Dallas Stars Get Big Game from Valeri Nichushkin, Sweep Vancouver Canucks with 4-2 Win

Valeri Nichushkin has a dominant night back on the top line with Benn and Seguin as the Stars beat the Canucks 4-2.

[Ed note: We'd like to welcome guest recapper Merrin of Two Bearded Ladies to the site. If you want to know why, as always, blame Twitter and voodoo curses.]

In lieu of your regularly scheduled recapper, you’re gonna get me instead. I’m known around twitter parts as Merrin, the "not the stats one" of Two Bearded Ladies. Your regularly scheduled recapper, Erin, graciously stepped aside tonight when she (quite rightfully) pointed out that the Dallas Stars tend to lose when she recaps.

You’re welcome.

Kari Lehtonen returned to the net after missing seven days and three games to concussion protocols, following the shelling by Ottawa’s offense in a 7-4 loss and an unfortunate collision with John Klingberg. Jason Demers (injury) and Jyrki Jokipakka were both out as Jamie Oleksiak and Patrik Nemeth drew in as the third defensive pairing for tonight’s game against the Vancouver Canucks.

Even last season, when his numbers weren’t good enough to get the Stars into the postseason, Lehtonen maintained a stellar record against the Canucks, coming into tonight with a 7 game winning streak against the franchise. Well, friends. No spoilers, but you can make that an 8 game winning streak for Lehtonen, and a 10 game winning streak for the Stars franchise.

Lindy Ruff also ran the lines through his blender. Patrick Sharp started on the third line while Valeri Nichushkin joined Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin on the top line.

The Stars fought the puck a bit in the early going. Alex Edler scored 56 seconds into the game while Lehtonen was screened by Jannik Hansen.

The Stars failed to capitalize on two early power plays. The first was a tripping call on Daniel Sedin and the second had Ronalds Kenins in the box for boarding against Colton Sceviour. But why score with a man advantage when you can just score 5v5 instead? After a puck battle down in the Stars end, Nichushkin picked the puck up center ice and carried it all the way in for a goal, barreling through Dan Hamhuis like he was a cardboard cutout of a hockey player. The primary assist went to Patrik Nemeth for his first point of the season.

Nichushkin then made a strong case for his return to the top line by setting Seguin up for a goal 33 seconds into the second period with a nifty backwards pass through his legs.

It’s ok. Pause here to watch this a few more times. It’s a good pass.

After that first goal 33 seconds into the period, the middle frame was a classic goaltending battle between Ryan Miller and Lehtonen, though the Stars did their best to test Miller. They dominated possession and shots on goal in the middle frame, finishing the period with 12 scoring chances and 18 shots to the Canucks' 5 scoring chances and 6 shots.

Despite continuing quality chances for the Stars, Alex Goligoski attempted a terrible pass eight minutes into the third that ended up right on Henrik Sedin’s stick. He sets up Jannik Hansen for the game tying goal.

That turnover swung some of the momentum back towards the Canucks, but not enough. Patrick Sharp scored off the rush. The Canucks challenged for offsides.

A big power play to the Stars with five minutes left when Edler goes off for slashing, but the Canucks penalty kill (much maligned before this game) proved solid. Jason Spezza scores the Stars’ 10th empty net goal of the season from ¾ of the way down the ice.

The Stars are the highest scoring team in the league, the first team to make it to 20 wins, and #1 in the league for the second time this season. They still haven't lost back-to-back games, and they're 5-0 after dinners at Tom Gaglardi's home in Vancouver.

20-5-1, Stars fans. I love this season!