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Stars take first in West by beating Canadiens 5-2 @NHL
Just call the Dallas Stars the best in the West.

Jamie Benn had a shorthanded goal, Brad Richards scored on the power play as the Stars downed the slumping Montreal Canadiens 5-2 on Tuesday night to take over the top spot in the Western Conference.

Dallas has 45 points in 34 games, one more of the Detroit Red Wings, who have played 32 games. The Stars are 11-2-2 in their last 15 games overall and 10-0-2 in their last 12 at the American Airlines Center after scoring five times on just 17 shots against Carey Price.

"I thought our team played a really good skating game tonight," Dallas coach Marc Crawford said. "That's one of the quicker teams we've seen this year, and I thought our guys were very sharp early. I appreciated the quickness that we had tonight and I appreciated the skating legs everybody showed."

At the other end of the ice, Kari Lehtonen continued his superb play by making 27 saves, allowing only a second-period goal to Mathieu Darche after Dallas led 3-0 and a shorthanded goal by Brian Gionta with 7:45 left in regulation that made it 4-2.

"At the end of the day, when you do more things right from a defensive standpoint, you make it difficult for the other team to get sustained offensive pressure," Crawford said. "Kari was terrific tonight. I thought he was reading (the play) good. It was a rocket that beat him in the third period, but aside from that, he was really large tonight, and that gave us a lot of confidence."

Loui Eriksson restored the Stars' three-goal lead 53 seconds later by deflecting Mike Ribeiro's pass behind Price for his 15th goal of the season an the 100th of his NHL career.

"It's fun to achieve that, but I want to keep it going," Eriksson said of his milestone.

Dallas also improved to 10-2-0 against Eastern Conference teams after going 7-9-2 against the East last season. The Stars have outscored their opponents 39-20 in those 12 games.

"We're playing with a lot of confidence right now," Eriksson said. "We got a lead and kept on going."

The Stars are coming off back-to-back non-playoff seasons, and not much was expected of them in 2010-11. Richards, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy while helping Tampa Bay win the Stanley Cup in 2004, said "You never know going into any season what can happen."

"There's a lot of variables, a lot of stuff out of your control. We're trying to take care of everything that we can control. Our work ethic is one of those. ... We're going to try to take control of what we can take control of."

Montreal, playing the second game of a seven-game trip that will keep the Canadiens on the road for the rest of 2010, lost for the sixth time in seven games.

"It wasn't good all around," Price said. "We couldn't get a break. That's a team that's a blue-collar team. They brought a lunch-bucket effort and got rewarded for it."

Adam Burish's deflection of Steve Ott's pass gave the Stars the lead at 6:59 of the first period. Burish batted at the puck with his stick, about waist high, and the goal stood up after a video review. Benn made it 2-0 when he broke through two defenders and backhanded a shot through Price's pads at 13:49, just 16 seconds after the Canadiens went on a power play.

Skrastins jammed a rebound behind Price at 2:31 after a scramble following a half-minute of pressure by the Stars. It was his second of the season and just his 35th in 793 regular-season games.

Darche got the Canadiens on the board at 10:43 when the puck glanced off his skate and past Lehtonen. But Richards' power-play shot from the left point went in off Montreal defenseman Josh Gorges and past Price at 17:00 to restore Dallas' three-goal lead.

"We wanted to pounce on them," said Richards, who has a team-high 16 goals. "We got a lead and never gave it up. It was a great effort all the way through."
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