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Nichushkin scores twice as Stars rout Maple Leafs

by Steve Hunt

DALLAS -- The Dallas Stars scored almost at will Thursday against the Toronto Maple Leafs, not only ending Toronto's six-game winning streak but also starting a streak of their own in an impressive 7-1 victory at American Airlines Center.

Dallas captain Jamie Benn led the way for the Stars with four points (one goal, three assists). Rookie right wing Valeri Nichushkin chipped in three points (two goals, one assist) and four other Stars registered multiple points. Kari Lehtonen stopped 24 shots to earn his second straight win.

"We want to live in the present. Today was a good day. The last game was a good one. Now we have to look ahead to a tough opponent," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. "Their line with (Phil) Kessel and (Tyler) Bozak has been really good, with 14 goals in seven games. We held them down, but we'll have a tougher task in the next game."

The Stars (23-20-8) led 2-1 after one period on goals from Benn and Cody Eakin. Dallas erupted for four goals in the second period, with four different players scoring, to lead 6-1 after 40 minutes.

"We kept trying to score," said Stars center Rich Peverley, one of the goal scorers. "That's what you have to do. You don't want to let up."

The Stars go for a third straight win when they host the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday.

Benn opened the scoring 7:09 into the game by beating Toronto goaltender Jonathan Bernier top shelf with a wrister for the 100th goal of his career. Benn is the only player in Stars history to reach 100 goals before age 25.

"I think we just found our confidence back again," Benn said. "We know how we have to play to win hockey games, and I think you've seen it the last two games here."

The Maple Leafs (27-21-5), who had not lost since Jan. 10 at the Washington Capitals, answered 30 seconds later when Nikolai Kulemin connected from near the Dallas blue line with a wrister that Lehtonen never saw because he was heavily screened.

Dallas regained the lead at 15:47 when Eakin finished a nice rush up the right side of the ice by beating Bernier five-hole for his 12th of the season. Eakin scored the go-ahead goal by collecting his own rebound after his initial shot was deflected by Toronto defenseman Jake Gardiner.

Nichushkin deflected Benn's wrister from near the blue line through Bernier's five-hole to get Dallas' big second period started. Toronto coach Randy Carlyle pulled Bernier, who surrendered three goals on 13 shots, from the game in favor of James Reimer at that point.

Reimer didn't fare much better, allowing three goals on the first five shots he faced and four on 15 shots overall.

"(This result was) unexpected, disappointing, frustrated, all those things. We didn't really have anything going for a good part of the hockey game," Carlyle said. "We started, I thought we had a forecheck going, and we were able to turn some pucks over, and then all of a sudden, it was open season on turnovers and circling."

The onslaught on Reimer began with a power-play goal at 8:33 from Shawn Horcoff, who fired a wrister past Reimer from the left circle for his sixth goal. Rich Peverley then scored his sixth, a shorthanded goal, a little more than three minutes later with a shot that sailed over Reimer's blocker for a 5-1 lead.

"Tonight I was the backup goalie and I had to be ready for anything. Obviously, it's tough, but you've got to find a way to be at your best right at the first shot," Reimer said. "Unfortunately, that wasn't the case tonight. Obviously, I'm pretty disappointed in myself that I couldn't make some saves early to kind of keep it close, but that's the way it goes sometimes."

Trevor Daley 's third goal at 15:23 of the second put the Stars up 6-1. The defenseman blistered a one-timer from the right circle off the far post and in to make it 6-1. Nichushkin capped the scoring with his second goal of the night at 2:43 of the third when he tapped in a rebound. It was his 11th of the season.

"We worked hard and created a turnover. I just closed my eyes and shot," Daley said of his second goal this month.

Toronto had an apparent goal by Joffrey Lupul waved off at 7:39 of the third when it was ruled that the whistle had blown before he had slipped the puck past Lehtonen off a rebound.

Eakin left the game with an upper-body injury in the third period following a hit by Toronto's Colton Orr. He did not return.

"I think he's going to be OK. We'll see tomorrow," Ruff said of Eakin. "I watched the hit. It looked like the primary contact was to the head, but it wasn't an elbow."

The Maple Leafs wrap up a four-game road trip at the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday.

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