RALEIGH - The Stars have left their road woes in the rear-view mirror.
James Neal scored twice, Jamie Benn had a goal and assist, and Kari Lehtonen continued his masterful play by making 27 saves to help lift Dallas to its fourth straight win, 4-1, over the Eastern Conference Carolina Hurricanes before a national cable audience on Monday night at RBC Center.
The win was also the Stars' third straight on the road following a disastrous four-game road losing streak that was capped a week ago in a forgetful performance in Toronto.
With the victory, Dallas (14-8-1) moved into sole possession of first place in the pacific Division with 29 points, and matched a four-game winning streak they earned with four consecutive victories to start the season.
It's quite a revival for a Stars team that was lingering in last place in the division and the lower-tier of the Western Conference following a 4-1 loss to the Maple Leafs seven days ago
The difference in the last two Monday showings has been easy to see. Against Toronto, the Stars were slow on the forecheck, lost individual puck battles, and seemed indifferent to a Leafs team that came in as one of the worst in the league.
Fast forward to Monday in Carolina, and the Stars looked inspired both offensively and defensively. They capitalized on scoring chances and opportunities that helped stake them to a 3-0 lead after the first 24 minutes of the game, and put the clamps on any comeback bid by the Hurricanes.
Dallas took 10 shots in the final frame, while Carolina had 11, with most coming from the perimeter.
Steve Ott also scored for Dallas, and Lehtonen won for the 12th time in his 20th start of the season. The Finnish netminder's win total is tied for the third-most in the league, and two behind leader Carey Price of Montreal.
Eric Staal scored, and Cam Ward made 29 saves for the Hurricanes (10-11-3), who entered in ninth place in the East with 23 points.
With a two-goal lead after the second period, the Stars took a 4-1 advantage just 3:21 into the third when Benn shoveled home his sixth of the season. After Ward stopped Brenden Morrow's shot from the right circle, Benn deposited the rebound into an empty net while in tight.
Up 1-0 after the first 20 minutes, the Stars increased their edge on Ott's fifth of the year just 2:46 into the second period. After Dallas killed off Jeff Woywitka's high sticking penalty, Benn raced up the left wing on a 3-on-2 rush. He slid the puck to Trevor Daley in the high slot, but Daley slightly fanned on the shot, and the puck scooted behind the goal line.
Benn retrieved it and fed Ott in the low slot, and the feisty winger slammed it home.
Neal then scored his second of the game, and 10th of the season, just 93 seconds later to make it 3-0. After skating across the blue line, Neal let a wrist shot go that went well wide, but the rebound bounced out quickly off the end boards. Neal pounced on the puck in the left circle and swatted it past Ward.
Staal got the Hurricanes on the board with his 12th of the year at 7:57 of the second to cut the deficit to 3-1 while the teams were at four skaters aside. After corralling a turnover at the Carolina blue line, Staal skated down the left wing on a partial breakaway before snapping a shot from the left circle into the top-left corner.
Dallas opened the scoring when Neal popped in his ninth of the season with 9:10 remaining in the first period. After receiving a pass from Loui Eriksson from behind the goal line, Neal wristed a shot from the right circle over the glove of Ward.
"I got a quick pass from Loui, so I was just trying to get it on net fast as I can," Neal said. "You work on shots like that in practice. Cam Ward's a great goalie, so anytime you can beat him it's good."
The Stars return to Dallas for a two-game homestand that starts Thursday night when Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals invade American Airlines Center (7:30 FS-SW). The Stars will also host the Minnesota Wild on Saturday before embarking a short-two game road trip that will have them traveling to Columbus and Chicago.