COLUMBUS -- The Columbus Blue Jackets were bound to have a breakout game at some point, but it was not expected to be against the NHL's first-place team.
But that's what happened Tuesday at Nationwide Arena when Curtis McElhinney made 39 saves in a 6-3 win against the Dallas Stars.
Scott Hartnell scored on a giveaway by Stars goalie Antti Niemi, and Boone Jenner, Kevin Connauton, Matt Calvert, Brandon Saad and Rene Bourque scored for Columbus, which ended a three-game losing streak.
Brandon Dubinsky and Nick Foligno, returning after missing three games with a lower-body injury, each tied his NHL career high with three assists for the Blue Jackets (14-22-3), who have the worst record in the League.
Cotton Sceviour, Tyler Seguin and Patrick Sharp scored for Dallas, who had a five-game point streak ended. The Stars (27-8-3) have the most points (57) in the NHL.
"It was everything about our team defense," Dallas coach Lindy Ruff said. "It was probably our worst on the year. We started off not defending. We had pocket of good defending. It was a team loss. Everybody was in on it.
"We haven't defended well against weaker teams. That's on my shoulders."
Columbus coach John Tortorella challenged his players to be more accountable and to show better leadership. The Blue Jackets started with a goal by Jenner 35 seconds into the game and ended with Bourque's empty-netter with 15 seconds to play.
"We're going against a team that was desperate," Dallas captain Jamie Benn said. "We knew their coach challenged them today. We knew they were going to come out hard. It started with the first shift. It was a bad shift. We made it too easy for them."
A gaffe by Niemi enabled Hartnell to score into an open net at 9:55 of the third period for a 5-3 lead. Niemi skated between the circles to clear the puck but put it on Hartnell's stick; he went to his forehand and shot past the diving goalie for his Columbus-leading 15th goal.
McElhinney preserved the two-goal lead 13 seconds later by stopping a Sharp breakaway.
"That's the type of save I've been looking for this year," McElhinney said. "It's been frustrating at times for me this year, but it was there tonight."
The turning point came late in the second period with the Blue Jackets holding a 3-2 lead but shorthanded against the League's third-best power play. Columbus survived thanks to several saves by McElhinney before pinning Dallas in its zone for more than a minute.
The diligence paid off when Saad capped a scramble in front of the net with his 14th goal, second in as many games, with 1:17 remaining in the second for a 4-2 lead.
"That's a very important goal before we go into intermission," Tortorella said. "Huge penalty kill. Guys were blocking shots."
Sharp extended his point streak to six games with his 14th goal at 1:12 of the third period, making it 4-3 off a backhand pass from Jason Spezza.
The Blue Jackets killed another penalty before Hartnell scored the insurance goal. Columbus allowed three power-play opportunities Tuesday; it allowed 18 in the previous three games.
"Our discipline was the difference," Dubinsky said. "We had a couple (penalties) we had to kill off. The guys did a good job. We stayed out of the box."
The Blue Jackets led 3-1 in the first period on goals by Jenner, former Stars defenseman Connauton, and Calvert to counter Sceviour's goal.
Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen, who made 22 saves defeating the St. Louis Blues 3-0 on Sunday, was pulled after allowing three goals on 14 shots in the first period. Niemi made 18 saves.
"There were some good things but too many bad things in a short period of time," Lehtonen said.
Foligno, in his first season as Blue Jackets captain, was the target of some of Tortorella's comments about the leaders and responded by reaching 301 points in the NHL with his third three-assist game.
"It took me a while. It's a very gratifying milestone," he said. "I hope to catch Hartnell and some other guys down the road. We'll see."
Tortorella was happy to see the players smiling again.
"Neither team played perfectly," he said. "We ended up scoring more goals than they did, so our guys get to turn the radio on after the game. Good for them."
Dallas right wing Ales Hemsky left with a lower-body injury after blocking a shot in the second period.
"He could be out a little while but we're not sure," Ruff said.