DALLAS (AP) — If the Dallas Stars are going to make the playoffs, they need their best players to produce while also receiving contributions from unexpected sources.
Check and check.
Cody Eakin, Jamie Benn and Ray Whitney scored goals early in the third period to break open a tie game and help the Dallas Stars cruise to a 5-1 victory over the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday night.
Vernon Fiddler and Erik Cole also found the back of the net and Kari Lehtonen returned from a three-game absence due to a groin injury to stop 37 shots for the Stars, who are 6-1-0 in their last seven games.
"We obviously know how tight the standings are," said Benn, who also added an assist for his second straight two-point night following a seven-game stretch with just two assists. "We had our game in hand tonight and we got the two huge points that we needed."
Dallas moved into a tie with Detroit for ninth in the Western Conference, two points behind Columbus, which lost to Los Angeles, for the eighth and final playoff spot. The Stars have five games remaining, including one against the Blue Jackets in Dallas on April 25 and the finale against Detroit at home on April 27.
"From here on now, we kind of control our own destiny and every game is big for us," said Eakin, who had just one assist in his previous nine outings. "We're ready to give our all, and scratch and claw every chance we get, and play our game from here on in."
Stars coach Glen Gulutzan was encouraged by Benn's last two games, knowing that a hot Benn will go a long way toward helping Dallas end a four-year playoff drought.
"There's no way around it, we need our big players to be big in these next five games and it's good to see," Gulutzan said. "Confidence is a big thing and getting on a roll is a big thing and it's nice to see your big guy feeling good."
Derek Roy, who was traded from Dallas at the trade deadline on April 2, scored for Vancouver, which had a chance to clinch a playoff spot with a win. The Canucks lead the Northwest Division by four points over Minnesota, which was playing later against San Jose later.
"We just made some mistakes in the third that ended up in the back of our net," Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said. "They got some momentum and in the third, they obviously made plays and we didn't. The plays that we didn't make ended up in the back of our net."
Cory Schneider made 25 saves for the Canucks, who are 5-2-1 in their last eight outings and concluded a season-long five-game road trip with a 2-2-1 mark.
"It's definitely not good enough, especially down the stretch here," Schneider said. "If you want to win in the playoffs, you've got to protect leads and right now, we're not as good as we should be at it and not what we expect of ourselves. Whether it's me coming up with some big saves in the third to preserve it or us as a group just playing harder, we've got to find a way."