It just doesn't matter who the surging Dallas Stars are playing nowadays, because the results have become resoundingly the same.
Mike Ribeiro had two goals and two assists, Brenden Morrow added a goal and three assists, Loui Eriksson scored twice, and Antti Miettinen added another goal to help give the red-hot Stars an impressive 6-3 win over the just as scorching Nashville Predators on Saturday night at the Sommet Center.
The win -- Dallas' second straight and 11th in the past 13 -- boosted its Pacific Division lead over idle Anaheim to six points. Anaheim hosts Chicago Sunday.
"We are not staying back right now," Morrow said. "We are playing aggressively and dictating play, which are positive signs for this hockey club."
That they are. Since dropping a 2-1 decision to the Buffalo Sabres on Jan. 24, there's been no stopping the Stars juggernaut. During their current lucky-13 stretch, they've strung together a couple of two-game winning streaks to go along with their franchise-tying seven-game spurt. These streaks have suddenly lifted them to within six points of the top spot in the Western Conference, pending Detroit's late game in Vancouver on Saturday.
"We have played pretty consistently, and we know that if we play that consistent style, we'll succeed," coach Dave Tippett said.
A day after beating floundering Edmonton, the Stars figured to have their hands full against a Predators team that had accumulated the most points in the league (34) since Jan. 1. But after persevering through an intense first period in which Nashville attempted to run them out of the building, the Stars eventually began to take control, and broke the game open in a three-goal second period blitz that gave them a commanding 4-1 advantage.
"I haven't been playing as well as I would have liked, so it was important for me to have a good game tonight," Ribeiro said. "As the year goes, games will be tighter and it's important to stay focused for a full game, not getting frustrated after just one period. Overall, I think the team played well and it was good to get these four points over the past two nights."
With the score tied at 1, Ribeiro's pair of goals sandwiched Eriksson's tally to douse the Predators fire they brought into the heated contest. Add in the stellar goaltending of Mike Smith, who was making his first appearance in seven games, and the Stars were able to win for the seventh time in their last eight affairs on the road.
Smith was in the nets for the first time since starting consecutive games in early February when Marty Turco was being bothered by a sore neck. He finished with 24 saves in the rout.
"We got settled in and played some great defensive hockey," Smith said. "We played with the puck a lot in our own end, and when we play defense like that we're going to succeed. The group in here right now is getting it done, and I think everybody is very happy about how the team is playing."
Ribeiro started the second-period onslaught with a goal just under six minutes in, shoveling the puck into a gaping net after Nashville goalie Dan Ellis kicked out Morrow's deflection of Matt Niskanen's shot from the right point.
Eriksson made it 3-1 with just under three minutes to go when he deftly deflected Mattias Norstrom's snap shot from the top of the left circle. Ribeiro then struck again with just 3.9 seconds left in the middle frame, as he was the beneficiary of his pass from the side of the net going off Predators defenseman Ville Koistinen and past a scrambling Ellis.
"Ribeiro has patience and has poise to let guys get open," Morrow said. "His goal gave us a 4-1 lead at the end of the second and really gave us a big boost."
Koistinen, J.P. Dumont and Ryan Suter scored for the Predators, who came in having picked up points in four straight thanks to third-period comebacks. Nashville was a bit short-handed as well, with its top goal scorer, Alexander Radulov, missing the game because of the flu.
Ellis finished with 14 saves before being lifted after 40 minutes. Chris Mason allowed two goals on 11 shots in relief.
Dumont cut the lead to 4-2 with a goal just 1:47 into the third, wristing a shot past Smith from the faceoff dot in the right circle. But Morrow and Eriksson iced the game midway through the period with goals 29 seconds apart to give Dallas a commanding 6-2 edge.
Morrow's goal came after Ribeiro threw the puck in front of the net where Morrow was standing right off the draw to the left of Mason.
"I would have been mad if I didn't score on that one goal because Ribs set that whole thing up and made a great play," Morrow said.
Suter capped the scoring with a meaningless power-play goal that went past Smith with just .1 second left on the clock.
"Smitty's puck handing was very solid tonight," Tippett said. "He moved it up the middle when he had time and had an overall good game tonight."
Dallas took a 1-0 lead 11:29 into the game when Miettinen converted a pretty tic-tac-toe passing play for his 13th goal of the season. Defenseman Trevor Daley carried the puck into the Nashville zone with a head of steam, and dropped it back to Jussi Jokinen in the right circle. Jokinen immediately fed Miettinen with a cross-ice pass, and Miettinen didn't miss with a wicked one-timer.
The lead, though, was short-lived as Koistinen scored on the power play 1:41 later. His slap shot from the right point eluded Smith with the help of Nashville forward Radek Bonk, who set a perfect screen in front of the big netminder.
Dallas kept the game tied late in the period after killing off a 1:44 two-man advantage. With Mark Fistric already in the penalty box, Stephane Robidas lifted the puck out of play in his own zone and was whistled for a delay of game penalty.
Dallas will continue its short two-game road trip when it visits the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday night (7:30, FSN). The game takes place just hours after the NHL trade deadline.
The Stars have defeated the Blues in two of the three meetings thus far this season, but lost in the only game played in St. Louis. The Blues are battling for their playoff lives, and have lost two straight, including Friday's 2-1 overtime loss at Anaheim. They are scheduled to play at Phoenix on Sunday.
--Jeff Halpern was held out of his second straight game because of a groin injury.
--Jokinen has three points in his last two games.
--Eriksson picked up his first two-goal game of his career, and has scored in consecutive games to give him nine tallies on the season.
--Ribeiro matched his season-high, and career-high, of four points, and now has 26 goals on the season.
--Morrow, meanwhile, matched a career-high with his season-high four point night, and also has 26 goals.
--Smith has won three straight to boost his record to 12-9.
--Norstrom has points in three consecutive games.
--Dallas is now 8-9-1 all-time in Nashville, and 1-2 this year overall against the Predators.
1 - 0 DAL
1 - 1 Tie
Wrist shot -