said. "They were winning battles, they were outskating us. We were stuck on the outside."

Video: NSH@DAL: Jarnkrok shoots off the rebound for PPG

Jarnkrok gave the Predators a 2-0 lead at 8:23 of the second period when he knocked a loose puck past Niemi from below the right faceoff circle on a 5-on-3 power play. Stars defenseman Jason Demers whiffed while trying to play the puck, which had deflected off an official after Forsberg hit the right goal post with a slap shot.

Spezza cut the Predators lead to 2-1 when he beat Hutton with a slap shot from the right circle at 10:46 of the second. He tied it 2:19 later when he scored on the power play for the 300th goal of his NHL career.

"He did a great job of coming out and shooting the puck and driving the middle of the ice," Ruff said of Spezza. "The last goal and the other even-strength goal were both driving down the middle of the ice. He's got a tremendous shot when his feet are moving. To score all three tonight and help us clinch, we didn't have to look for help [from another team]. We ended up winning it ourselves. You've got to tip the cap to him for sure."

Hutton made a save against Colton Sceviour on a breakaway 6:18 into the third period to keep it tied.

"I thought he was real good tonight," Laviolette said of Hutton. "He made [big saves], especially in the second period there early on they came out flying and he had to make some big saves. Kept us in the [game in the] third there on that breakaway."

Video: Stars clinch Central Division, Spezza nets hat trick

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