The Dallas Stars opened a five-game homestand on the right track, knocking off the Nashville Predators, 4-1, Friday night at American Airlines Center.
The Stars ran their points streak to five games (4-0-1), improved to 19-12-6 and pulled to within two points of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Stars, who began a stretch of 13 of 18 games at the AAC, have won three straight at home and are 5-1-2 in their last eight.
“We’ll take that after the [holiday] break. It was a good win for our team,” said Stars captain Jamie Benn. “These [games] are very important. We’ve done a pretty good job on the road, and now we’ve got to take care of this schedule with a lot of home games coming up.”
Erik Cole scored two goals and Jamie Benn and Ryan Garbutt also scored. Alex Goligoski recorded two assists and Kari Lehtonen stopped 33 of 34 shots for the Stars, who have allowed two goals or fewer in five straight games despite having several injuries on defense.
“We’re playing smart right now,” said Goligoski. “We’re not turning pucks over, we’re not giving up odd-man rushes. Through the injuries, and guys being out and stuff, guys have stepped up. … There’s only one way for us to play to be successful, and guys have kind of figured that out.”
The Predators dropped their fifth straight game (0-4-1) and fell to 16-18-4 on the season.
“Well, obviously we’re down 1-0 in the opening minute of the game and we’re sort of chasing the whole game and I thought we sort of battled back,” said Nashville coach Barry Trotz.
The Stars scored 42 seconds into the game to take a 1-0 lead. Jamie Benn skated down the left wing, circled behind the Nashville net and then scored on a wrap-around.
“It was definitely a tough way to start,” said Nashville goaltender Carter Hutton.
Lehtonen came up with a slick glove save on a close range backhand bid by Matt Hendricks at 2:19 of the first to keep it a 1-0 game. Nashville had the only power play of the period, but couldn’t take advantage.
The Stars had a chance to extend the lead when Antoine Roussel was awarded a penalty shot after getting pulled down on a breakaway with 3:25 left in the first period. But Roussel’s backhand bid on the penalty shot went wide and the Stars had a 1-0 lead going into the first intermission.
The Stars had some good chances early in the second, including a Valeri Nichushkin redirection that Hutton stopped and a Nichushkin shot that hit the post. The Stars had a three-on-one rush, but couldn’t generate a quality chance.
The Predators tied the game at the 7:14 mark when Colin Wilson set up defenseman Kevin Klein, who pinched in from the point and scored into the open side of the net.
But the Stars answered just 24 seconds later when Rich Peverley backhanded the puck to Cole, who beat a screened Hutton from the right circle at 7:38 of the second.
“We had some great scoring chances just prior to them scoring their goal,” said Cole. “I felt we were creating opportunities, we just weren’t finishing. Them scoring and tying the game was a bit of a wakeup call, everybody upped their intensity a bit.”
“That was a huge goal,” said Goligoski. “And then we got another one, so it was big.”
Cole struck again with 5:56 left in the second, taking a pass from Goligoski, streaking down the right side, freezing Hutton with a fake and then backhanding the puck into the net at the post to put the Stars up 3-1.
“It was a great pass from Goose,” said Cole. “I had a great lane to the net. I tried to make him think I was going to pull it all the way across with how much speed I had built up, and then I hit the brakes and waited. There wasn’t as much room as I thought there would be, but it was fortunate that it went in.”
The Stars killed off a Nashville power play that started late in the second and carried over into the third to maintain their two-goal lead.
The Stars went on their second power play of the game early in the third, didn’t cash in but scored a short time later to make it a 4-1 game. Jordie Benn put a shot on net that Cody Eakin tipped onto the stick of Garbutt, who redirected it into the net at 4:09 of the third. That rounded out the scoring in the game.
The Stars continue their homestand Sunday, when they host the St. Louis Blues.
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