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Stars win to clinch first playoff trip since 2008

by Steve Hunt

DALLAS -- It's fitting that Trevor Daley played a big role in the Dallas Stars clinching their first Stanley Cup Playoff berth since 2008.

Daley scored the first goal in a 3-0 win against the St. Louis Blues at American Airlines Center on Friday that secured the second wild card from the Western Conference.

"I'm having trouble smiling and I just can't stop smiling right now," Daley said. "We've got a fun group in here. We've got a special group in here. We've got a mix of old, young. And I think everybody got a chance to step up and play tonight and be a big part of this."

Daley, Dallas' longest-tenured player at 10 seasons, is the only one on the roster remaining from its most recent trip to the postseason six seasons ago, when the Stars got to the Western Conference Final before losing to the Detroit Red Wings in six games.

Daley also had an assist for the Stars (40-30-11, 91 points). Kari Lehtonen made 22 saves for his fifth shutout of the season, 27th of his career.

"There was lots of excitement," Lehtonen said of the playoff-clinching victory, played before a full house. "We just had to go out there and out play them, and we did. It was a well-deserved win."

Tyler Seguin and Ryan Garbutt scored for Dallas; captain Jamie Benn had two assists.

"I've believed in this team from day one," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. "We believe we can win. We have a lot of toughness. I've been through those first-round series, and they're tough. They are physical, there's a lot of emotion in those first rounders. But we've hardened ourselves by getting into the playoffs by the route we have taken."

St. Louis (52-22-7, 111 points), which lost its fifth straight, was without injured forwards David Backes (lower body), Brenden Morrow (lower body), T.J. Oshie (upper body), Derek Roy (upper body) and Vladimir Sobotka (lower body).

"Our goalie was great for us and it was really good to see," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "Off the back-to-back, we had some tired legs as the game went on. First period was a good period and then I thought we got on tired legs and really had a difficult time."

Dallas eliminated the Phoenix Coyotes from playoff contention. The Coyotes, who have two games remaining, including the season finale at home against the Stars, could tie with 91 points, but Dallas holds the first tiebreaker with 36 wins in regulation and overtime; the Coyotes can't get more than 32.

"Our team played awesome," Ruff said. "We were a little tight to start the game, but man, did we start to skate and start to compete. I've got to give my club a lot of credit. When we had a chance to put 'em down, we put 'em down."

Daley gave Dallas the lead with his career-high ninth goal of the season 5:52 into the second period on a breakaway. After St. Louis forward Alexander Steen saw his pass inside the Stars zone deflect off Benn's skate, Daley poked the puck ahead of him near center ice. The defenseman skated up ice, and with Dmitrij Jaskin pursuing in close quarters, Daley beat St. Louis goalie Ryan Miller top shelf with a backhand near the far post after faking a forehand. It was his second goal in as many games.

Seguin flicked a pass by Benn through the crease for a power-play goal at 11:58. Seguin's 37th goal of the season came when he one-timed Benn's pass inside the far post with Miller a split-second late.

Dallas was on the power play for 10 seconds after Jaskin was called for hooking Cody Eakin.

The Stars outshot the Blues 21-6 in the second period.

"This is the time of year that you need to get that [sense of desperation] in your game," Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "I know we haven't kind of had that situation as much lately. They played to get into the playoffs tonight and they really showed it and we need to get more of that into our game as well."

Garbutt's goal, his 17th, came 4:27 into the third when he redirected a slap shot by Alex Goligoski from the left point.

Dallas lost defenseman Brenden Dillon to a lower-body injury in the second period. Dillon did not return and his condition was termed day-to-day by Ruff in his postgame remarks to the media.

St. Louis also lost center Patrik Berglund to an apparent shoulder injury in the third period.

"He's out," was Hitchcock's response on Berglund's condition.

Miller made 37 saves for the Blues, who remained in second place in the Central Division behind the Colorado Avalanche. Each team has 111 points and one game remaining, but Colorado owns the tiebreaker with 47 wins in regulation and overtime to 43 for St. Louis

Blues center Steve Ott, who along with Morrow was a member of Dallas' last playoff team in 2008, admitted he was pleased for Daley.

"I'm happy for Trevor as a friend, but I would have been happier to put them out of the playoffs to be honest with you because that's what happens when you get moved on and you're not wanted anymore in a situation," Ott said. "It's something that they're a good team and we might have to play them in playoffs, so you always have a chance in this League to do good things and tonight they had a big accomplishment in making the playoffs."

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