Stars use big third period to blow by Canucks, move closer to playoff spot

The Dallas Stars continue to push hard in the Western Conference playoff race. The Stars used a big third period to blow by the Vancouver Canucks, 5-1, Thursday night at American Airlines Center and move to within two points of eighth place in the Western Conference.

”We obviously know how tight the standings are,” said Stars center Jamie Benn, who had a goal and an assist in the game. ”We had our game in hand tonight and we got the two huge points that we needed.”

Thursday’s win pushed the Stars, who have five games remaining, into ninth place and a win Friday night in St. Louis would move them into the eighth spot.

“We kind of control our own destiny and every game is big for us,” said Stars center Cody Eakin, who had a goal and an assist in the game. “We’re going to give it our all and scratch and claw every chance we get and play our game from here on in.”

The Stars, who had a five-game winning streak snapped with a 5-2 loss in Chicago Monday night, bounced back with a solid effort Thursday night against Canucks.

“We were on a good roll there and then we didn’t play too well in Chicago,” said Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen. “It was nice to get a couple days for everybody to rest. We came in and played very well against a very good team. It was nice, nice with that third period”

The Stars got a big performance from Lehtonen, who was back in net after missing the last three games with a groin injury. Lehtonen had 37 saves, including over the first two periods when the game was still up for grabs.

“Real solid. Real clean and solid,” Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said of Lehtonen’s play. “I thought we did a good job in front of him, too.”

“It was good,” said Lehtonen. “It took me a little bit to kind of get comfortable, but I had lots of energy and I was trying to contain that and not be too excited. It was fun to play. Things went well, I got some good bounces and it was nice to get all those goals in the third too.”

The Stars took control of Thursday’s game early in the third period, rattling off three goals in a 5:27 span to turn a 1-1 tie into a 4-1 lead. Eakin’s goal 1:24 into the third snapped a 1-1 tie and held up as the game-winner.

“I thought we played well throughout the whole game, I don’t think it was just the third period,” said Eakin. “In the third we were able to capitalize on our chances. If you put enough pucks there that is going to happen most nights.”

The Canucks struck first in the game, scoring 6:38 into the second period when Derek Roy chipped a puck past Alex Goligoski and beat Lehtonen with a backhand shot.

The Stars answered at the 12:09 mark, just six seconds after their second power play of the game had expired. Eric Nystrom set up Vernon Fiddler, who put the puck into the open side of the net from close range.

“If we come off that power play and we don’t score, it’s a couple that we’ve wasted away,” said Gulutzan. “But we got the one at the end of that power play, and that gave our bench life.”

The Stars got more life early in the third. Aaron Rome broke up a two-on-one Canucks rush in front of the Dallas net and seconds later Reilly Smith set up Eakin on a two-on-one and Eakin beat Canucks goaltender Cory Schneider with a shot from the slot to give the Stars a 2-1 lead 1:24 into the third.

Jamie Benn scored 2:33 later, taking advantage of a Canucks turnover in their own end and roofing a shot over Schneider.

Ray Whitney banged home the rebound of a Brenden Dillon shot 2:54 later and the Stars had a 4-1 lead and control of the game by the 7:03 mark of the third.

Erik Cole added a power play goal with 1:42 remaining to round out the scoring for the Stars, who won for the sixth time in the last seven games (6-1-0) and now hit the road for games at St. Louis, Los Angeles and San Jose.

“The bounce back from Chicago was important. We got a good one here tonight,” said Gulutzan. “Now we go out on the road and we have to do our thing. We have to continue to play the same way. We have to play a north-south game, limit our turnovers, limit the time in our zone and get pucks to the net. We did a good job of that and it’s important that we continue.”

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