WASHINGTON -- The Dallas Stars, in pursuit of their first Stanley Cup Playoff appearance since 2008, put together one of their most dominant performances of the season at the right time.
Dallas pounced on the Washington Capitals in the final two periods of a 5-0 victory Tuesday.
"Once we got midway through the third, you start to feel pretty good about where you're at," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. "It was a pretty tight game in the first period, and we were able to put one away. I think as soon as we got two [goals], it forced them a little out of their element and to take some chances."
Dustin Jeffrey scored twice, and Tyler Seguin, Ray Whitney and Ryan Garbutt scored for the Stars, who entered play one point out of the second Western Conference wild-card spot.
Goaltender Kari Lehtonen made 35 saves for his fourth shutout of the season. He is 5-1-0 with a 1.67 goals-against average and .950 save percentage in his past six games.
"I just try to stay extra calm and wait for the players to make their moves," Lehtonen said. "I'm fortunate to have a few good games in a row here and hopefully I can keep it going. It's fun playing when there's a lot on the line and every game is so huge. We just have to keep taking this one game at a time and try to win the next one."
Washington has one win in its past six games (1-2-3). With six games remaining, the Capitals fell two points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Eastern Conference wild-card race; the Blue Jackets earned a point in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Colorado Avalanche and have a game in hand.
"Well, I mean, just a few days, a whole week ago, I thought we were playing the best hockey we have in years," Capitals defenseman John Carlson said, referring to Washington's 2-0-1 trip through California. "But you know, it seems like something always knocks us down a peg, and we certainly don't need that.
"As a team, we thought we probably need all seven (remaining games) to get in, but now we have no choice. It's definitely probably going to be a win-out situation."
The Capitals received the game's first power-play 8:39 into the first period when Eric Fehr drew a holding penalty on Trevor Daley during a strong shift by Washington's third line.
The man-advantage was short-lived. Washington committed two turnovers at the point that led to Dallas shorthanded scoring chances, the second of which forced Carlson to slash Garbutt.
During 4-on-4 play, Alex Ovechkin missed an opportunity to give the Capitals a lead when his wrist shot struck the post to Lehtonen's left. Ovechkin's career-long drought without an even-strength goal reached 16 games.
Dallas scored its first goal at 15:08, taking advantage of a Washington defensive-zone turnover. As the Capitals attempted to clear the puck, Jamie Benn intercepted it with his glove before firing on net. Seguin clipped Benn's shot just enough for it to knuckle past Capitals goaltender Jaroslav Halak for his 33rd goal of the season.
The Stars built a 3-0 lead midway through the second period with two goals in 34 seconds.
Whitney scored at 9:16, finishing a 2-on-0 break with Alex Chiasson set up by a two-line pass from Alex Goligoski.
"We had a lot of chances," Whitney said. "We had a lot of 2-on-1s, and we even had a 2-on-0. Not often do you see that many scoring chances."
Seconds later, Jeffrey followed his shot, outmuscling several Capitals in front of the net to beat Halak for his first goal of the season and first as a member of the Stars. The 26-year-old was claimed off waivers from the Pittsburgh Penguins in November.
"I think it probably takes a little bit of weight off [Benn] and [Seguin's] shoulders, but they got us going [Tuesday]," Chiasson said. "I think everyone tries to contribute as much as they can, and I think when you go into a playoff push that is what makes a difference."
Following the goal, Capitals coach Adam Oates replaced Halak with Braden Holtby. Halak allowed three on 23 shots.
Jeffrey scored his second goal of the game at 9:55 of the third period, finishing a tic-tac-toe passing play from Whitney and Chiasson.
Garbutt finished his second shorthanded breakaway opportunity of the game, outracing Mike Green and beating Holtby with 5:10 left.
"There wasn't one part of the game tonight that was good enough: 5-on-5, power play, penalty kill, everything," Fehr said. "It looked like we weren't prepared. We talked about everything, but it looked more like a preseason game for us than a game that we needed to win to make the playoffs."
The Stars continue their trip through the Eastern Conference on Thursday against the Carolina Hurricanes. The Capitals play at the New Jersey Devils on Friday.