Game of the night - Surprising Stars, Lightning square off

Dallas Stars (4-0-0) at Tampa Bay Lightning (3-1-0), St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa, Fla.

Earlier this decade, the Stars were a model of consistency : Good enough to get into the playoffs with aspirations of reaching the Stanley Cup finals, not good enough to get very far as lesser teams would take them down.

Postseason games are not won in October, but Dallas is laying the foundation needed to be a high seed in what's shaping up as a very competitive Western Conference.

Last season, the Stars failed to win three in row, and missed the playoffs for the second straight year. Now, Dallas is in position for its first five-game winning streak since Jan. 21-Feb. 3, 2009.

Why the huge change? Well, it's been nothing earth-shattering, but perhaps a change in the culture has helped.

Now that franchise icon Mike Modano is in Detroit after 20 years with the Stars, this team clearly belongs to Loui Eriksson, Brad Richards and Brenden Morrow - currently among the team's leading scorers.

And with former No. 2 overall pick Kari Lehtonen in goal, Dallas is allowing 2.50 goals per game, down from a shade under three last season.

He gave up two goals less than four minutes into the game Saturday against the St. Louis Blues, but Dallas rallied for 3-2 shootout win.

"It is great to see how when one part is not doing well, the other part picks up. We were in a little bit of trouble and I was able to make good saves. The next night it could be another way. That's the sign of a good team," Lehtonen told the Stars' official website.

Richards, who leads Dallas with seven assists and nine points, was a key member of the Lightning from 2000-08, helping win the franchise's only Stanley Cup in 2004. In his only visit to face his former club since being dealt to Dallas nearly three years ago, Richards had a power-play goal and assist in a 4-2 loss in February 2009.

For Tampa Bay and first-year head coach Guy Boucher, the question is how well the team responds to a bad game, and first loss of the new season.

The Lightning had outscored their opponents 12-8 heading into Saturday's contest with the rival Florida Panthers. Instead, Tampa Bay allowed four first-period goals on the way to a 6-0 drubbing.

“(The Panthers) were home and they need to please their fans at the opener,” Boucher said. “They had all the emotions they needed. For us, it was just the opposite. Our goaltenders have been great up until now but they were like the rest of the team tonight. They were just off.”

Dan Ellis stopped 12 of 15 shots in 15:13 before giving way to Mike Smith, who turned aside 20 of 23 shots.

Whoever Boucher comes back with has Dallas ties.

Ellis, who had spent the previous three seasons with the Nashville Predators, was picked 60th overall by the Stars in 2000, and won in his only appearance with them in February 2004. Smith, a key to the trade that sent Richards to Big D, was a fifth-round pick of the Stars in 2001, and was a backup to Marty Turco from 2006-08

High-scoring Steven Stamkos has six goals in a four-game streak at home dating back to last season. After scoring 51 goals last season to share the Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy with Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Stamkos already has four in 2010-11.

Dallas is 19-6-0 with three ties all-time against the Lightning, with 11 wins in 15 games at Tampa. The Stars have scored two goals in each of their last four visits to Florida's Gulf coast, but that's going to change.

The pick? Dallas' winning ways continue.


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