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Nichushkin, Sharp lift Stars past Canucks

by Kevin Woodley

VANCOUVER -- It's hard to imagine Dallas Stars forwards Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, who are tied for second in NHL scoring, needing help creating offense, but that's exactly what coach Lindy Ruff had in mind when he moved Valeri Nichushkin to their line against the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.

The move quickly paid off.

Nichushkin scored on a nice individual effort in the first period before setting up Seguin's goal in the second with a between-the-legs pass, and Patrick Sharp scored the game-winner with 5:59 left in the Stars' 4-2 victory against the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena.

"[Nichushkin] was really playing really well, and the top line had struggled generating good opportunities," Ruff said. "He has been holding on to the puck really well down low, and I thought it would give that line some possession time and I thought he did a great job."

So did Sharp, who had been playing on the top line with Benn and Seguin.

Stopped on an earlier breakaway, Sharp received a nice stretch pass from defenseman Alex Goligoski in the neutral zone, split the defense and beat goalie Ryan Miller between the legs from above the hash marks for his ninth goal and a 3-2 Dallas lead.

Sharp credited Goligoski for hitting him in stride, but he seemed more impressed by Nichushkin, who had his first two-point game this season.

"He had some jump in his game today," Sharp said. "I think he felt good playing with our two big guys there. He scored a beautiful goal, but on that pass, you have seen [Canucks forwards] Henrik and Daniel [Sedin] do that 1,000 times in this building. I feel like it was a good play that a young kid like Val can make. Hopefully, he gets better and better as the season goes on."

The Stars outshot the Canucks 34-16, helping goalie Kari Lehtonen earn a win in his first game back after missing three with a neck injury.

"They got a couple chances, but overall it was fairly easy for me," Lehtonen said.

Jason Spezza scored into an empty net with 1:27 left, and Dallas (20-5-1) completed the three-game season sweep with its 10th consecutive win against Vancouver (9-10-8).

After Canucks defenseman Alexander Edler opened the scoring on a point shot through a screen 56 seconds into the game, Nichushkin tied it with his third goal at 11:09. He picked up the puck at center ice and outraced defenseman Dan Hamhuis down the left side before cutting back and around a sprawling poke-check attempt by Miller.

Nichushkin set up Seguin's go-ahead goal 33 seconds into the second period with another beautiful play at the side of the Canucks goal. The 20-year-old Russian forward started behind the net and pulled Miller off the post before dropping a backhand pass between his legs to Seguin, who lifted in his 14th goal before Miller could get back to the post.

"Those guys are the best guys in the League. It makes me happy to play with them," Nichushkin said of Seguin and Benn. "I like it. Thank you, Coach, for giving me a chance."

Nichushkin, who was the No. 10 pick at the 2013 NHL Draft, had a four-point game as a rookie two seasons ago and played for Russia at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, earned it after a slow start this season.

"There's no secret, you play well you are going to get to play," Ruff said. "Sometimes it's tough to explain that to a young player, because they think they should get to play whether it's so-so play or good play, and he struggled right out of the chute this year, and I think it's good he's been able to learn from some adversity and come back and play so well for us."

Ruff and Sharp were impressed with how well the Stars defended against the Canucks, especially after they blew a 3-0 third-period lead in a 4-3 shootout loss against the Calgary Flames on Tuesday.

After the Canucks tied it 2-2 on Jannik Hansen's goal 5:31 into the third period, Dallas limited Vancouver to four shots the rest of the game.

It's a familiar feeling for Sharp, who won the Stanley Cup three times with the Chicago Blackhawks before being traded to Dallas on July 10.

"We won in Chicago because we protected our net and limited chances," he said. "I know there was some big-time forwards and defensemen there that got a lot of credit for scoring goals, but we knew the identity of the team was defensive first. That's what we're preaching here. We have some world-class players that put the puck in the net, but when we have success, it's playing well away from the puck, protecting our goaltender and playing from the back-end out."

Henrik Sedin had two assists, and Miller made 30 saves for the Canucks, who have three wins in their past 15 games (3-8-4) and are struggling to find offense beyond the Sedins.

"We've got to create more," Vancouver coach Willie Desjardins said. "You might get some points, but you don't deserve the games. We battled back to get a tie in a game we probably didn't deserve to be tied in. The only thing you can do is work your way out of it. People aren't going to feel sorry for you. We've got to work our way out of it. It's going to be tough."

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