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Stars stay hot by blanking Wild 1-0

by Dan Myers
ST. PAUL -- For the Dallas Stars, the NHL's hottest team, Tuesday night's 1-0 win over the Minnesota Wild wasn't pretty by any means. Fortunately for the Stars, it's points in the standings that count, rather than style points.

Dallas got a goal from Jamie Benn early in the third period and 25 saves from Kari Lehtonen to improve to 10-0-1 in their last 11 games. For the offensively challenged Wild, it was the third time in four home games they failed to score a goal and the fourth time in eight games overall.

The Stars have won six in a row and extended their lead in the Pacific Division over second-place Phoenix to four points.

"In the end, we got two points and that's what we came here for," Benn said. "We're not trying to make it pretty out there. We're trying to keep it ugly, play a simple game and that's why we're successful right now."

After a rather even first 40 minutes, the game was scoreless and the Stars had only a slight edge in the shots column. But Dallas stayed patient and waited for the right opportunity.

"You have to stay patient," Benn said. "The game is 60 minutes, and if it takes 59, then it does. You just gotta keep sticking with the game plan and that's what we did tonight."

Finally, almost four minutes into the third, the Stars found itself on a 3-on-2 break. Benn dished to Brenden Morrow at the blue line before Morrow looked to get it back to him, but his pass across the slot deflected off the stick of Wild forward Stephane Veilleux.

Perhaps indicative of where both teams are, the Stars were the recipient of the break, as the puck deflected right onto Benn's stick for a quick chip past a sprawling Matt Hackett.

"I just tried to get it to the net as fast as I could," Benn said of his 21st goal of the season. "It came off my stick pretty hot."

Lehtonen took care of the rest, stopping eight shots in the final period for his fourth shutout and 29th victory of the season.

"Just the last month, he's really brought his game to a new level," Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said. "Yeah, the shutout and everything -- but just how clean he was with his rebound control I think is the most impressive part to me."

The lack of offense has been a season-long trend for the Wild, who have scored one goal or less in 22 of their last 40 games since Dec. 13, when Minnesota stood at the top of the NHL standings. Despite the result, coach Mike Yeo was encouraged with his team's effort, something he stressed following a 4-3 loss against Calgary on Sunday in which he felt his team didn't give all it could.

"Much better effort tonight," Yeo said. "The game was actually very reminiscent of games we won early in the season when we were in first place.

"We didn't give up much tonight. I certainly wish we could have capitalized on one of those power plays. We needed to find a way to get one goal. Guys played hard, they played the right way, we just couldn't make the play."

The victory also handed the Stars the season series against the Wild and marked the first victory for a road team in the series this season.

The Stars will look to continue their winning ways Wednesday night in Winnipeg.

"There's no breaks," Gulutzan said. "I'm really realizing that in this League. If you take your foot off the gas just for a second, someone is gonna pass you. We need to go game-by-game, make sure we focus on our game and collect points. That's what this stretch drive is all about."
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