After a tough stretch in which they've had to sweat out some wins, the Stars had no such perspiration problems on Saturday night.
Mike Ribeiro had one of three Dallas power-play goals to go with his two assists, Antti Miettinen had a pair of goals, and Mike Smith made 27 saves to give the Stars a 6-2 win over the St. Louis Blues at American Airlines Center. The victory was the Stars sixth in a row, matching a season-long stretch, and put them within one of tying a franchise-high for consecutive wins.
Brenden Morrow, Jussi Jokinen and Jere Lehtinen also scored for the Stars, who increased their lead to six points over second-place San Jose in the Pacific Division, pending the outcome of the Sharks late-game Saturday against Nashville. The Sharks have four games in hand over the Stars.
"It was nice to see 6 go on the board, so hats off to the boys," Smith said. "Tonight, we had a good third and kept fighting. They are a skilled team that is always dangerous, so it was nice to put them away."
Four of Dallas' five previous wins were decided by just one goal, but there were no such dramatics against a lethargic Blues team, which came in as the second-lowest scoring club in the league. The Stars scored three times in the second period en route to securing their ninth win in the last 11 games, and forced St. Louis coach Andy Murray to yank his starting goaltender, Hannu Toivonen halfway through the contest.
Toivonen, making his first start since Jan. 11, allowed four goals on 15 shots before being relieved by regular starter many Legace in the second period. Legace subsequently let in two more goals, as Dallas finished with their highest scoring output since an 8-3 win over Minnesota the day after Christmas.
"Scoring by committee is how we play, and it makes us a hard team to play against," coach Dave Tippett said. "We are getting contributions from a lot of people, not just our power play guys, which is good to see. That's who we are and who we've been."
The Stars set the tempo early with a tenacious forecheck, led by center Mike Modano. Modano came out flying, and zipped along the ice like he was 27 rather than 37. He finished with two assists, and along with linemates Lehtinen and Steve Ott, frustrated the Blues continuously in their own zone.
Smith, coming off a 1-0 blanking of Minnesota on Thursday, was sharp once again in his second straight start in place of Marty Turco, who's nursing a sore neck. Smith, though, spread the accolades among his six-man defensive unit, including rookies Matt Niskanen and Mark Fistric, and second-year player Nicklas Grossman.
"You have to give a lot of credit to our young guys on D," Smith said. "They are good players and are really showing they can play in this league."
Jamal Mayers led the Blues popgun attack with a goal and assist, and Jay McClement also scored for St. Louis, which lost its third straight.
Ahead by a pair of goals after two periods, Lehtinen gave Dallas a commanding 5-2 lead three minutes into the third period with the Stars' third power-play goal of the night. Standing in the slot, Lehtinen deftly deflected Trevor Daley's shot from the left point over Legace's left shoulder for his eighth of the season, and second in the past three games.
Miettinen capped the scoring with his 12th, sending a wrist shot from the slot past Legace at 8:42 of the third. The marker gave Miettinen a new career-high, eclipsing the 11 times he scored in each of the past two seasons.
"It's nice to score goals, and I try to score as many as I can, but getting past 11 is nice because I had been stuck on there the past few seasons," he said. "The best thing is getting the win and keeping this run going."
"Antti is pushing forward, and he's found some confidence playing on that line (with Ribeiro and Morrow)," Tippett said. "He wants to push further, and we all need to raise our level down the stretch run. It is what you do with your opportunities."
Up 1-0 after the first period, Dallas added to its lead when Jokinen scored his 13th of the year just 2:11 into the middle frame. Niklas Hagman began the play in the left circle, as he sent a backhand pass to Jokinen in the high slot. Jokinen let a quick wrist shot go that went off Toivonen's stick and into the net.
Ribeiro made it 3-0 with a power-play goal three minutes later, his 23rd of the season overall. Parked at a sharp angle toward the outer edge of the right circle, Ribeiro ripped a one-timer off a pass from defenseman Stephane Robidas past a beleaguered Toivonen.
The goal snapped Ribeiro's 12-game goal-less stretch.
"We are trying to get lots of pucks to the net, and tonight they were going in," he said. "You don't want to let teams have hope when you get up 3-0. You want to finish them off, and we did that."
The Blues cut the deficit when McClement scored his sixth of the year at 9:45. Mayers had the puck behind the Dallas net, and slipped a short pass to McClement, who was skating from behind the goal line to the front of the net. McClement quickly shoveled the puck along the ice and past Smith, snapping the big netminder's shutout sequence at exactly 96 minutes.
Miettinen restored Dallas' advantage to three 2:21 later, a goal that chased Toivonen. Miettinen picked up the puck in the middle of the ice at the St. Louis blueline, put a couple of moves on defenseman Eric Brewer, then snapped a shot off from the slot that beat the embattled Finnish netminder between the legs.
Mayers made it 4-2 with just under two minutes left in the second, scoring his ninth of the season with a strong individual effort. Ribeiro lost control of the puck in the Blues zone near the blueline, and then lost a footrace with Mayers for the loose puck in the neutral zone. Mayers fought off Ribeiro before lifting a backhander from the slot past Smith.
Dallas jumped on St. Louis quickly, with Morrow notching his team-leading 24th goal of the year while on the power play just five minutes into the affair. Morrow accepted Ribeiro's feed from the left point near the outer edge of the right circle, and from nearly the same spot that Ribeiro scored from in the second period, the captain led go a wrist shot that handcuffed Toivonen on the way into the short side of the net.
"It's important to keep gathering points," Ribeiro said. "Our goaltending has been great, so it was a good win for us."
The Stars will host Phoenix on Monday night in a nationally televised game (6 p.m., VERSUS) at American Airlines Center in the first game of a home-and-home series against the Coyotes. The two teems will meet in Phoenix on Thursday.
Monday's encounter will be the first meeting between the two teams since Dallas dropped a 5-2 decision at Phoenix on Nov. 8. The Coyotes had dropped two straight heading into their game on Sunday against Nashville.
--Morrow has eight goals in the past 10 games.
--Ribeiro's last goal was in Dallas' 4-2 loss at St. Louis on Jan. 10.
--The Stars improved to 8-1 in their past nine home games against the Blues, but are 2-4 in their last six overall against St. Louis.
--Turco was healthy enough to be Smith's back-up.
--Modano snapped a three-game pointless streak.
-- Niskanen collected two assists to help him surpass the 20-point mark, while Grossman picked up an assist on Miettinen's second goal.
--It was the first time in a game this season that Dallas has registered three goals with the man advantage.
--The Stars killed off all three St. Louis power-play attempts, and have killed 27 of the past 28 opponent man advantage opportunities. "It's nice to see the power play and penalty kill play so well," Tippett said. "We had some good work on our special teams."
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