DALLAS - The Stars haven't been gracious hosts lately at home. Evgeni Nabokov, though, wasn't very accommodating as a visitor.
Nabokov made 38 saves, and Patrick Marleau scored twice for San Jose in the Sharks' 4-2 victory over the Stars on Monday night at American Airlines Center.
The Stars, owners of a 5-0-2 mark in their last seven at home, were undone by the scintillating goaltending of Nabokov, who's been one of the hottest netminders in the NHL. The nine-year veteran came in having allowed two or fewer goals in five of his last six starts, and was the only reason why Dallas wasn't able to put San Jose away early on in this divisional matchup.
The Sharks found themselves shorthanded three times in the first 20 minutes, but Nabokov was there to erase the penalties. He followed that opening performance with a superb second 20 minutes in which he steered aside all 17 of Dallas' shots.
In all, the Stars sent 30 shots Nabokov's way in the first two periods, but had nothing to show for it against a team that came in tied for the Pacific Division-lead.
"Their goalie played really well," Dallas coach Marc Crawford said. "He carried them through two periods where we, for all intents and purposes, dominated. We stayed with it, and we talked about trying to just continue to have those 60 minutes efforts where you do more things right and you just keep piling those things on. We got a little bit of a payoff at the start of the third period. We did make a couple of mistakes out there tonight, and they were costly."
Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson scored for the Stars, who were unable to string together two consecutive wins for the first time since before Thanksgiving after beating Detroit on Saturday afternoon. Marty Turco, whose 23 career wins against San Jose are the most against any opponent, finished with 28 saves.
Joe Pavelski also scored for the Sharks, who beat the Stars in Dallas for the fourth straight time, and eighth in the last nine meetings.
Ryane Clowe had an assist and added an empty-net goal with 50 seconds left when Dallas rookie defenseman Ivan Vishnevskiy mishandled the puck at the top of the left circle and inadvertently sent it into the open goal, and Dany Heatley had a pair of assists for the Sharks, winners of two straight after a five-game losing streak.
"It's just a bad bounce," defenseman Stephane Robidas said about the unfortunate play by Vishnevskiy. "I hope he doesn't worry too much about that. It happens to everybody. It didn't cost us the game or anything like that. It's a bad bounce. The puck just bounces. It could happen to anybody. He's a good kid, a good player, he played well, and we've just got to move forward."
Benn cut the lead to 2-1 just 18 seconds into the third. After the Stars were able to chip the puck in, Brenden Morrow took a hard shot from the top of the right circle that bounced off Nabokov's pads before landing on Benn's stick. The rookie didn't waste the chance to deposit the puck in for Dallas' first goal of the game.
The Sharks, though, regained their two-goal edge when Marleau scored his second of the game, and 23rd of the year. After receiving a long pass from Heatley at the Dallas blue line on the left wing, Marleau unleashed a wicked slap shot from the top of the left circle that eluded Turco.
Eriksson brought Dallas to within one again with a power-play goal 5:37 into the third to make it 3-2. Robidas' shot from the left point went off San Jose defenseman Jamie McGinn's stick before ricocheting in off Eriksson's left skate.
The play was upheld after a short video review showed Eriksson scoring without making a distinct kicking motion.
"It's a good measuring stick when you play a top team in the league," Robidas said. "That's a team you want to compare yourself to, and that's hard to beat. Obviously, it's disappointing to get a loss like that, but we've got to build on a positive. I think we played pretty good."
After a scoreless first period, Pavelski broke the deadlock with his sixth of the year at 9:43 of the second period. Turco was able to spit back Clowe's attempt from in tight, but the Sharks forward gathered the rebound and took it behind the net before whipping a pass through the crease that Pavelski easily tapped in.
The Sharks stretched their lead to 2-0 with less than 2 minutes left in the middle frame on Marleau's first of the game. Defenseman Nicklas Grossman was able to stop a dump-in attempt just inside the Stars blue line with his body, but when the puck fell to the ice it hopped over his stick. Joe Thornton quickly swooped in to grab the loose puck, and fed Marleau on a mini 2-on-1 with Robidas back.
Marleau took the pass and wristed a shot past Turco.
The Stars had four golden chances in the second period, but Nabokov, and a little bit of luck, kept them scoreless. Nabokov first denied Steve Ott's breakaway attempt on the power play early in the frame before Ott clanked a shot off the post later in the stanza.
With 9 minutes to go in the second, Morrow found himself staring at a gaping net from the lower left circle after receiving a slick pass from center Tom Wandell, but the Stars captain shot wide.
Benn was the final Stars player to feel Nabokov's second-period wrath. With 40 seconds to go, he tried stuffing a forehand in from in tight, but Nabokov calmly slid to his right to make the save.
"I feel like at the end of the game we had some quality chances and their goalie played well," Robidas said. "We had a few meltdowns, but I think if you look at the team we were playing, it was a pretty good team. The good thing is we battled until the end, we had a chance, we pulled the goalie, and we never really gave up in that game, and that's a positive sign."
The Stars will play one more time before the Christmas break, as they host the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday night (7:30, FSN). The game marks the end of Dallas' three-game homestand.
Columbus lost its sixth straight on Saturday, falling 5-2 to Colorado. Goalie Steve Mason was pulled just 4:15 into the game after allowing three goals on only five shots.
--Defenseman Mark Fistric was place on injured reserve earlier in the day. Vishnevskiy was recalled from the Texas Stars of the AHL, and took the place of Matt Niskanen, who was a healthy scratch.
--These two teams won't meet again until March 16, and subsequently will play three times during that month.
--Left wing Fabian Brunnstrom was inserted into the lineup after being scratched in four of the last six games. He replaced Jere Lehtinen, who is nursing a groin injury.
--Center Brad Richards assisted on Eriksson's goal, and has points in each of the past two games. He's now one point away from 100 as a Dallas Star.
--Eriksson's last two goals have been very unconventional. Monday's went in off his skate, and Thursday in Atlanta he scored the goal that sent the game into overtime off his face shield.
--The Sharks didn't have a single power-play opportunity. The last time a Stars opponent didn't receive a man-advantage chance was the Los Angeles Kings on April 11, 1999. Two months later Dallas won the Stanley Cup.
--It was only Dallas' second regulation loss in December.
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