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Stars boost playoff hopes by routing Predators

by Steve Hunt

DALLAS -- The Dallas Stars will need plenty of secondary scoring to reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2008. They got it Friday night in a 7-3 win against the Nashville Predators at American Airlines Center.

Seven players found the back of the net for Dallas, which also got three assists from defenseman Alex Goligoski, one of five Stars with multiple-point performances. Goaltender Kari Lehtonen stopped 25 shots.

"I thought we were patient," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. "There wasn't a lot going on really if I looked at the first seven minutes. We were playing the way we wanted to. I thought that part was good."

Dallas (35-27-11) moved within three points of the idle Phoenix Coyotes, who hold the second wild-card position in the Western Conference. Phoenix has a game in hand on Dallas.

"They looked fresh. They jumped on us, but they're such a good transitional team," Predators coach Barry Trotz said. "I didn't think our forwards did a whole lot. There were only a couple of guys that I thought were really, really good up front and that's really where it all started for me, was the poor puck management."

The Stars got started when Ryan Garbutt scored his 15th of the season 8:03 into the first period, tapping in a feed from Antoine Roussel. Vernon Fiddler made it 2-0 at 14:05 when he beat Predators goalie Pekka Rinne over the blocker with a one-timer from the right circle.

"Obviously, us role guys want to chip in a little bit more," Fiddler said. "It's not easy to score in this league. These are the games where we need to all chip in, you see guys like [Garbutt] and [Roussel] chipping in, and [Valeri Nichushkin] got one in off a D-man. It's nice to get some depth scoring. At the end of the day, we've got to continue to do that. The big guns need some help with that, and it takes a little bit of pressure off of them."

Trying to jump on the Predators, who were on the second night of a back-to-back after beating the Buffalo Sabres 6-1 Thursday night at Bridgestone Arena, was part of Ruff's game plan. The Stars executed it quite well.

"We knew they played last night. These back-to-backs are tough," Ruff said. "It's tough turnovers for a lot of teams. If you get down, you try to chase the game, it usually just gets worse."

Patric Hornqvist cut the Stars' lead in half at 2:53 of the second period, beating Lehtonen through the five-hole. But Dallas regained its two-goal edge at 5:37 when rookie Colton Sceviour was credited with his fifth of the season after Trevor Daley's shot went into the net off his right skate. A video review confirmed that there was no distinct kicking motion, and the goal stood.

"The puck just got to the point. I went to the net and tried to give (Goligoski) a stick to shoot at," Sceviour said. "It was a little inside and ended up stopping it and bouncing off my foot and in. Not the prettiest of goals, but I can't complain."

Dallas made it 4-1 at 8:58 when Alex Chiasson redirected a shot from Ray Whitney for a power-play goal. Whitney's shot from the high slot was deflected by Chiasson from the left circle and into the net for Chiasson's 13th of the season.

Nashville answered again at 9:53 when defenseman Michael Del Zotto blasted a slapper through Lehtonen's legs from near the blue line for his third of the season and first since being acquired from the New York Rangers.

Daley delivered his seventh of the season at 11:19 when he scored after grabbing the puck out of the air off his left glove and sending a shot that floated over Rinne's right pad before landing in the far side of the net, giving Dallas a 5-2 lead after 40 minutes.

"Obviously, we tipped two in our own net. They got one off the skate and then they scored off the rush," Weber said. "They got a little bit of everything and it just wasn't good enough for us tonight."

Nashville cut it to 5-3 when Eric Nystrom, a former Star, beat Lehtonen to the short side with a wrister from the left circle 1:48 into the final period. But Dallas put the game away when rookie Valeri Nichushkin and Cody Eakin scored nine seconds apart.

"We did and we were coming," Trotz said of getting a goal early in the final period. "I really felt we were going to get the next goal and then we don't hold up on the draw, guy jumped through, think it was Nichushkin, jumped through. He got the puck and they just threw it at the net and we deflected it into the net on Pekka. To me, that was the one that killed any momentum we had in the third."

The Predators return home to host the Washington Capitals on Sunday while Dallas completes a back-to-back on Saturday night at the St. Louis Blues, the latest crucial game in their push toward a possible playoff spot.

"We got the game tonight. We have to go out and get the game tomorrow," Ruff said. "We need to score and St. Louis doesn't give up a lot, but if you get two or three you can get yourself in a ballgame with them, although they've really been on a run here lately."

Dallas had seven players score goals in one game for the first time since a 10-2 home win against the New York Rangers on Feb. 6, 2009, a game in which seven Stars found the back of the net.

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