Neal leads charge as Stars topple Maple Leafs

TORONTO (Ticker) — The Dallas Stars are finally living up to

James Neal recorded a hat trick, while rookie Fabian Brunnstrom
and Steve Ott each registered a goal and an assist as the Stars
rolled past the Toronto Maple Leafs, 8-2, on Tuesday.

Mike Ribeiro also scored and had an assist, Brad Richards netted
a power-play goal and Krys Barch tallied for the Stars, who have
earned points in eight of their last 11 games, going 7-3-1 over
that span.

“It was a fine performance for some of our young guys,” Dallas
coach Dave Tippett said. “It was a thrill for some of our guys
from this area to come back and play.

“It’s pretty obvious they were a team that traveled late last
night. We wanted to jump on top of them and put them away early
– it’s pretty hard to come back when you’re a tired team.”

Jere Lehtinen, Landon Wilson and defensemen Trevor Daley and
Stephane Robidas all notched two assists in support of Marty
Turco, who turned aside 20 shots.

“A quick start would be ideal,” Turco said. “Good first and
second shifts. I can’t remember too many bad shifts tonight.
Incredible sign for our team, with guys blocking shots in the
second, taking hits in the third and playing a full 60 minutes
despite being up so big.”

Jason Blake ended a seven-goal run by Dallas with 4 1/2 minutes
left in the second period and Mikhail Grabovski added his 12th
goal of the season in the final session, but Toronto failed to
earn its sixth win in seven tries.

“They were a fresh team and if they had played last night, it
might have been a little more fair for us,” said Toronto coach
Ron Wilson, whose team was coming off a three-game road trip and
playing for the fourth time in five days.

“It was fatigue tonight because we couldn’t even generate a shot
tonight, something we usually dominate.”

The Stars, who were bounced by the Detroit Red Wings in six
games in the Western Conference finals last season, began this
campaign rather sluggish.

They finished October with a pedestrian 4-5-2 record and their
struggles continued into November as captain Brenden Morrow was
lost for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in
his right knee.

READ ALSO:  From The Point: NHL can't ignore steriod issue

Entering December with an 8-11-4 mark and having yet to post
back-to-back victories, Dallas has now seemingly put an end to
its dormant slumber.

The team was able to string together consecutive wins this past
week, but failed to notch its first three-game run of the season
on Saturday in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Ottawa Senators.

“We had a tough overtime loss against Ottawa, so it’s really
great to get these points,” Neal said. “We really needed them.
Coming home and doing it is only a bonus.”

Neal made sure the Stars did not fall back into their losing
ways when he opened the scoring 3:23 into the first with a wrist
shot in front of the net.

“Everything was clicking and the points were big tonight,” Neal
said. “It helps when you’re playing with guys like (Lehtinen)
and (Mike) Modano – it makes scoring easy. I was just going to
the net and taking any shots I could get.”

Ott converted a tip-in on the doorstep 8:55 into the first and
Brunnstrom added to Dallas’ lead just 1:50 later.

Richards then ballooned the advantage to 4-0 with a slap shot
from the left faceoff circle with 5:48 left in the session while
on the power play.

“We had trouble putting the puck deep,” Toronto defenseman Tomas
Kaberle said. “We only had a couple shots after 10 minutes.
They did exactly what we wanted to do – put a couple shots in
early and shut us down. Our guys kept going though and gave it
their all the last 20 minutes.”

Barch converted passes from Wilson and Daley 3:45 into the
second, and Ribeiro and Neal tallied 80 seconds apart, giving
Dallas a commanding 7-0 bulge.

“We knew what was at stake tonight,” Daley said. “We needed
wins whenever we can and going into the Christmas break, this is
a high note.”

Blake and Grabovski cut Toronto’s deficit to five with
consecutive tallies, but Neal secured his first career hat trick
on the power play with 86 seconds left in the game.

“A real special day coming home, playing the Toronto Maple
Leafs,” said Neal, who is a Whitby, Ontario native. “I’ve been
watching them my whole life and it’s great coming home being a
Leafs fan.”