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Stars strike early, often in 6-3 win over Toronto

Five-goal first period, Lehtonen's 40 saves fuel win in first game out of break

by Mark Stepneski @StarsInsideEdge / Inside Edge

The Dallas Stars were looking for a strong start coming out of the All-Star break, and they got it. The Stars erupted for five goals in the first period and went on to defeat the Toronto Maple Leafs, 6-3, at American Airlines Center Tuesday night.

"It was definitely the start we were looking for," said Stars forward Devin Shore, whose goal and assist helped stake Dallas to an early 2-0 lead. "It was nice to see the pucks go in and everyone seemed to be contributing early. It was a really good win to come off the break."

The Stars, who had surrendered the first goal in their previous seven games, scored two goals in the first 4:37 of the game to take a quick 2-0 lead and by the time the first intermission hit they had a 5-1 lead.

"I think our first periods have been something that we've been talking about," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said, "trying to get the lead, trying to get that first goal, and we've got behind in too many games. To get those goals early was a big bonus for us.

"We came out with a lot of energy, skated well. We got a good effort right off the bat from every line. We played probably our best first period all year."

Shore and Brett Ritchie both had one goal and one assist for the Stars. Radek Faksa, Lauri Korpikoski, Jamie Benn and Jason Spezza also scored goals. Tyler Seguin and Dan Hamhuis both had two assists. Twelve different Dallas players recorded points in the game.

Kari Lehtonen stopped 40 of 43 shots, including 27 over the final two periods when Toronto outshot the Stars 29-8.

The Stars, who are 2-0-2 on their current homestand, improved to 21-20-10 on the season and moved to within one point of the second-wild card spot in the Western Conference.

"We knew where we were at in the standings, and we know how important these points are," said Benn. "We talked about it. Getting off to a good start was a key of ours tonight, and kind of won the game in the first period."

Toronto (23-16-9) lost its second straight game and fell to 2-3-2 in its past seven games. The Maple Leafs remain one point out of a playoff spot in the East.

"It's disappointing obviously," said Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock. "I thought we had a good practice yesterday, a good skate, and we didn't compete hard enough here as a group tonight to have any kind of success whatsoever. I don't think it's any indication at all of how we've played, so it's disappointing, actually it's surprising. Can't be very proud of the way you walk out of the rink tonight."

The Stars started strong, getting two quick goals in the first five minutes of the game to jump out to a 2-0 lead. Shore scored a pretty goal at the 2:53 mark, driving the net off the rush and slipping the puck past Leafs goaltender Frederick Andersen to put the Stars up 1-0. Just 1:44 later, Shore put a shot on net off the rush and Faksa tapped in the rebound, and the Stars had a 2-0 lead 4:37 into the game.

"The goal that Devin scored, that was pure will to get around the D and cut in front of the net, and I thought the play they made on that other goal was an excellent play," Ruff said.

The Stars made it 3-0 at 11:18 of the first when Ritchie set up Korpikoski, who slipped into the slot and scored off a backhand shot. That ended the night for Andersen, who was replaced by Curtis McElhinney.

Toronto got on the board at the 13:46 mark, cashing in on their second power play of the game. Tyler Bozak redirected a James van Riemsdyk pass into the net. The Stars answered a little more than two minutes later when Julius Honka pinched low into the Toronto zone and centered the puck to Ritchie, who scored from close range to make it 4-1 at 16:04 of the first. The Stars stretched the lead to 5-1 on their first power play of the night. Jamie Benn scored short side on McElhinney from the left circle at the 18:22 mark.

"We should've been ready and rested and we weren't," said Bozak. "If you give [Dallas] grade-A scoring chances, they have a high powered offense and they're going to make the most of it. When you get down 5-1 after one, it's hard to get back in it."

Toronto cut the Dallas lead to 5-2 4:19 into the second, capitalizing on a Stars turnover that led to a point-blank chance for Nikita Soshnikov. The Stars answered to go up 6-2 at the 7:49 mark of the second when Spezza scored following a Tyler Seguin drive to the net and wrap-around attempt. Toronto's Mitch Marner scored from the slot at 10:25 of the second to make it a 6-3 game.

Toronto thought it might have cut into the Dallas lead at 11:17 of the third when the puck ended up in the net during a scramble in front of Lehtonen. But after a lengthy video review it was deemed no goal because Soshnikov kicked the stick of Lehtonen and that knocked the puck into the net.

"That's not what I thought they were looking at first," Lehtonen said. "I didn't know there was some type of kicking or anything, they pushed me into the net when the puck was still out there."

Lehtonen came up with a few more big saves the rest of the period, closing the door on the Maple Leafs and helping secure a big win for the Stars coming out of the break.

Notes

*The Stars scored six goals or more for the fifth time this season.

*The Stars scored five goals in a period for the second time this season. They scored five in the third period against Anaheim on Dec. 13.

* Per the Elias Sports Bureau, the last time the Stars franchise scored five goals in a first period was December 21, 1988 against the Los Angeles Kings (Los Angeles 8, Minnesota 6).

*The Maple Leafs outshot the Stars 43-20 and had an 81-47 advantage in shot attempts.

*Patrick Sharp led the Stars with 3 shots on goal. Sharp and Lauri Korpikoski were tops with five shot attempts each.

*The Stars were 1-1 on the power play and 1-2 on the penalty kill.

*The Stars won 22 of 58 faceoffs (38 percent).

*Stephen Johns led the Stars in ice time with 23:01. Jordie Benn was next with 21:25.

What's Next

The Stars continue their homestand when they take on the Winnipeg Jets Thursday at American Airlines Center. The Stars are 1-2-0 vs. the Jets this season, winning 3-2 in Dallas on Oct. 25, losing 4-1 in Winnipeg on Oct. 27 and losing 8-2 in Winnipeg on Nov. 8.

Stars Lineup

Jamie Benn - Cody Eakin - Patrick Eaves
Devin Shore - Radek Faksa - Patrick Sharp
Antoine Roussel - Tyler Seguin - Jason Spezza
Lauri Korpikoski - Adam Cracknell - Brett Ritchie

Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
Dan Hamhuis - Julius Honka
Jordie Benn - Stephen Johns

Kari Lehtonen
Antti Niemi

Scratched: Jiri Hudler, Curtis McKenzie, Patrik Nemeth
Injured: Johnny Oduya (lower body), Jamie Oleksiak (hand), Ales Hemsky (hip), Mattias Janmark (knee)

Postgame Quotes

Radek Faksa: "We had a great start. We were putting pucks to the net and were driving to the net."

Lindy Ruff: "I thought we came out with a lot of energy and skated well. We got a good effort right off the bat from every line. We played our best first period all year."

This story was not subject to 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.

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