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Stars edge Sharks for fifth straight win

by Steve Hunt

DALLAS -- A fast start and a big performance by their backup goaltender were enough to move the Dallas Stars into the final playoff berth in the Western Conference.

Eric Nystrom and rookie Alex Chiasson gave Dallas a two-goal lead seven minutes into the game and Richard Bachman made 31 saves as the Stars earned their fifth straight victory by beating the San Jose Sharks 2-1 at American Airlines Center on Saturday night.

The victory gives the Stars 45 points, the same as the Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets. Dallas has more non-overtime victories than the Red Wings and has played one fewer game than the Blue Jackets.

The Stars, who returned home after a 5-2 road victory against the Nashville Predators on Friday, made the most of an early burst of energy before hanging on.

"We got out to a decent start and got those two goals, but you could see at the end we were hanging on a little bit," coach Glen Gulutzan said. "It speaks to the character of the guys to gut it out."

San Jose outshot Dallas 32-19, including 13-5 in the third period, but Brent Burns had the lone goal for San Jose, scoring off a rebound with the Sharks on the power play at 5:56 of the final period.

Sharks coach Todd McLellan said his team paid the price for its poor start.

"We've got to play every minute of all 60 as hard as we can. I thought that was probably our downfall tonight," McLellan said. "We probably gave away 13 or 14 minutes of valuable time and it cost us."

Nystrom gave Dallas an early lead by scoring his seventh of the season from the left circle 1:57 into the game. Nystrom beat Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi -- who made his 19th straight start -- low on the glove side with a wrister that glanced off the far post before landing in the back of the net.

Chiasson then lit the lamp for the Stars at 7:00, redirecting a long-range shot by Ray Whitney into the net for his sixth goal in six games since being called up from the Texas Stars of the American Hockey League last week. Dallas was on the power play for the second time in the game after San Jose's Raffi Torres had been whistled for interference at 6:38. Chiasson then deflected Whitney's blast, sending it first off the left post before going in to make it 2-0.

"Of course, this is incredible," Chiasson said of the fast start to his NHL career. "I try not to pay attention to the stats. I think I just concentrate on my game. This is great for us. We're right there right now, right in eighth place."

Bachman started and won for the second time in as many nights. He has stopped 79 of 82 shots since coming on for starter Kari Lehtonen, who suffered a groin injury late in the first period of a 5-1 win against the Los Angeles Kings on Monday.

"Obviously, you need good goaltending and he's been way better than good," Nystrom said of Bachman's performances. "He's been excellent."

The Stars earned their third power play of the night at 7:18 of the second when Martin Havlat was guilty of high-sticking Dallas defenseman Alex Goligoski. Thirty-two seconds later, Loui Eriksson looked to make it a 3-0 game for Dallas, attempting to slip a 12-foot backhander inside the right post only to be foiled by Niemi's glove.

San Jose finally went on the power play for the first time at 10:48 when Stephane Robidas was called for hooking. The Sharks generated several quality chances, forcing Bachman to come up with three huge saves within a nine-second span. Bachman stopped Joe Thornton's long wrister with a pad save at 11:42, then denied Joe Pavelski and finished the impressive sequence by stopping a 12-foot backhander by Patrick Marleau off a rebound before covering the puck.

"I thought he made some solid saves," Gulutzan said of Bachman's performance. "He cleaned up a lot of the stuff in from of him. I thought our D did a good job of keeping guys away from him. He was real solid for us."

The teams combined for just 13 shots in the second period and Dallas held its 2-0 advantage after 40 minutes of play.

"I think we responded decently well in the third period," Sharks forward TJ Galiardi said. "Just the second we weren't really playing our game. We didn't have any sustained pressure and that's a recipe for disaster."

At 3:14 of the third, Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle lost possession near the San Jose blue line, but Niemi made a pad save on a long wrister by Ryan Garbutt to keep it 2-0.

San Jose finally got on the board when Burns scored off a power-play rebound. Bachman denied Galiardi's initial shot, but the ensuing rebound glanced off the right skate of Eriksson and found its way to Burns, who backhanded it into the net for his seventh of the season.

"I think we knew that going into the third that we were going to get one shot, put it in and they'd be on their heels a bit," Galiardi said. "Just a shame it didn't come a little earlier so we had a little more time. A couple minutes more in that game we come back and tie it up. But that's just the way the game is. You only get 60 minutes."

Niemi left the ice with 60 seconds remaining in regulation and the Sharks spent most of that time in the Dallas zone but couldn't beat Bachman. Marleau had a couple of chances, but Bachman stopped his wrister with four seconds left and another chance went wide.

The Stars appeared to be ready to throw in the towel when they dealt three veterans before the NHL Trade Deadline. Instead, they've gone on a run that has them in the top eight with two weeks remaining in the season.

"I think we are starting to carve out an identity and figuring out why we are successful," Nystrom said. "There's a certain way we have to play. We are not a high-risk team. When we tried that earlier in the year we just got picked apart.

"Now we are playing a more straight-line game. We're getting pucks in, we're getting bodies to the net and we're paying the price. That's what it takes to win. The best teams might have more skill, but they are still doing those little things that make the difference between winning and losing. We're finding the way of what that takes."

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