COLUMBUS, Ohio - The Dallas Stars rolled to a quick 3-0 lead. Yet coach Dave Tippett was more impressed with what happened after that.
James Neal scored two goals and Dallas rolled to an early advantage, weathered a Columbus comeback, and then pulled away again Saturday night for a 7-3 win, the Stars' fourth victory in a row.
"The way the game went there, we're up 3-0 and we probably don't deserve to be up 3-0," Tippett said.
After the Blue Jackets cut it 3-2 early in the second period, the Stars took control again.
"Once (Neal) scored (for the second time), we pushed it the other way," Tippett said. "I thought that dictated the game, the second 10 minutes of the second period."
The game pitted two of the teams wrestling for playoff position in the Western Conference. The Stars pulled even with the Blue Jackets with 53 points.
Loui Eriksson added a goal and an assist, and Brian Sutherby, Steve Ott, Trevor Daley and Andrew Hutchinson also scored for the Stars, 25-4-4 overall against Columbus. Mike Modano added two assists, and Neal also had an assist. Marty Turco stopped 35 shots.
"A complete defensive breakdown - there's no surprise or secret out there," Columbus defenceman Mark Methot said. "It was embarrassing."
After a dreadful start, the Stars are playing like the team that made it to the Western Conference finals a year ago. They've picked up points in eight of their last nine games.
Neal gave all the credit to Turco.
"Turcs comes up with save after save. That's what you need if you're going to win," Neal said. "He's putting some real solid games together. We're responding and playing good hockey. It's a good feeling around here. It's fun and guys are playing well."
Ott compared Turco to a wall.
"You've got a 4-by-8 piece of plywood back there," Ott said, smiling.
But Turco said it was more than that, a bonding that has transformed a forlorn team into a contender.
"The way the team's banded together to play a certain way is most important," Turco said. "We're going to need to continue to do this. Even tonight when they started scoring you didn't see too much panic in our game."
Kristian Huselius had a goal and an assist, and Fedor Tyutin and Jared Boll also scored for the Blue Jackets, who disappointed a near-capacity crowd with just their third loss in the last 13 home games.
Columbus goalie Steve Mason, leading the NHL in goals-against average (1.98) and shutouts (seven), started his 18th straight game for the Blue Jackets. He didn't last long, however.
The rookie was victimized for three goals in the opening 10:43 and was replaced by Wade Dubielewicz, who surrendered four goals on 23 shots in his first action for the Blue Jackets.
"I thought our goaltending wasn't very good tonight, but they aren't the total blame," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We got beat to way too many pucks in our own zone. We were really soft."
Goals by Neal, Eriksson and Sutherby made it 3-0. After the Blue Jackets pulled to 3-2, Neal had another big goal to give the Stars some breathing room.
"We were opportunistic and they pushed back," Tippett said. "Neal's goal to get it to 4-2 was a huge goal. Any time after that they had any little push we were able to bump it and get one back on the board and push the game along."
Notes: Hitchcock, who guided Dallas to a Stanley Cup in 1999, coached in his 951st game. ... A full 2 1/2 hours before game time, 200 or so fans were lined up outside the arena to buy available tickets. ... Scouts from Atlanta, Montreal, Colorado, Anaheim, Florida, the New York Islanders, Pittsburgh and Minnesota were at the game. ... Dallas D Darryl Sydor, a former Blue Jacket, was hit on the ankle by a shot midway through the third period and limped to the dressing room. He did not return.