DALLAS - The Stars are the best team in the NHL when scoring first. They're not too bad when they fall behind, either.
Kari Lehtonen finished with 23 saves, and Jamie Langenbrunner, playing in his 1,000th career NHL game, scored the winner on the power play as the Stars erased a one-goal deficit to claim a 2-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings on Monday night at American Airlines Center.
Loui Eriksson also scored, and Brad Richards assisted on both goals for the surging Stars, who improved to 6-0-1 in their last seven to increase their Pacific Division-lead to six points over the Phoenix Coyotes, who earlier in the day lost to San Jose in a Martin Luther King Day matinee.
"We're not going to pat ourselves on the back yet…we're going to keep moving forward," Richards said. "We were confident going into the game. It's funny because sometimes the more you win the more you have to put the pedal to the metal and take care of details. We can be better. These points are huge, and we want to keep putting ourselves in a good position as we go.""
In front of a national cable TV audience, the Stars showed the country why they'll be a serious contender for the ultimate prize when the postseason begins in April. Already possessing a 21-2-1 mark when registering the first goal of the game, Dallas didn't fret when it failed to capitalize on three first period power plays en route to a 1-0 deficit after the first 20 minutes.
Instead, the Stars simply outskated and outworked the Kings, who came in having won five straight in Dallas. In the pivotal second period the Stars scored twice with the man advantage while outshooting the beleaguered Kings by a 13-8 margin.
Lehtonen then finished Los Angeles off in the third, thanks in large part to a scintillating save on a penalty shot attempt by Kings defenseman Jack Johnson with 53 seconds left in regulation. Johnson tried to deke Lehtonen, but the Finnish netminder stretched his right leg out to deny the opportunity.
"That's the game," Richards said. "He (Lehtonen) stood tall, and we got it done at the end."
The Kings were awarded the penalty shot when it was ruled that Dallas defenseman Jeff Woywitka closed his hand on the puck in the crease when he swatted it away. He actually saved a goal on the play, as the puck was lying on the goal line during the mad scramble in front.
"That was a tough call for the ref to make," captain Brenden Morrow said. "We're battling, scrappin' and clawin'. I guess they see it differently, but Kari came up with the big save for us."
"The puck's laying there, so it was just one of those plays where you're just reacting," Woywitka said. "A lot of stuff can happen, it's heat of the moment. I kind of just swooped it out and didn't really cover it. It was a big save and we got the two points."
The Stars then preserved the win by blocking three Los Angles shots in the final 10 seconds.
"We feel we're an explosive team and can capitalize when we get our chances," Morrow said. "We get outshot a lot of nights but (Lehtonen and backup Andrew Raycroft) give us a chance to stay in the game. We're not the best starting team. We seem to get rolling as the game goes on, and our goalies have been able to shut the door until we get moving."
The game actually wasn't nearly as close as the score indicated. After the Kings had a couple of glorious scoring chances in the first period -- including a prime opportunity by Jarret Stoll on a partial shorthanded breakaway six minutes into the game that Lehtonen spit out with his left pad -- the Stars put the clamps on Los Angeles defensively while generating more offense with a strong forecheck.
"It's a huge win for us," coach Marc Crawford said. "There were a lot of great individual reasons why we won the game tonight. We had lots of motivation, and I really like the way we played. We got behind early, but we stayed hard at it all night."
Justin Williams scored, and Jonathan Bernier made 25 saves for the Kings, who've lost eight of their last 10.
Down by a goal after 20 minutes, the Stars got the equalizer when Eriksson potted his 17th of the year while Dallas was on the power play. From the high slot, Eriksson neatly re-directed Richards' pass from the right point to tie the game at 1-1 with 8:22 left in the second period.
The Swede extended his career-long points streak to 10 games with the tally.
Langenbrunner then pushed the Stars' lead to 2-1 with 3:01 remaining in the second period with his fifth of the season. With just one second left on Los Angeles center Brad Richardson's penalty, Langenbrunner, standing to the left of Bernier, easily tapped-in Richards' slick pass from the right circle.
"Rich just laid it there on my stick. It was a great pass by him," Langenbrunner said. "Feels good to contribute on the scoreboard, especially in a win."
The Kings struck first when Williams scored his 17th of the season 7:30 into the game to take a 1-0 lead. Off a faceoff from the left circle, he sent a pass from the left corner that was intended for Ryan Smyth at the top of the crease, but the puck lifted up and ricocheted off Dallas defenseman Nicklas Grossman's back before going in.
"They were desperate coming in because they were in a little bit of a funk," Woywitka said. "They got the first goal but we didn't lay back. We kept going after them and going after them."
The Stars now head for a Western Canada three-game road trip. They'll face the Edmonton Oilers first on Thursday (8 p.m., FS-SW) before playing Calgary on Friday and Vancouver on Monday.
"It's a tough trip," Langenbrunner said. "We have to focus and try to get as many points as we can and keep this rolling."
-- Langenbrunner became the 260th player -- and 37th that was born in America -- to reach the milestone contest. There was a brief ceremony before the game to recognize the accomplishment. "It was very nice of the organization to do that," Langenbrunner said. "They definitely didn't have to do that."
-- Langenbrunner's last goal as a Star came against San Jose on March 3, 2002. Sixteen days later he was traded to New Jersey, along with current GM Joe Nieuwendyk. "He's a leader and a winner," Morrow said. "We were disappointed to see him go, but couldn't be more happy to have him back on our side."
-- Defenseman Karlis Skrastins played in his 800th career NHL game, the second-most by any Latvian-born player. Sandis Ozolinsh is the leader at 875.
-- Dallas' last victory over Los Angeles at home was on Dec. 13, 2007.
-- The Stars have points in seven straight games for the first time since January 2006.
-- The Stars finished 2 of 5 on the power play after going 4 of 5 in their 6-1 win over the Atlanta Thrashers on Saturday.
-- Dallas has won three straight at home after going 0-3-2 in its previous five at American Airlines Center.
-- Lehtonen has stopped both penalty shots he's faced this season, and eight of nine in his career.