Mike Smith was expected to be Marty Turco's backup this season. Judging by the second-year goaltender's recent play, those roles may be reversed very soon.
The red-hot Stars look to extend their season-high five-game win streak when they continue a six-game road trip against the New York Islanders on Monday night.
Smith was outstanding for the fourth straight start, turning aside a career-high 39 shots as Dallas opened its trip Sunday with a 3-2 victory over the New York Rangers. Captain Brenden Morrow scored the go-ahead goal on the power play at 4:04 of the third period, and Smith stopped all 12 shots he faced in the final 20 minutes.
"We looked like we were stuck in the mud there a little bit. Give our guys credit, they kept hanging around," Stars coach Dave Tippett said of his team, which defeated Toronto 3-1 at home on Friday night before heading to New York for the Sunday afternoon game.
Jussi Jokinen and Loui Eriksson also had goals for the Pacific Division-leading Stars (12-7-4), who have outscored opponents 17-5 during their run.
Dallas is 5-0-1 since firing general manager Doug Armstrong on Nov. 13 and replacing him with Stanley Cup hero Brett Hull and Les Jackson on an interim basis.
Morrow, meanwhile, has four goals and six assists during a career-best eight-game point streak.
"We had high expectations at the beginning of the year and we weren't living up to it," Morrow said. "I don't know if it's a coincidence or not, but I kind of took it to heart. It came under my watch that that happened."
Sunday's start was the fourth in Dallas' last five games for the 25-year-old Smith, who is 4-0-0 with a 1.01 goals-against average in that span.
"It seemed like the ice was tilted for a lot of the game, but we found a way to win and that's what you've got to do on the road," he said. "Sometimes it's not pretty."
Turco, meanwhile, is 1-1-2 with a 3.64 GAA in his last four starts overall. He is also 0-4-0 with one tie in his last five games against the Islanders.
Also contributing to the Stars' first five-game win streak since Oct. 4-15, 2006, is a power play that has scored on 10 of 21 chances the past seven contests.
Despite scoring a league-low 49 goals in 20 games, the Islanders (12-8-0) have been one of the NHL's biggest surprises, sitting four points behind Atlantic Division-leading Philadelphia with two games in hand.
Andy Hilbert scored his first goal of the season and Richard Park added his second as New York rallied for a 2-1 victory Saturday over Boston and a split of the home-and-home series.
The Islanders scored two goals or fewer for the eighth straight game, but have managed a 4-4-0 record in that span.
"My philosophy has always been if we score one more than them, we have a good chance of winning," Islanders coach Ted Nolan said.
Goaltender Rick DiPietro has been by far the Islanders' best player, allowing two goals or fewer in 13 of 19 starts. DiPietro, who has started 15 consecutive games, is 2-0-0 with one shutout and a 0.50 GAA in two career starts against Dallas.
Captain Bill Guerin has gone without a point in nine straight games while right wing Miroslav Satan has failed to score in his last six contests.
The Islanders are unbeaten in their last six meetings with the Stars, going 5-0-0 with one tie. Dallas hasn't won in the series since a 2-1 victory on March 23, 2001.