NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Mike Ribeiro had a strong start for the Dallas Stars to help make up for a very painful finish.
Ribeiro scored two goals in the first period before taking a puck to the face late in the second as the Stars beat Nashville 4-1 on Thursday night, ruining the return of Predators captain Shea Weber from a concussion.
“He’s not as good-looking as he was before,” Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said of Ribeiro. “He’s lost some teeth and he’s got some stitches in his mouth and he’s swelled up pretty good. But we’re just thankful it wasn’t a broken jaw or anything like that. It’s teeth and just his looks that took the whack.”
Ribeiro even returned just past the midway point of the third, wearing a full cage to protect his face. Gulutzan said teammates were calling Ribeiro by his son’s names.
“They were giving it to him. He made some nice plays when he got out there and … blocked a shot.”
Loui Eriksson assisted on both of Ribeiro’s goals. Jamie Benn added a goal and an assist and Adam Burish had a goal as the Stars won for the second time in two meetings with the Predators this season.
“It’s a big two points,” Dallas defenceman Stephane Robidas said. “It’s not a division rival yet, but they will be next year and this year it’s a team we’re fighting against to get in the playoffs. It was a big win.”
Weber had missed four games since being hurt Dec. 23 in a loss at Dallas in a collision with Stars defenceman Mark Fistric. The Predators announced Thursday at the morning skate that the defenceman had been cleared to play, and Nashville had a franchise-record seventh straight sellout for Weber’s return.
Gabriel Bourque scored his first NHL goal for Nashville, which had a three-game winning streak snapped.
The Predators turned in video of the hit to the NHL, but Fistric wasn’t punished. Jordin Tootoo dropped the gloves off a faceoff 1:46 into the first period for a fight with Fistric that was more wrestling before Tootoo slammed the Stars defenceman to the ice. Both went to the box for fighting.
“That was sort of the end of that,” Nashville coach Barry Trotz said.
Weber said he felt good skating during his return, though his hands just weren’t where he wants them to be yet. He said Tootoo did a great job against Fistric.
“He’s a smaller guy, but he’s as tough as they come,” Weber said.
Trotz had more to worry about than any revenge. His Predators hadn’t played since a win over Calgary on New Year’s Day, and they looked sloppy.
“Self-inflicted four goals,” Trotz said. “That’s how I look at it.”
Ribeiro put Dallas up 1-0 when he easily beat Nashville rookie defenceman Roman Josi and tapped a backhander into the open net past Pekka Rinne at 4:18 of the first. Bourque tied it at 8:31 when Tootoo threw the puck out from behind the net, and Bourque snapped it in from the slot over Kari Lehtonen’s glove for the goal.
But Ribeiro put Dallas ahead to stay at 19:22 of the first as he backhanded a loose puck Rinne had gotten a glove on.
Nashville’s struggles got worse in the second when Rinne passed the puck to defenceman Ryan Suter, who skated behind the net before passing it back behind him. Instead of a teammate, Benn had an easy tap-in for a 3-1 lead at 6:28.
“It happens even to the best ‘D’ pairing probably in the league,” Gulutzan said. “Those things happen, and just the wrong guy, too. Jamie right? He’ll have to send him a Christmas card for next season.”
Suter said Nick Spaling was behind him and just didn’t follow him behind the net.
“The game was not a very good game by us. I thought we pretty much gave them every goal by mistakes we made,” Suter said.
Benn said Suter put the puck on a tee for him.
“A little miscommunication by them, and I had to put it in the empty net,” Benn said.
The Stars could have led by more when Suter hit Steve Ott high during a short-handed breakaway, and referees gave Ott a penalty shot.
Ott’s wrister clanked off the post.
Ribeiro got hurt when he took a puck in the face off a shot from the point by teammate Trevor Daley with 33.3 seconds left in the second. Ribeiro skated off and returned wearing a cage protecting his face at 10:43 of the third.
Trotz took his timeout at 12:40 of the third. It didn’t work as the Predators had a turnover near the blue line grabbed by Benn, who passed to Tom Wandell. He shot it, and Burish got a stick on it for the 4-1 lead 13 seconds after the timeout.
Notes: The Predators sold out six straight games between March 16 and April 17, 1999, at the end of their inaugural season. … Tootoo’s assist gave him a career-high 19 points through 38 games. … Bourque’s first goal came in his fourth game with Nashville. … Eriksson has points in five straight games against Nashville (3-6-9). … The Stars have scored at least three goals in five of their past six games.