DALLAS – It’s not too early for the Colorado Avalanche to start thinking about playoff positioning.
Paul Stastny scored the tiebeaking goal on a power play at 10:35 of the third period to help the Avalanche beat the Dallas Stars 2-1 on Saturday.
Dallas and Colorado started the day holding down the ninth and 10th spots in the Western Conference, each needing the two points to climb into the top eight.
With the win, the Avs improved to 50 points, one point ahead of the Stars.
“We talked about that before the game. They’re a team standing in our way,” Colorado coach Joe Sacco said. “We came in with a good game plan. We knew it would be a grinding type of game and we were fortunate to get two points. We know it’s a competitive conference and there’s a lot of hockey yet to be played.”
Colorado has been especially good in one-goal games, improving to 16-5-2 in that category.
“We don’t have the type of team that’s going to win 5-0, so we need to earn whatever we get,” said Colorado goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who stopped 21 shots. “We need to play well defensively. We know that we have the capability to score two to three goals per game, so if you don’t let them score much, then we should have a chance.”
Stastny notched the winner when he deflected teammate Erik Johnson’s shot past goalie Kari Lehtonen 13 seconds after Dallas’ Steve Ott went to the penalty box for hooking.
“It’s simple hockey sometimes,” Stastny said. “(Johnson) surprised me with that shot. I was right next to the goal and I threw my stick up there and it deflected right in. It’s a lucky touch sometimes.”
David Jones also scored for the Avs, who rebounded from a 3-2 overtime loss in Nashville on Thursday night that dropped them to 0-2-1 in their last three. They are, however, 10-3-1 in their last 14.
Vernon Fiddler scored for Dallas, and Lehtonen made 21 saves.
The Stars were 3-1-0 in their previous four and were coming off a 5-4 shootout victory at Los Angeles on Thursday night, but they weren’t able to overcome Saturday’s slow start.
Dallas still had a chance to tie it when Colorado’s Daniel Winnik was whistled for high-sticking with 1:18 remaining. Lehtonen remained on the bench after a Dallas timeout, giving the Stars a 6-on-4 advantage.
Michael Ryder had the best opportunity to push the game into overtime, but the Stars’ top goal-scorer wasn’t able to control a bouncing puck and tap it into an open net with about 20 seconds left.
“To kill that penalty off at the end was huge for us,” Sacco said. “We really dug in on that penalty kill.”
Jones took advantage of a misplay by Lehtonen to give the Avs a 1-0 advantage at 10:25 of the first period.
Lehtonen had skated behind his net to play the puck, but his poor clearing attempt ended up on the stick of Stastny, who fed Jones in front of the net for an easy goal, his ninth of the season.
“I should have just stayed in the net and made our (defence) go get it and probably get hit, but at least I would have been in front of the net,” Lehtonen said.
Colorado held a 7-1 shots edge in the first period, indicative of Dallas’ sleepy start which could partially be attributed to Friday’s early morning flight from Los Angeles after Thursday night’s game against the Kings.
The Stars were better in the scoreless second period, but were still outshot 13-8.
Fiddler tied it at 5:26 of the final period, skating from behind the net and backhanding a loose puck past Giguere for Fiddler’s sixth goal of the season.
“It took us a while to get our legs under us and I think it was tough here coming off the trip to get going, but (Lehtonen) did a good job to hold us in there until we could get going and tie it up, but one snuck in,” Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said.
NOTES: Forward Tomas Vincour (knee), D Philip Larsen (concussion-like symptoms) and C Mike Ribeiro (knee) sat out for Dallas. … The Avs were without LW Matt Duchene (knee) and D Shane O’Brien (knee). … Colorado C Peter Mueller played his second game after missing 40 games because of a head injury. Mueller nearly gave his team a 3-1 lead with 4:24 left, but his attempt from in front ofthe net was turned aside by Lehtonen. … The Stars had scored four goals or more in five of their previous six games.