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Khudobin helps Hurricanes deal setback to Stars

by Kurt Dusterberg

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Carolina Hurricanes might prefer to forget the details of their first period against the Dallas Stars on Thursday. Instead, they can focus on the outcome.

After a sloppy opening 20 minutes filled with scoring chances for the Stars, the Hurricanes scored two power-play goals in the second period on their way to a 4-1 win at PNC Arena.

Defenseman John-Michael Liles had a goal and two assists for the Hurricanes (34-32-11; 79 points), who are 3-0-2 in their past five games. Although their chances are remote, they remain mathematically in contention for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Stars (37-28-12) missed a chance to pull clear of the the Phoenix Coyotes in the race for the second wild-card position in the Western Conference. Each team has 85 points; the Stars have a game in hand.

Carolina goaltender Anton Khudobin, who has allowed three goals or fewer in 32 of his 33 appearances, was called on repeatedly in the first period when the Stars got behind the Hurricanes' defense. Khudobin stopped Tyler Seguin on a 2-on-1 before shutting down Dustin Jeffrey at the left post.

"He's been coming up with some big saves," Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller said. "It was a slow start, but we got our feet going and had a good strong game."

Defenseman Justin Faulk, who had a goal and an assist, credited his goaltender for keeping the game competitive.

"It's not a situation you like to be in, where you're saying, 'We've got to pick it up,'" Faulk said. "It happens, probably too many times than we wanted this year. But it's nice when you have [good goaltending] when things aren't going your way right off the bat and other teams are getting chances."

After the scoreless first period, Carolina quickly halted Dallas' momentum with an unusual goal 2:30 into the second. Liles took a shot that hit teammate Eric Staal's skate and sailed high into the air. As the players searched for the puck, it settled over the right shoulder of Dallas goalie Kari Lehtonen into the net for Staal's 19th goal.

Carolina then quickly capitalized on two penalties by rookie defenseman Patrik Nemeth. Faulk scored his fifth of the season on a one-timer at 4:08. Liles and Chris Terry picked up assists after the Hurricanes worked the puck patiently. Terry's assist was his first in 13 NHL games.

Liles made it 3-0 with a short-side wrister at 7:06 as Staal provided a screen in front. Lehtonen was replaced by Tim Thomas after making 13 saves on 16 shots.

Dallas coach Lindy Ruff said a passive penalty kill was the difference.

"It was a lack of aggression," Ruff said. "We sat inside too much. We gave them room and we gave them time. Even at 2-0, the way we were playing, we still had a chance to get back in it. But when you get down three goals, you start playing a high-risk game."

Seguin put Dallas on the board with his 34th goal at 9:44. Valeri Nichushkin fed a pass through the neutral zone for Seguin, who slipped behind Andrei Loktionov and lifted a wrist shot over Khudobin's glove.

Dallas had a chance to trim the lead with 1:47 of power-play time carrying over to the third period. Khudobin again made the difference, stopping Alex Chiasson at the right post.

"I thought we could have been right back in the game at the start of the third with the save Khudobin made on Chiasson, but we didn't finish," Ruff said.

The Hurricanes pushed the lead to 4-1 at 7:40 when Riley Nash put a wrist shot over Thomas' glove for his 10th goal of the season.

Khudobin is 18-12-1 with a goals-against average of .931, second in the NHL (Cam Talbot, New York Rangers, .940). He made 13 of his 33 saves in the first period.

"Sometimes as a goalie you need to make those saves to settle down your teammates and put them in the game," Khudobin said. "This was that kind of game. I did my part and they did their part."

Andrej Sekera, who leads Carolina defensemen in ice time and points, was a late scratch with a lower-body injury. The rest of the unit chipped in with six points.

"We didn't know Sekera wasn't going to be in," Liles said. "But when a guy goes down, everyone has to elevate their game. Everybody picked up the slack."

Stars forward Ray Whitney left the game with a lower-body injury after his first two shifts and did not return.

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