Stars coach Lindy Ruff juggled his forward lines for Thursday night’s game in Vancouver, moving Valeri Nichushkin and Patrick Sharp onto different lines, and both players came up big. Nichushkin registered one goal and one assist, and Sharp scored the game-winning goal as the Stars defeated the Canucks, 4-2, at Rogers Arena.
Nichushkin playing on the top line with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, scored a slick goal off the rush and then made a pretty pass to set up a goal by Seguin.
“The thought process was that [Nichushkin] was really playing well,” Ruff said. “The top line had struggled creating opportunities. He’s been holding onto the puck really well, and I thought it would give that line some possession time.”
“It’s nice to play with those guys, they are the best guys in the league,” Nichushkin said. “It makes me happy. And thank you, coach, for giving me a chance.”
Sharp, who moved onto a line with Cody Eakin and Antoine Roussel, broke a 2-2 tie with 5:59 remaining in the third period, splitting a couple of Vancouver defenders off the rush and scoring off a wrist shot. The goal was challenged for a possible offside, but it stood.
“A little nervous there, but [Roussel] knew he was onside so that gave me a little confidence that the goal would stand up,” Sharp said. “We find ourselves playing in these one-goal games late in the third period lately, and we are coming out on the right side. That’s a good sign for our team going forward.”
Jason Spezza sealed the win for the Stars with an empty net goal. Kari Lehtonen, back in goal after missing three games with an upper-body injury, stopped 14 of 16 shots to improve to 10-1-0 on the season and 7-0-0 on the road.
Dallas, which has yet to lose consecutive games this season, improved to 20-5-1 and became the first NHL team to hit the 20-win mark.
The Canucks saw their losing streak hit four games (0-2-2). They fell to 9-10-8 on the season and lost for the 10th straight time against the Stars.
“Even though we didn’t play our best game we were right there the whole game,” said Canucks captain Henrik Sedin. “We let it get away from us again. It is the same old story.”
The Canucks jumped out to the lead in the first minute of the game when defenseman Alex Edler scored from the point at the 56-second mark.
The Stars drew even 11:09 into the first on a slick goal by Nichushkin, who got to a loose puck in the neutral zone, drove the Vancouver net and scored off a backhand shot.
“I just drive to the net, and the luck was with me,” Nichushkin said. “I try this play almost every game, but it not always works but today it finally does work.”
The Stars took a 2-1 lead early in the second period when Nichushkin made a between-the-legs drop pass from behind the goal line to Seguin, who scored from close range at the 33-second mark.
The Stars dominated the second, outshooting the Canucks 18-6, but couldn’t extend the lead as Vancouver goaltender Ryan Miller came up with several big stops to keep his team within a goal heading into the third period.
“Ryan Miller was absolutely fabulous in the game,” Ruff said. “He gave them a chance.”
Vancouver tied the game when Henrik Sedin picked off an Alex Goligoski pass and set up Jannik Hansen, who backhanded a puck past Lehtonen from close range at 5:31 of the third.
But the Stars shook off that goal, getting the game-winner from Sharp to improve to 2-0-1 on their road trip.
“You want to be comfortable in those games,” Sharp said. “You are going to win some and lose some, but I think we raised our level in the third period once it was a tie game and played our best hockey.”
*The Stars outshot the Canucks 34-16 and had a 60-44 advantage in attempted shots.
*Tyler Seguin led the Stars with 8 shots on goal and Jason Spezza led Dallas with 11 attempted shots.
*The Stars are 11-2-1 on the road and lead the NHL in road victories.
*The Stars are 11-0-1 when leading after two periods.
*The Stars lead the NHL with 10 empty-net goals.
*The Stars were 0-3 on the power play and 1-1 on the penalty kill.
*Dallas won 32 of 63 faceoffs (51 percent).
*Vernon Fiddler won 10 of 12 faceoffs (83 percent). Jason Spezza won 9 of 18 (50 percent). Tyler Seguin won 5 of 12 (42 percent). Cody Eakin won 6 of 15 (40 percent).
*John Klingberg led the Stars with 23:03 of ice time.
The Stars wrap-up their four-game road trip Friday night when they play at Edmonton.
Jamie Benn – Tyler Seguin – Valeri Nichushkin
Mattias Janmark – Jason Spezza – Patrick Eaves
Antoine Roussel – Cody Eakin – Patrick Sharp
Colton Sceviour – Vernon Fiddler – Ales Hemsky
Alex Goligoski – John Klingberg
Johnny Oduya – Jordie Benn
Patrik Nemeth – Jamie Oleksiak
Injured: Jason Demers (upper body)
Scratched: Travis Moen, Jyrki Jokipakka
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.