The Dallas Morning News

Matthew Defranks:

Other fourth-place hopefuls falter while Dallas grabs victory

- MATTHEW DEFRANKS Twitter: @Mdefranks

A4-1 win over the Blue Jackets pulled the Stars within five points of fourth-place Nashville.

Opportunit­y is again asking the Stars to recognize it. By beating the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-1 at home Thursday night, perhaps Dallas is obliging.

Denis Gurianov scored twice to lead the Stars, a twogoal outburst that surely came as a relief to both the slumping winger and the organizati­on. Miro Heiskanen scored his seventh goal of the season, Joe Pavelski added his 17th and Jake Oettinger made 17 saves to pick up the win in his first start in nine days.

Gurianov was part of a dominant second line for the Stars, as Jamie Benn and Jason Dickinson helped Dallas control the final 40 minutes. Coach Rick Bowness called it Gurianov’s “best game by far.”

“I keep telling him, ‘The last thing a defenseman in this league wants to see is you coming down on him full speed,’ ” Bowness said. “That’s tough to defend. Tonight, he skated and he competed and he got rewarded for that.”

The win pulled the Stars five points back of fourthplac­e Nashville with three games in hand on the Predators. Nashville lost 4-1 to Carolina on Thursday night.

Columbus represents a huge chance to make a playoff push for the Stars. The Blue Jackets are fading on the ice. They traded their captain and their best defensive defenseman. Half of their top pairing on defense is out for the season. They’re only a point ahead of last-place Detroit in the Central Division standings.

The Stars should take advantage of a two-game set against the Blue Jackets, especially with the Predators and Chicago Blackhawks each losing Thursday night. Even with the news that Ben Bishop and Alexander Radulov won’t play the rest of the season, the Stars are still alive in the playoff race.

“It was a huge win for us,” Heiskanen said. “Every game is really important right now. I think we have been playing really good lately, and we have to keep doing that and get more wins.”

If they can’t pile the points on the rest of the home stand, they won’t be alive much longer.

Columbus is only half of the story for the Stars on this home stand. The lowly Red Wings come to town for a back-to-back set before Dallas travels to the Motor City for two games. That’s six straight games against the dregs of the division while the Predators have to play Carolina and Chicago.

The opportunit­y it there for the Stars. But that hasn’t meant much this season.

During games, the Stars have failed to score goals despite generating enough chances to win more games. The lack of finishing has left Dallas in too many tight games and too many overtime games. It is 5-11-12 in games decided by two or fewer goals and 2-12 in overtime games.

The Stars have had other pockets in their schedule to capitalize on a soft schedule. They haven’t. The team has won consecutiv­e games twice since the end of January. Thursday’s win moved the Stars (16-14-12) two games above .500 for the first time since mid-february.

The chance for the Stars to grab a playoff spot has presented itself often this season in the soft middle of the Central Division. Perhaps Thursday’s win means they finally will.

Gurianov had a lot to do with it. He finished with three points (he also assisted on Heiskanen’s goal), his first three-point night since Game 5 of the second round last fall against Colorado. His two goals matched his total from the previous 33 games combined.

“I just try to not think about it too much and just go on the ice and play my game, do my best,” Gurianov said. “Try to score and sometimes the puck just doesn’t go in the net. It happens. It’s OK. You’ve just got to keep trying.”

After leading the Stars with 20 goals in his rookie season last year, Gurianov has struggled mightily to get going this season. His minutes have been slashed. His one-timer on the power play has disappeare­d.

But nights like Thursday are a reminder of what the former first-round pick can do. It came at a time when the Stars have to take advantage of the path laid out for them.

Seguin joins team: Injured forward Tyler Seguin skated with the Stars for the first time Thursday morning as he continues to recover from offseason hip surgery that repaired a torn labrum.

Seguin has not played this year, and general manager Jim Nill said Monday that Seguin could return to games in two weeks. That would put Seguin on track to play the final nine games of the regular season.

“We need to get him back as quick as we possibly can,” Bowness said. “We won’t put him back until we know he’s ready, but this is a big step forward in getting him ready to play.”

“He looked good,” Bowness added. “This is the next stage of getting him back with the team. Just talking to him before practice, he enjoyed being around the guys again, having breakfast with the guys.”

Kiviranta on the ice: Forward Joel Kiviranta did light skating and stick-handling for about 30 minutes with skills coach Stan Tugolykov after morning skate. It was Kiviranta’s first time on the ice since he suffered a lower-body injury that has kept him out of the lineup since March 21.

Thursday was the 14th straight game Kiviranta has missed.

Hintz returns: Roope Hintz was back in the lineup after missing Tuesday’s game with a lower-body injury. Andrej Sekera and Mark Pysyk missed Thursday’s game with lower-body injuries.

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 ?? Juan Figueroa/staff Photograph­er ?? Stars players celebrate a goal by defenseman Miro Heiskanen (4) against Columbus. The second-period score put the Stars ahead 2-1 and proved to be the game-winner in a critical victory over the Blue Jackets.
Juan Figueroa/staff Photograph­er Stars players celebrate a goal by defenseman Miro Heiskanen (4) against Columbus. The second-period score put the Stars ahead 2-1 and proved to be the game-winner in a critical victory over the Blue Jackets.
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