Stars Ring In New Year With Victory

The Stars rang in the new year by continuing the same effective play with which they rang out the old late in 2013. Dallas upended Los Angeles, 3-2 on New Year’s Eve at American Airlines Center to finish the week with two wins in three games and earn points in their 7th straight game (5-0-2). It was also the team’s 4th victory in five games on home ice.

Forward Erik Cole contributed his second 2-goal game in the team’s last three outings, forward Tyler Seguin netted his 20th of the year and goalie Kari Lehtonen stopped 23 shots to improve his record to 16-8-7. Dallas upped its mark to 20-12-7 for 47 points, just two behind 8th place Phoenix in the Western Conference.

“Instead of winning a game and looking to see if we gained any ground, we decided to forget about that,” said Cole, whose 10 goals have eclipsed the nine he scored for Montreal and the Stars during last year’s lockout-shortened campaign. “(We’re just concentrating on) focusing on our play and what we can do to win games. (When) we just focus on that, one day we’ll wake up and we’ll be in 5th (place) or 4th or 3rd or whatever.”

Cole tied the score 1-1 on a power play late in the 1st period with his 9th goal of the season, and added an even strength marker late in the 2nd stanza to give Dallas a 3-1 lead. Seguin, who reached the 20-goal plateau for the 2nd time in his four-year NHL career and is on pace to easily eclipse his career high 29 red lights achieved in 2011-12 with Boston, also scored while Dallas held the man advantage three minutes before Cole’s 10th of the season.

Seguin’s goal, only the team’s 5th man advantage marker on home ice this year, marked the first time since Oct. 11 that the Stars have scored on multiple power plays in the same game. The team entered the game with the NHL’s 29th-ranked power play at (11.7%), and its worst at home (4.8%).

“We just weren’t getting enough pucks at the net (to create) second and third chances,” said Cole. “We just (were not) being as opportunistic as we should have been.”

Stars Sing the Blues

Two nights before, the Stars rallied from a 2-0 deficit but dropped a 3-2 verdict in overtime to the St. Louis Blues on Sunday, Dec. 29 at the AAC. Kevin Shattenkirk beat Lehtonen on a power play with 10 seconds left in overtime to decide the verdict.

Dallas overcame a 2-0 deficit with 2nd period goals by Jamie Benn and Ryan Garbutt. Benn’s 13th of the season and 4th in the last 5 games occurred on a power play to cut the St. Louis lead to 2-1. Garbutt tied the score, 2-2 three minutes later with his 7th of the year and 2nd in the last two games.

“We had our opportunity in overtime and we didn’t get it done,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. “We can look at the two one-timers that we shot. We missed the net on both, and their one-timer found a hole.

“This was an important point to comeback and point to get,” added Ruff after goalie Lehtonen stopped 19 shots. “The game could’ve (gone) the other way when it was 2-0, and you’ve got to give our guys a lot of credit for battling back.”

Earlier, the Stars thought they had scored in the game’s first minute for the 2nd straight game, but Cody Eakin’s apparent marker on a rebound was waved off when it was ruled that Garbutt didn’t allow Blues goalie Brian Elliott to make a play on the puck.

The game marked Blues forward Brenden Morrow’s first performance in a visitors’ jersey at the AAC, which opened in 2001 with Morrow as an emerging Dallas standout. “I just wanted to get through this one tonight,” said Morrow, the Stars’ captain until he was dealt to Pittsburgh prior to last season’s trade deadline. “I knew this was going to be the hardest one.

“Playing those guys in St. Louis (on Nov. 23 wasn’t) the same as playing in this building,” added Morrow, who ranks 8th in the Dallas franchise career list in points (528), 7th in goals (243) and 10th in assists (285). “It was a little different just from making a different walk to the locker room. This is the only (visitor’s locker) room that I haven’t seen yet in my career. So to see it from here and get on the ice from this end was a little bit different.”

Stars Upend Preds

The Stars opened the week by moving forward on their quest to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2008 as Cole netted his 7th and 8th goals of the season while captain Benn and Garbutt added one each in a 4-1 victory over Nashville at American Airlines Center on Friday, Dec. 27.

Defenseman Aaron Rome returned to strengthen the backline in front of goalie Lehtonen, who stopped 33 shots to improve to 15-8-6.

Benn scored just 42 seconds into the game, giving his line (which includes Tyler Seguin and Valerie Nichushkin) a total of 12 markers in the last six games.

“(Benn) came in with pretty good speed there from the side and somebody fell and their skates got jammed up in my pads, so I couldn’t get across,” said Nashville goalie Carter Hutton. “And you know a guy like that is not going to miss an open net. (It’s) definitely a tough way to start, but I thought I settled in well after that.”

After Antoine Roussel missed a penalty shot, Valeri Nichushkin clanked one off the post, and the Stars fumbled a 3-on-1 break, Nashville tied the score, 1-1.

But Cole took control, netting his 1st goal of the night 24 seconds after Nashville had tied it, added his 2nd marker six minute later to make it 3-1. Garbutt finished the scoring with his 6th goal early in the 3rd period.

“Erik has played well for a good bit of time. When he’s on the puck, he’s hard to knock off,’’ Ruff said. “We have one real good line that draws the first defense. If the other lines can go against the other defensive pair, we can get opportunities. We need that second line.”

The victory reflected the Stars’ outstanding play by the entire team, according to defenseman Alex Goligoski. “We’re playing smart right now,’’ he said. “We’re not turning pucks over, we’re not giving up a lot of odd-man rushes, and that’s different than we were playing at the beginning of the year.’’

Stars’ Player of the Week – Erik Cole

Lanky forward Erik Cole opened and closed the week with two-goal performances as the Stars captured five of a possible six standings points. Cole’s goals helped the Stars defeat Nashville, 4-1 and Los Angeles, 3-2, giving him 10 markers for the season – one more than he amassed with Montreal and Dallas during the 2013 lockout-shortened campaign. As the season progresses, the 6-foot-2, 210-pound native of Oswego, New York is looking more like the goal sniper who lit the lamp 26 times for Carolina in 2010-11 and erupted for 35 goals with Montreal in 2011-12.

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