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Stars boost playoff hopes by beating Predators

by Steve Hunt

DALLAS -- Tyler Seguin scored in the fourth round of the shootout Tuesday night, lifting the Dallas Stars to a 3-2 victory against the Nashville Predators and moving them two points closer to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Seguin ripped a wrister over the glove of Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne to give the Stars (39-29-11) the victory and a two-point lead over the Phoenix Coyotes for the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference. The Coyotes got one point in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets, who come to American Airlines Center on Wednesday.

"We've worked hard for this. We've got to close the deal," said coach Lindy Ruff, whose franchise hasn't made the playoffs since 2008. "There's a lot of excitement in that room. Those guys were excited this morning, they were excited before the game and we've just got to keep on working."

The Stars and Coyotes each have three games remaining, including a season-ending showdown at Arena on Sunday.

Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen had turned away Nashville's first two shooters, Calle Jarnkrok and Craig Smith, before Roman Josi scored in the third round with a shot that went through the five-hole and over the goal line. But Dallas' Vernon Fiddler forced the extra round when he flipped a wrister past Rinne after falling down on the way to the net.

"That was something else," Fiddler said of his shootout goal, which came after Rinne stopped Jordie Benn and Jamie Benn. "I obviously had a little skate issue there before. They tried to fix it, our trainer did. He told me not to turn that way, but I didn't listen to him. Maybe I should have listened to him, but I was just thankful that it caught my other edge."

Dallas got goals from Alex Goligoski in the first period and Jamie Benn in the second. Lehtonen stopped 27 shots. Rinne made 28 saves and Gabriel Bourque scored both goals for Nashville. His second of the night, 10:24 into the third period, sent the game into overtime.

"I thought that was probably our most effective line tonight," Predators coach Barry Trotz said of the trio of Bourque, Paul Gaustad and Jarnkrok. "Obviously, they got both of our goals but they were really quite good."

The Stars struck first when Goligoski scored his sixth of the season from the left point 2:23 into the game. Goligoski's goal, his first in 15 games, came on a wrister that sailed under Rinne's glove.

"Two points, that's all we're looking for right now," Goligoski said of the win.

Nashville tied it early in the second when Bourque flicked a short-side one-timer under Lehtonen's glove at 1:22. Smith's pass from behind the Dallas net set up Bourque perfectly.

Nashville's Viktor Stalberg had a breakaway at 5:56, but Dallas defenseman Trevor Daley was able to poke the puck away from Stalberg.

"I thought tonight we got off to a little bit of a slow start," Trotz said. "They were playing fast. First 10 minutes, I thought Dallas had us pretty good. I thought after that we got our game in order. We started playing much better."

But Dallas regained the lead at 8:16 when Benn blistered a shot from the left circle that Rinne got a piece of but couldn't stop. Stars rookie Valeri Nichushkin initiated the sequence with a pass from the Dallas zone to Benn near center ice. Benn raced up the left side and fired a wrister that Rinne managed to get his glove on. However, the puck trickled through him and over the goal line for Benn's 34th goal of the season.

The Predators tied it for a second time when Bourque scored his second of the game, capitalizing on a Dallas miscue. Gaustad intercepted a weak pass by Stars defenseman Brenden Dillon behind the net and quickly fed Bourque, who was streaking toward the net. Bourque finished with a wrister over Lehtonen's glove.

"[The win] feels good, but it was one of those games where we let them tie it," Lehtonen said. "We got it, so we have to be happy."

Dallas went on the power play for the first time at 10:40 when Nashville defenseman Shea Weber was called for delay of game. It became a 5-on-3 advantage 22 seconds later when Victor Bartley was called for holding Seguin. Benn nearly broke the tie at 11:41, but his wrister deflected off the right post. The Stars were unable to convert on either opportunity.

Despite getting a point, the Predators were officially eliminated from the playoff race. They failed to qualify for a second straight year.

"It's frustrating. I don't know what to say. It [stinks]. I hate it. Everyone in here hates it," Weber said. "It's obvious something's got to change, something's got to get better and we got to find a way to get into the postseason."

Dallas won despite committing 21 giveaways compared to five from Nashville.

"There's two things it (that number) tells me; there's some fatigue in our game, and some guys feel the pressure," Ruff said. "I've already talked to several guys that we need to make plays. If the opposition makes a great play defending us, I'll live with that, but I don't want these turnovers."

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