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Stars Top Predators, Increase Lead in Playoff Race

by Mark Stepneski / Dallas Stars

The Dallas Stars added to the their lead in the race for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, defeating the Nashville Predators, 3-2, in a shootout Tuesday night at American Airlines Center. The Dallas win, coupled with Phoenix losing in overtime as Columbus, gives the Stars a two point lead over the Coyotes with three games to play for both teams.

“It’s big,” Stars center Vernon Fiddler said of the win. “We were obviously scoreboard watching and saw Phoenix picked up a point. We wanted to pick up any kind of points. When you go to shootout, it is especially big to get that extra one.”

Fiddler came up big in the shootout. With the Stars down 1-0 in the skills competition and down to their final shot, Fiddler slipped, regained his footing and then scored to keep the Stars alive.

“I just thought that was part of his plan to distract the goaltender,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff joked. “He’s going to make every TSN and ESPN highlight for the next little while, but it was great to see him finish off the play.”

Tyler Seguin then scored the shootout-winner in the next round. Kari Lehtonen stopped three of four Nashville shooters in the shootout.

“The ending was quite exciting,” said Lehtonen, who stopped 27 of 29 shots in the game. “Coming back from one goal down in a shootout is always huge and unlikely a little bit. It felt really good and it was a nice win.”

Alex Goligoski and Jamie Benn scored in regulation for the Stars, who improved to 7-0-1 in their last eight games at home and 7-3-0 in their last ten games overall.

The Predators had a three-game winnings streak snapped and were officially eliminated from the playoff race.

“Not good, nobody likes losing. It’s frustrating,” said Predators captain Shea Weber. “I don’t know what to say. It sucks. I hate it. Everyone in here hates it. It’s obvious something’s got to change, something’s got to get better and we got to find a way to get into the postseason.”

The Stars grabbed the early, scoring 2:23 into the game when Fiddler set up Alex Goligoski, who beat Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne with a shot from the right circle.

“Great play by Fidds, pulled up and hit the second wave. We talked about that, getting our D involved,” said Goligoski. “Great play by him, [Alex] Chiasson opens up for a one-timer, their D has to go to him and I was just trying to make a shot. I was lucky enough that it went in.”

Lehtonen came up big nine minutes into the period, stopping Eric Nystrom’s point blank bid to keep it a 1-0 game.

But Nashville got the equalizer early in the second when Gabriel Bourque scored off a close range one-timer to make it a 1-1 game at the 1:22 mark.

The Stars retook the lead when Valeri Nichushkin made a slick pass to send Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin on a two-on-one rush and Benn tallied off a snap shot to give the Stars a 2-1 lead at 8:16 of the second period.

Lehtonen came up with another big save for the Stars, stopping a quality chance by Predators forward Viktor Stalberg.

But Nashville tied it with 9:36 left in the third when Paul Gaustad sent a pass from behind the goal line to Bourque, who scored from close range to make it a 2-2 game.

The Stars had a five-on-three power play for 1:38 with just under nine minutes to play, but couldn’t take advantage. The Stars have not scored a five-on-three goal this season.

“We had two or three good looks but it didn’t go,” said Ruff. “That part was disappointing because we could have seized a great opportunity in the game. You talk about those opportunities during the game to take over control of the momentum and that was one.”

But the Stars survived not scoring there, got the game into overtime and the shootout, where they picked up the extra point and pushed their lead to two points over Phoenix.

“We’ve worked hard for this,” said Ruff. “We’ve got to close the deal. There’s a lot of excitement in that room. Those guys were excited this morning, they were excited before the game and we’ve just got to keep on working.”

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 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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