DALLAS - With their playoff chips dwindling, the Dallas Stars decided it was time to go all in. The risk was handsomely rewarded.
Brenden Morrow and Mike Ribeiro scored twice and added two assists each, Brad Richards added a goal and two assists, and Kari Lehtonen had his best performance in a Dallas uniform by making 45 saves in his home starting debut in the Stars convincing 8-2 rout of the Western Conference-leading San Jose Sharks at American Airlines Center on Tuesday night.
Brandon Segal and Steve Ott added a goal and assist each, and Toby Petersen contributed a goal for the slumping Stars (30-26-13), who had entered in 12th place in the Western Conference. Dallas won for the second time in its last eight games (2-5-1), while also snapping a four-game home losing streak in a resounding way.
The eight goal output was a season-high, and kept the Stars' postseason aspirations alive for another day. Dallas is seven points behind eighth-place Detroit for the final playoff slot.
"We had some bounces go our way, and got chances early," Morrow said. "Kari gave us some confidence and made some really big saves, and we snapped the puck around pretty good. I don't know where it came from, but pretty much every scoring opportunity we were able to execute."
Up by a goal after the first 20 minutes, the Stars put away their divisional nemesis with a three-goal second period blitz while riding the save wave of Lehtonen, who turned aside all but one of San Jose's 19 shots in the second stanza.
It was undoubtedly the best that Lehtonen has looked since being acquired last month from Atlanta, and was leaps and bounds better than his first start as a Star, which ended in a 6-3 loss at Pittsburgh on March 6.
"I think the first game in Pittsburgh I was a little bit too excited, and it ended up going pretty badly," Lehtonen said. "I was able to be more calm in net, and that really works for me best. I think I gave some rebounds that I wasn't happy about, but it was great to see our guys battling for those and they didn't have a lot of second chances."
He helped preserve the win with a scintillating left toe stop on San Jose sharpshooter Dany Heatley with just under 12 minutes to go when Dallas held a 5-2 lead.
"There are so many positives for us to draw on, but it all starts an ends with the goaltender," said Marc Crawford, who won his 500th career NHL game as a coach. "When your goaltender plays good, it gives you a chance. Tonight, our goaltender played great."
Lehtonen came out of the gate strong, and his point blank stop at the doorstep on San Jose forward Torrey Mitchell before many fans had even taken their seats proved to be a glimpse of what was to come. The 26-year-old, who is regaining his strength and conditioning after missing the majority of the season because of a pair of back surgeries, confidently spit pucks out with his pads while showing plenty of calm and poise in the crease.
"You need your goaltender to make saves, and he was big for us tonight," Ribeiro said. "We managed to score when we had our chances, but I think overall we didn't give them much 5-on-5, and I think that's important, especially when you're giving up six goals a game like we have since we got back. So it was important to keep it tight, and I think we did that."
Segal, meanwhile, continued to show his hot hand, recording another two-point game for the Stars, who claimed him off waivers from the Los Angeles Kings before the Olympic break. Segal notched his second straight multi-point game, and fifth goal in seven games with the Stars.
Morrow also showed that his confidence is starting to rise again. After going 18 games without a goal, the Stars captain has now found the back of the net three times in the last three games.
This all coming against a Sharks team that had pretty much owned the Stars in Dallas. San Jose entered having won four straight and eight of nine in Texas.
San Jose starter Evgeni Nabokov allowed four goals on 17 shots before being lifted for backup Thomas Greiss in the second period after Morrow's first goal. Greiss followed by coughing up four goals on 14 shots in relief.
Dan Boyle and Devin Setoguchi scored for the Sharks, who've lost three straight.
"The scoreboard doesn't lie," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "It went from bad to worse. I can't stand here and make excuses for them. Obviously everybody watched it, saw how poorly we played. It wasn't something that we can just go pick two or three guys -- it was a full team, so it was very frustrating. Obviously we've got some things to work on."
Down 4-1 after two periods, Setoguchi cut the deficit in half 51 seconds into the third when his one-timer from the top of the right circle eluded Lehtonen's glove hand.
But any momentum San Jose mustered following the tally was short-lived, as Ribeiro restored Dallas' three-goal cushion with a tremendous effort while the Stars were shorthanded, swatting the puck in while falling down in the slot 6 minutes later.
Morrow then tapped-in Ribeiro's slick feed from the right circle for another shorthanded goal that made it 6-2 with 9:58 left in regulation before Ott and Ribeiro capped the scoring, with Ribeiro's goal coming on the power play.
Up by a goal after one period, the Stars stretched their lead to 2-0 just 2:34 into the second when Petersen scored his career-high ninth thanks to a fortunate bounce. Karlis Skrastins sent the puck the length of the ice, but after bouncing off the end boards it caromed off the Sharks net and in front. Petersen then eagerly chipped it in.
Segal made it 3-0 just under 2 minutes later, scoring his sixth goal of the season. The Los Angeles Kings castoff, standing about 10 feet away from the net, was able to deftly deflect Nicklas Grossman's wrist shot from the left point for his third goal in the last two games.
Morrow's 16th made it 4-0 at 7:46 of the second period, and chased Nabokov in the process. From the inside of the left circle, the Dallas captain snapped a shot in after receiving a smooth pass from Ribeiro.
Boyle spoiled Lehtonen's shutout bid with a power-play goal late in the second period. From the left point, the San Jose defenseman's slap shot eluded Dallas' goalie to make it 4-1 with 81 seconds left in the second.
The Stars struck first on the power play when Richards notched his 19th of the season midway through the first period for a 1-0 advantage. Standing at the top of the right circle, Richards let a wicked one-timer go off a feed from Ott, with the puck going past Nabokov after the Sharks netminder got a piece of it with his glove.
The Stars continue their six-game homestand on Thursday when they host the Philadelphia Flyers (7:30 p.m., FSSW) at American Airlines Center. It will be the first of two straight games against Eastern Conference foes, as the Stars will play the Ottawa Senators on Saturday.
-- It was the first game without veteran center Mike Modano, who had surgery for an appendectomy on Monday. Brian Sutherby replaced Modano.
-- Defenseman Stephane Robidas received a five-minute major for boarding and a game misconduct when he rammed San Jose tough guy Ryane Clowe into the boards behind the Dallas net in the second period.
-- Krystofer Barch and Clowe got into a scrap with 7:33 to go in the first period after Clowe leveled Robidas with a check in the neutral zone several strides after Robidas had gotten rid of the puck. Barch then went at it with Sharks defenseman Jay Leach early in the second period.
-- Segal has four multi-point games for Dallas.
-- Lehtonen won for the first time in three lifetime starts against the Sharks.
-- Crawford is the 15th coach in NHL history to record at least 500 victories.
-- Defenseman Trevor Daley registered a pair of assists, giving him five points in the last four games.
-- The last time the Stars had eight goals was a 10-2 thrashing of the New York Rangers in February 2009.
-- The last time the Stars scored twice while shorthanded was against Vancouver in November 2002.
-- These two teams will meet a total of three times during a 16-day stretch in March.