Stars complete sweep of second straight road trip

Vancouver has been a rather tough place for the Dallas Stars to play in recent history, so it’s almost a shame that the Canucks are no longer in the same division as Dallas and that this week’s trek through western Canada will be the only one the Stars go on during the regular season.

However, division rival or not, the Stars earned what first-year head coach Lindy Ruff termed a “hard-fought win” on Sunday night in beating the Canucks 2-1 on their home ice to sweep their second straight three-game road trip.

“I thought we had a real good start to the game, the first 10 minutes and the first (period) was good. I thought they controlled play in the second and the penalty trouble we got in the second really created a lot of momentum and they owned that period,” Ruff said. “But I thought we played well again in the third, pretty even period. I thought it was a hard-fought game. Big 20 minutes by them and I thought Kari (Lehtonen) stood tall through that for us.”

Dallas got goals from Valeri Nichushskin in the first period, his second of the season and the eventual game-winner from Erik Cole, who netted his first since Oct. 5, early in the third.

The Stars had previously won at Edmonton, 1-0, on Wednesday and again at Calgary, 7-3, on Thursday to set up the possibility of a sweep on Sunday at Rogers Arena. Dallas now has its first six-game road winning streak since Feb. 21-March 3, 2012 in the first season under now former head coach Glen Gulutzan, who is now an assistant in Vancouver.

During Dallas’ last road trip, one where they won at Ottawa and Boston in the shootout before beating Detroit in overtime at Joe Louis Arena, the Stars won each of these three games in regulation, something which didn’t escape the man who had the game-winner over the Canucks.

“Well, yeah I think we’ve done it a couple different ways on this road trip. Kari was great for us tonight. You could tell he had great focus and he was on his game. He really helped us weather the storm in the second period,” Cole said. “He was great on the penalty kill and five-on-five. We just kind of gutted one out while they had a good push on us. Then we had a strong third period.”

Stars captain Jamie Benn, who is clearly flourishing on Dallas’ top line alongside Nichushkin and centerman Tyler Seguin, agreed that it doesn’t matter how he and his teammates end up with two points, the favorable outcome remains the bottom line.

“It’s definitely not the way we want it to go, but we’re finding ways to win on the road. Found a way to win tonight, let’s just say that,” Benn said.

No. 14 also heaped some pretty strong praise on his starting goaltender, as Kari Lehtonen turned back 42 of the 43 shots he faced in his 11th consecutive start since returning from a lower-body injury on Oct. 24 against the Flames.

“Yeah, he’s something else back there. We’ve seen it throughout the year so far,” Benn said. “Sometimes we’re not starting the way we want to start or finishing the way we want to finish, but he was there to back us up for 60 minutes tonight and thank God we had him.”

Besides raving about the continued strong play from his No. 1 netminder, Ruff also extolled his team for playing especially well in the game’s final 20 minutes. Oh and he also threw some love Cole’s way for what he sees as a recent uptick in form from the veteran who has struggled to find a place in the lineup early this season.

“I thought Erik on this road trip is really starting to play a lot better, finding a little bit of his form,” Ruff said. “And tonight, the goal was great but I thought his effort and physical play and taking pucks to the net were really good.”

Dallas will have Monday off before returning to practice on Tuesday. The Stars welcome former center Brad Richards to American Airlines Center for the first time as a member of the New York Rangers on Thursday night.