Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Curtis Sanford (30) makes a save against Dallas Stars\' Steve Ott (29) during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Feb. 9, 2012, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)
COLUMBUS, Ohio - There are no pushovers at this point in an NHL season—even with a three-goal lead on the road.
Jamie Benn scored twice and Kari Lehtonen had 26 saves to make an early lead stand up in the Dallas Stars' 4-2 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday night.
But it was a struggle for a team in the middle of the playoff race against another club headed nowhere.
"It's going to be tough. Every year is, those last 30 games of the year," said Alex Goligoski, who had a goal and an assist for the Stars. "Everybody's fighting for position. And you've got other teams fighting for other reasons, for jobs and whatnot."
Stephane Robidas also had a goal and an assist, and Mike Ribeiro added two assists for the Stars, who began the night 12th in the Western Conference but just two points behind eighth-place Minnesota.
Up 3-0 barely 21 minutes in, it was still a battle as the Blue Jackets scored two power-play goals in the second period and then threatened to score several times down the stretch.
Columbus had several chances to get the tying goal in the final period. With six minutes left, Jeff Carter, who had goals in his last two games, hit the post on a hard shot from the right hash. Fedor Tyutin was just wide with another big slap shot with just over a minute remaining and Lehtonen smothered R.J. Umberger's redirect attempt with 29 seconds left.
"I thought he was real good," Stars coach Glen Galutzan said of Lehtonen. "He cleaned a lot of our stuff up. Most of our stuff was self-inflicted."
The Stars hung on to win their fourth in the last six games. The Blue Jackets failed to win their third in a row—something they haven't accomplished all season.
Dallas wasted little time in taking control, scoring twice in the opening 4 1/2 minutes.
After a giveaway by Columbus' Samuel Pahlsson handed him the puck in the high slot, Benn wheeled and flicked a rising forehand shot into the top right corner for his 16th of the season.
Then the Blue Jackets lost a player and allowed a goal on the same play.
The Stars were swarming when Tomas Vincour's hard slap shot hit Columbus defenceman Marc Methot on the side of his face. The puck dropped almost straight down—where Goligoski was waiting to jam in the rebound.
Bleeding profusely, Methot skated away unaided, pressing a towel to his face to stem the flow. He did not return.
After the game, a team spokesman said Methot sustained a broken jaw.
The bad news didn't end there. Forward Jared Boll also broke his foot and will be sidelined for an extensive period.
"It was a great start, getting those two goals was huge," Benn said. "Getting some momentum for our team on the road is big. We definitely want that in the first period."
Still on the power play to start the second period, the Stars pushed the lead to three when Robidas' high-velocity shot from the right point got past goalie Curtis Sanford, who couldn't see the puck due to congestion in front of the net.
Vinny Prospal and Rick Nash scored, and Tyutin and Derick Brassard had two assists apiece for Columbus. The Blue Jackets, 24th in the NHL with a man advantage, scored twice in the second period—both on power plays.
"I liked the way we battled back," Blue Jackets interim coach Todd Richards said. "I liked the way we fought all the way to the end. The problem was, we weren't ready at the start. We dug ourselves a 2-0 hole and we just couldn't overcome that deficit."
Benn closed the scoring on an empty-net goal with less than a second left.
"There's going to be no easy games. We know that," Goligoski said. "I think our work ethic was a lot better tonight. That was good to see."
NOTES: NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was at the game, coming in hours after the official announcement of the 2013 Winter Classic between Detroit and Toronto at the University of Michigan's "Big House" ... Just 18 days before the trade deadline, scouts from Tampa Bay, St. Louis, Chicago, Vancouver, Montreal, New Jersey, Detroit, Ottawa, Nashville and San Jose were at the game. ... The Stars improved to 16-0-0 when leading after two periods, tied for first in the league. The last time they lost a game in regulation when leading going into the third was Oct. 31, 2009. Since then they are 57-0-5. ... Sanford finished with 31 saves.