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Stargazing: James Neal Scores Two as Dallas Beats Columbus 3-1

Stargazing is a daily assortment of Dallas Stars  and Texas Stars news, and whatever other random ramblings are bouncing around inside our heads.

I'm going to make this kind of brief today. The Dallas Stars had 33 points last year at Christmas time. This year they have 43. I'll take it.

The Stars defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets last night, in regulation, no less, 3-1. It was their second regulation win in three games, which is somewhat of a rarity for this team. All of the extracurriculars we thought might play a big part in this one after all of the talk about James Neal in the Blue Jacket locker room never materialized. Columbus, now winless in their last eight games, tried to stick to hockey instead of chasing James Neal around. Maybe they wished they had now. He scored two goals.

You almost have to feel sorry for Hitch, but the West is so tight this year, it's nice to see someone who was in the mix drop back a little. The Stars meanwhile are still hanging on. They refuse to make that big push and play the stretch of good hockey we want them to, yet they're still right there: In 8th place, and only 4 or 5 points back of most teams ahead of them.

Your Christmas present, Stars fans: A nice win over Columbus thanks to a nice performance by Alex Auld, and the Red Wings, the Ducks, and the Sedin twins staring up at you in the standings. It could be a lot worse.

Follow the jump for quotes and reaction to last night's game...

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Mike Heika...

This was a bit of a tricky one, because the Stars really could have melted under the pressure of giving up the first goal, but I really liked how they stuck with it, played a simple game, and just made smart plays.

James Neal had to deal with the pressure of having a target on his back, and did so very well.

Alex Auld had some very good scoring chances again, was pulled in his last game, and also looked very calm. He had 33 saves, including some big ones late.

I thought getting the first goal was just the shot in the arm Columbus needed. Good thing Alex Auld decided to shut the door.

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Matt Niskanen took off the dunce cap and returned from the corner after Vishnevskiy was sent back down. Rich Durrett explains:

Matt Niskanen. He returned, played more than 21 minutes, and didn't have any glaring mistakes. It's a start. I still think sitting him the other night against San Jose was a smart move and one that could pay dividends. He's a young guy who is trying to find some confidence. Crawford sent a clear message that he wanted Niskanen competing at a higher level. It needs to happen on more than just one night here and there. So we'll see. Wednesday was a good start, though.

He's right. It needs to happen more than occasionally.

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The Columbus Dispatch brings you warm holiday feelings from the Jacket locker room:

The ugly numbers -- 10 straight road losses and 16 losses in their past 18 games -- sound like figures from the Blue Jackets' first few seasons, but they belong to a club many expected to make a repeat trip to the Stanley Cup playoffs.

"It's a loss," Jackets winger Jason Chimera said. "We played with our minds cleared, we did a lot of good things but it's still not good enough. It's still not a win."

Captain Rick Nash had the Blue Jackets' only goal, and goaltender Steve Mason finished with 25 saves.

"We don't have enough guys engaged right now," Blue Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We don't have enough guys going to the net, paying the price to score goals.

"Until we get everybody bought in, we're going to struggle."

By the way, that Rick Nash...I love his game. Love it.

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Mike Heika says the Stars are playing it "cool and smart"...

Patience and simplicity have been key words for the Stars during the past few weeks, and Wednesday showed they should be key words going forward.

In a game in which there was supposed to be vitriol and desperation, the Stars played cool and smart. Rookie Jamie Benn looked like a seasoned veteran when he did a little manipulation of the puck in the first period, letting a defender fly by before flipping a shot into the net.

Brad Richards looked like the veteran he is when he hesitated at putting a shot on goal in the third period so his wingers could get in position for a rebound. James Neal finished off that play with his second goal of the game.

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Quotes:

Robidas:

"He's a good player, and that's what he does," defenseman Stephane Robidas said about the Stars leading goal scorer Neal. "He shoots the puck and plays hard, and that's exactly what he did tonight. That's what we need. That's what makes us successful, when guys score goals and other guys contribute defensively and do their job. That's how we have success as a team."

"I thought it was more like a 3-on-3 and I went into the wall," Robidas said about the play. "I opened up the middle and I was out of position. It was my fault. You can't give a guy like Nash too much time like that. I think after that we played a lot stronger and stuck with the program. If you stick with the program it doesn't matter what the score is. You have to stay focused, and that's what happened tonight."

Neal:

"If it happens, it happens, but I wasn't looking for it or anything like that," Neal said (of the retribution).

"It was a tough situation there," Neal said. "You never want that to happen. But you don't think about it. You just go out and play and that's what I did tonight."

Alex Auld:

"You obviously want to build on (these games) and have more of them than the bad ones," he said. "I thought the guys limited their chances, even though they had a few more shots than we did. I thought we did a good job keeping most of the stuff from the outside. There weren't too many times I was scrambling, not knowing where the puck was. That was a good sign."

Marc Crawford:

"We had 60 minutes of effort, and Alex Auld made the saves when we needed him to make them," Dallas coach Marc Crawford said. "It wasn't a masterpiece, it wasn't perfect, but I thought we worked hard in a lot of areas. Our defense did a terrific job and kept them to the outside for the most part. I was really pleased with our coverage down low, the help we were getting from the forwards, the determination of blocked shots and the willingness to compete. We said that's what we needed going into the game, and I'm happy to say we got it."

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That's it folks. I've got cooking to do. If I don't talk to you, have a nice holiday or non denominational day off of work...whatever. See you Saturday for the Avs.