NASHVILLE – The Stars may have been ringing shots off the post, but they shook off the near-misses with enough direct hits to secure an impressive win on the road.
Mike Ribeiro scored twice before losing some teeth when he was hit in the face with a shot, and Jamie Benn had a goal and assist in Dallas’ 4-1 win over the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena on Thursday night.
With much of the pregame hype on Nashville’s possible retribution for a collision that knocked out their captain in the first meeting between the teams in December, it was Dallas which didn’t back down in a chippy game that featured plenty of hard hits, whacks, and hacks.
“Guys stepped up to the plate,” Benn said. “We got a full effort from every player, and got a big two points. (Ribeiro) was one of our players that stood out and got us going there with two big goals. We need that from him. He’s one of our best players and it’s good to see.”
“He’s had some real good games for us, but certainly some of that elusiveness you saw tonight was on display,” coach Glen Gulutzan said of Ribeiro. “I thought his compete level was real high, and I really liked his game. He’s just not as good looking as he was before. We’re just thankful it wasn’t a broken jaw.”
The Stars controlled the play for the most of the night, and could have won by a larger margin had it not been for five shots that squarely hit the post, including two within a matter of a minute by Steve Ott -- with one coming on a penalty shot.
“Steve Ott was just making some music out there for us,” Benn cracked. “He had three breakaways, and two rung off the post pretty big. We’re going to have to work on that with him.”
Adam Burish also scored, and Kari Lehtonen finished with 24 saves for the Stars (22-16-1), who won for the second time in three games overall and fourth time in the last five games against the Predators.
The Stars’ depleted blue line got a boost from the return of Stephane Robidas, who missed the previous six games because of a foot injury.
“It felt good to be back, and it’s a big two points,” Robidas said. “That’s a team we’re fighting against to get into the playoffs, so it was a big win.”
Ribeiro missed the first half of the third period when he left after getting hit in the mouth by a Trevor Daley blast from the point late in the second.
While in front of the Nashville net he was nailed by Daley’s laser, and appeared to have sustained a crushing blow. He slumped over and skated slowly off the ice and directly into the Stars locker room to be evaluated. But he was able to return with a full cage and after getting some stitches to play the remainder of the third.
“It was really gritty,” Robidas said of Ribeiro’s return. “He showed a lot of courage, came back and played a really good game. He’s a big piece of our team.”
Nashville’s Shea Weber made his first appearance after being injured and missing four games because of a collision with Mark Fistric last month, and it didn’t take long for the Predators to respond to Fistric’s hit, as Jordin Tootoo squared off with Fistric just 1:46 into the game.
Fistric was able to connect on a pair of rights in a fight that featured fewer than five total punches. Tootoo wound up grabbing Fistric and the two wrestled each other down the ice.
The Stars then had their own response, as they played a stingy game that helped them contain any serious offensive threat the Predators tried to generate.
Burish iced things with 7:07 left in regulation when he deftly deflected Tom Wandell’s shot from the left circle.
“That was a big fourth goal,” Gulutzan said. “It kind of took the life right out of Nashville.”
Gabriel Bourque scored, and Pekka Rinne finished with 26 saves for the Predators (21-15-4), who had their three-game winning streak snapped.
Up by a goal after the first period, the Stars pushed their lead to 3-1 on Benn’s 11th of the season 6:28 into the second period. Nashville defenseman Ryan Suter’s blind, behind-the-back bank pass off the end boards as he rounded behind the net was picked off by Benn in the lower-right circle. Benn’s quick shot went in off Rinne’s left pad as the netminder was scrambling to get back to his left.
Suter then found himself in another compromising situation when he hauled down Ott on a breakaway during a Predators power play. Ott was awarded a penalty shot at 8:31 of the second, but his shot rang off the left post just a couple of minutes after he hit the right post with a shot seconds after Benn scored.
Ott promptly took out his frustrations on his stick at the bench when he banged it repeatedly on the ground in frenzied fashion.
“Gosh, what a bad noise that is,” Ott said about hitting two straight irons. “I don’t think my stick really appreciated me. I wish I could have had those.”
Ribeiro staked the Stars to a 1-0 lead 4:18 into the first period in spectacular fashion. Off the rush on a 2-on-2 break with Loui Eriksson, Ribeiro used two slick moves to first get past Nashville defenseman Roman Josi, then put another scintillating maneuver on Kevin Klein and Rinne before slipping the puck in.
Nashville tied it at 1-1 when Bourque scored his first career NHL goal midway through the opening frame. From the low slot, he ripped home a shot off a feed from Tootoo.
Ribeiro collected his second of the game, and eighth of the season, with just 39 seconds left in the first. Rinne was able to make the save on Nicklas Grossman’s shot from the left point, but the puck trickled into the crease, and Ribeiro swept it in with one hand to give the Stars a 2-1 edge after 20 minutes.
The Stars return home for a matinee meeting on Saturday afternoon at American Airlines Center with the Edmonton Oilers (1 p.m., FS-SW). The game marks the end of the Oilers’ season-long seven-game road trip due to the World Junior Championships that took place over the holidays in both Edmonton and Calgary.