NASHVILLE – It might have seemed like the Dallas Stars were giving up on the season when they made a series of trades before the NHL's April 3 trading deadline.
Captain Brenden Morrow went to the Pittsburgh Penguins on March 24. On April 2, Jaromir Jagr went to the Boston Bruins and Derek Roy went to the Vancouver Canucks. By jettisoning one of the League's all-time great scorers in Jagr, the Stars were forced created an opening for their newest offensive weapon: rookie Alex Chiasson.
The former Boston University star scored twice on Friday, giving him five goals in his first five NHL games, helping the Stars to a 5-2 victory against Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena -- and furthering the Stars' improbable chase to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"It's just hard work, really," said Chiasson, who has benefitted from playing on a line with two of the team's top offensive players in Jamie Benn and Ray Whitney. "Playing with confidence, playing with two great guys. I'm not trying to do something else out there. I'm just playing my game. I wouldn't see why I would change my game because I'm playing with these two guys. I think we complement ourselves pretty well. They've been good to me, a couple of tips here and there, so it makes it easier on my game."
Chiasson has given the Stars a shot in the arm just when it appeared their season might be over.
"He does a lot of little things right," coach Glen Gulutzan said. "He has the tools that translate real well into the NHL -- a big, strong guy. He's got smarts and he's playing with two real good players and that helps, too, but he's got the details in his game that makes him effective with those guys."
With the win, the Stars moved within two points of the eighth-place Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference. The Red Wings lost a shootout 3-2 to the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday. The Stars, who have eight games remaining, hold a game in hand on the Red Wings as well as on the Phoenix Coyotes and Columbus Blue Jackets, who are even with Dallas at 43 points.
Backup goalie Richard Bachman made 26 saves for the Stars, who won despite being outshot 28-18. With No. 1 goalie Kari Lehtonen out with a groin injury, Bachman has risen to the occasion -- he has allowed two goals in 105:42 over the last two games since Lehtonen went down in the first period of Tuesday night's game against the Los Angeles Kings. Friday marked Bachman's first start since Feb. 26.
"It's fun," Bachman said. "It's fun to be a part of it whether you're playing or not to be at this last stretch, especially when a lot of people counted us out. It's even more fun to be on the ice and playing games and helping the guys out and doing my little part until Kari gets back here right soon."
With Lehtonen still nursing his injury, Bachman might have to start again on Saturday in Dallas against the San Jose Sharks.
Meanwhile, Nashville's late-season collapse continued. The Predators have scored six goals in five games since the trading deadline and lost for the eighth time in nine games (1-6-2).
Nashville coach Barry Trotz elected to rest No. 1 goalie Pekka Rinne, who leads the League with 39 games played. In his place, Chris Mason started for only the fourth time this season.
"I thought the intensity was fine," Trotz said. "Their intensity, I don't think, was a lot higher than ours, maybe out of the chute it was. … They got four goals on 11 shots. They're fighting for their playoff lives. We're not."
Dallas struck first, 6:04 into the game. Low-scoring forward Vernon Fiddler continued his hot streak by a digging a puck out of the boards behind the net and setting up a wide-open Erik Cole in the high slot. Cole ripped a slap shot through a slew of bodies that beat Chris Mason high to the glove side. Fiddler's two assists gave him five points in two games; before that, he had 176 points in 10 NHL seasons.
Dallas expanded its lead to 2-0 at 8:40 by taking advantage of a tripping call to Nashville's Craig Smith. Whitney, stationed at the left circle, one-timed a cross-ice pass from Alex Goligoski and beat Mason high to the blocker side. The goal was the 40-year-old's 10th in 24 games.
Nashville pulled within 2-1 with 1:18 left in the first period on Taylor Beck's power-play goal. Patric Hornqvist kicked a puck down low through the goalmouth and defenseman Roman Josi touched it glancingly as it arrived on Beck's stick and the rookie wristed it into the net for his third goal in 13 games. The goal ended Bachman's shutout streak at 64:24.
Dallas' Tom Wandell earned his first goal in more than a calendar year as both he and Ryan Garbutt skated past the Nashville defense. Garbutt did it took a stretch pass at the blue line from Antoine Roussel and streaked down the right wing. He flipped a pass to Wandell, who easily converted it at 2:28 of the second period to make it 3-1.
Chiasson made it 4-1 at 11:12, again getting past a Nashville defender and tapping a pass from Whitney through Mason's pads. He scored an unassisted goal at 7:03 of the third period on a wrist shot from the right wing to finish off a 3-on-2 rush.
Bobby Butler made it 5-2 with a rising wrist shot off the rush with 7:48 left in regulation.
With 3:29 left in regulation, Nashville's Sergei Kostitsyn received a major for boarding for a hit on Matt Fraser. The play punctuated yet another frustrating night for the Predators.
"Everyone's got to take care of themselves," captain Shea Weber said. "I can't go around babysitting the other guys. It's a personal thing. At the end of the day you have to look at yourself in the mirror and say you are playing your hardest and you are doing everything you can to help the team win."
In contrast to Nashville, Dallas is riding a completely different wave. In what could shape up as a huge game, the Stars will host Detroit in the regular-season finale for both teams on April 27.
"The last couple of weeks, the guys have felt that people have written them off," Gulutzan said, "and we haven't liked that very much and we keep playing for each other in that locker room."
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