DALLAS – A three-goal first period followed by some timely counter-punches helped catapult the Stars into the Christmas break on a positive note.
Vernon Fiddler, Loui Eriksson, and Steve Ott all scored in the opening stanza to stake the Stars to an early lead in their 6-3 victory over the Nashville Predators on Friday night at American Airlines Center in the final game before the league-mandated two-day layoff.
Michael Ryder had a goal and two assists, Mike Ribeiro had a goal and assist, Jamie Benn also scored, and Eriksson and Ott added an assist each for Dallas (20-13-1), which rebounded nicely from a 4-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday. The Stars also became the first team in the Pacific Division to collect 20 wins primarily by bending but not breaking.
After the first-period blitz gave the Stars a 3-0 lead, the Predators scored twice in the middle frame to close the gap, but Ribeiro helped restore some order when he scored with just under 6 minutes left in the second.
The Predators closed the gap to 4-3 with their second power-play goal of the game early in the third, but Benn promptly answered less than a minute later to get back the Stars’ two-goal bulge. Ryder capped the scoring with an empty-net goal with 2:07 left in regulation, his team-leading 13th goal of the season.
“It was important for us to have a good start, and I think every line did that,” Ribeiro said. “A lot of times 3-0 is a hard lead, but we were able to get a big goal at the end of the second, and the third period we were just rolling. We came back with big goals at the right time. We were able to stay composed and follow the game plan.”
The answer-back attack proved vital against a Nashville team that outshot the Stars by a 31-21 margin over the first 40 minutes. The Predators even held a whopping 17-8 shot advantage after the first, but found themselves down by three.
“Everyone was harping on the bench that we had to keep driving,” Fiddler said. “We had a little more energy, and when that happens you can keep going.”
Rookie Richard Bachman, making his seventh straight start, finished with 34 saves for the Stars, who’ve won five of their last seven. Bachman improved to 5-2-0 as he continues to shine for the injured Kari Lehtonen.
“He’s been playing unbelievable and has been real professional coming in,” Nicklas Grossman said. “He’s always calm back there.”
Matt Halischuk, Martin Erat, and David Legwand all scored for the Predators (18-13-4), who lost for the second time in their last three games after stringing together five consecutive wins.
Pekka Rinne allowed those three first-period goals on seven shots before being lifted for Anders Lindback. Lindback gave up a pair of goals on 21 shots.
The Predators were playing on back-to-back nights after rallying for a win over Columbus on Thursday.
“We knew they played last night, so that was one of our keys…getting on them right away,” Fiddler said. “The guys were getting the pucks in deep and we played a simple game. When we do that we’re going to be a deadly team.”
Legwand cut Dallas’ lead to 4-3 with a power-play goal at 4:38 of the third period, but Benn pushed the Stars edge to 5-3 just 30 seconds later. Eriksson began the play with a nifty backhand pass from behind the goal line to Benn in the slot, and the young sniper one-timed it in for his ninth of the year.
Down by three goals after a period, Nashville cut the deficit to 3-1 at 8:56 of the second on Halischuk’s seventh goal of the season. Blake Geoffrion’s slap shot from the right point squirted through Bachman’s pads, and Halischuk was able to sweep it in after a couple of whacks at it in the crease.
Erat then closed the gap to 3-2 with his eighth of the year with 8:15 left in the second and while the Predators enjoyed a two-man advantage. With Adam Burish and Nicklas Grossman in the penalty box, Erat whipped in a one-timer from the right circle off a feed by Ryan Suter from the left point.
But the Stars were able to stop Nashville’s momentum and restore their two-goal lead when Ribeiro notched his fifth of the season with 5:50 remaining in the middle frame to make it 4-2. From along the left boards near the blue line, Brenden Morrow sent a cross-ice pass to Ribeiro at the bottom of the right circle. Ribeiro then drifted back towards the boards a bit before lifting a shot over Lindback.
“When it’s a three-goal lead a lot of times when they score one, you have a tendency to squeeze, and they score two,” Ribeiro said. “The goal that made it 4-2 I think was big for us. It was a nice pass from Brenden, and since he’s been back (from injury) we’ve been playing better together as a line.”
Dallas struck quickly midway through the first period when they scored three times on consecutive shots.
Fiddler began the barrage 9:25 into the first period with his fourth of the year -- and first since Nov. 4. In the lower portion of the right circle, he picked up a loose puck and let a wicked wrister fly that rang the inner bar of the goal.
Eriksson made it 2-0 with his 12th of the year just 76 seconds later. Off the rush, he accepted Trevor Daley’s cross-ice pass from the right wing at the left circle before depositing a snap shot past Rinne.
Ott then chased Rinne with his sixth of the season with 7:30 to go in the opening frame. Standing in the right circle, Ott was able to deftly deflect down Daley’s wrist shot towards the net from the right point. After a brief video review, the goal stood as Ott was ruled to have hit the puck below the height of the crossbar for a 3-0 Dallas lead.
“We were talking that if we could get two points tonight it would be a nice two days we’d have for Christmas where a guy doesn’t have to search for answers,” coach Glen Gulutzan said. “Those response goals by us really hurt any team, and I think they really hurt Nashville. Those things take a lot of bite out of an attack for an opposing team.”
The Stars return from the break on Monday and will travel to St. Louis to play the Blues in a nationally televised cable game (6:30 p.m., VERSUS). Heading into Friday’s game at Phoenix, the Blues were 13-3-4 with former Stars coach Ken Hitchcock behind the bench. Hitchcock took over after the Blues fired Davis Payne in November.
“These last seven games we were 5-2, and that was a big push for us,” Gulutzan said. “We exceeded our expectations in these seven.”