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Stars edge Coyotes, head into break feeling good

The SportsXchange

DALLAS -- The Dallas Stars wanted something to feel good about heading into the NHL's Olympic break. And with a 2-1 win against the Phoenix Coyotes on Saturday at American Airlines Center, a victory which tied Dallas with their former Pacific Division rivals for the final Western Conference wild card spot, the Stars accomplished their goal.

Dallas (27-21-10, 64 points) beat Phoenix (28-20-10, 64 points) for the second time in four days after beating them 3-1 in Glendale, Arizona, on Tuesday.

"That was real important," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. "To get the team you've got to beat is an important step for us to move up in the standings."

The Stars received goals from left winger Ray Whitney in the first period and rookie right winger Valeri Nichushkin in the second. Goaltender Kari Lehtonen stopped 26 shots.

Phoenix broke the shutout with 16 seconds remaining in regulation when right winger Radim Vrbata beat Lehtonen with a wrister for a power-play goal.

"Again he was rock solid," Ruff said of Lehtonen. "He came up with some big saves. The only thing I would like to have seen was for him to get the shutout."

The Stars took an early lead when Whitney scored his seventh of the season 2:10 into the game. Dallas defenseman Jordie Benn fed Whitney the puck by sending it around the boards behind the Stars net before he was sent hard into the boards by Phoenix center Rob Klinkhammer.

Whitney skated up the left side of the ice, cutting to the middle inside the Coyotes zone before beating Phoenix goaltender Mike Smith with a wrister over his glove from the right circle to make it 1-0. It was Whitney's first goal in seven games and it came on the first shot on goal for either team in the game.

"We knew they were going to push hard but we wanted to make sure we came out and pushed back a little bit," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. "That was something we talked about as a group, if we get behind it's going to be much tougher on us. We missed a play to give them the first goal and it was a chase right from there."

Dallas nearly took a two-goal lead at 5:18 of the first, but a wrister from Nichushkin from the high slot found the crossbar instead of the back of the visiting net.

Smith robbed Dallas defenseman Sergei Gonchar at 7:32 of the second period by making a glove save on Gonchar's wrister from the left point. The Coyotes goalie also denied Stars left winger and captain Jamie Benn at close range at 9:30 of the second.

Dallas broke through for a second goal 34 seconds before the second intermission when Nichushkin deflected a shot by Dallas defenseman Trevor Daley in for his 13th of the season.

Nichushkin got his stick on Daley's snap from the high slot and the puck then struck Smith in the right shoulder before trickling over his shoulder and behind him before crossing the line.

After a short review, Nichushkin's goal was ruled valid since his stick was not higher than the crossbar at the time of his deflection.

Dallas had a 5-on-3 power play in the third period after Coyotes right winger and captain Shane Doan (interference) and center Mike Ribeiro (unsportsmanlike conduct) were sent to the penalty box at 9:21.

However, the Stars were unable to capitalize despite the two-man advantage.

Phoenix left winger Lauri Korpikoski had a breakaway with 1:38 remaining, but was slashed by Gonchar, forcing him to knock the puck wide.

Tippett was at a loss as to why Korpikoski was not awarded a penalty shot.

"The referee makes the right call and gives us the penalty shot the way it should have with 1:38 left, we still have a chance," Tippett said.

Smith, who stopped 31 shots, left the ice with 1:38 remaining as the game was 4-on-4, and the Coyotes cut the Dallas lead in half late in regulation but were unable to find the equalizer.

NOTES: Coyotes LW Paul Bissonnette and D David Rundblad were healthy scratches. Phoenix D Derek Morris (upper body) traveled to Dallas after being injured in the first period of Friday's 2-0 win over Chicago. ... Stars D Aaron Rome was Dallas' lone scratch. ... Three Coyotes: C Jeff Halpern, C Mike Ribeiro and G Mike Smith are former Stars. ... Stars LW Vernon Fiddler and LW Ray Whitney once played in Phoenix. ... Five Coyotes will play in the 2014 Winter Olympics: C Martin Hanzal (Czech Republic), LW Lauri Korpikoski (Finland), D Oliver Ekman-Larsson (Sweden), D Zbynek Michalek (Czech Republic) and G Mike Smith (Canada). ... Three Stars will also play in the Sochi Games: LW Jamie Benn (Canada), G Kari Lehtonen (Finland) and RW Valeri Nichushkin (Russia). ... Phoenix returns to the ice Feb. 27 at Winnipeg while Dallas returns the same night against Carolina. ... Attendance was 18,532.
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