DALLAS -- If the Dallas Stars are to end a four-year playoff drought, they probably need to win out.
Dallas took a nice first step toward accomplishing that goal, getting third-period goals from Cody Eakin, Jamie Benn, Ray Whitney and Erik Cole in a 5-1 win over the Vancouver Canucks before 16,571 on Thursday night at American Airlines Center.
"I thought it was a hard-fought game," Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said. "I thought the goal at the end of the PP (in the second period) gave us some life and (Benn)'s goal and Eakin's goal kind of got us jump-started. I thought we stuck with it, stuck to the game plan and played well against a good team."
The loss kept Vancouver from clinching a playoff spot. The Canucks have been to the postseason in each of the past four years but will get their next chance to clinch on Saturday night against Detroit at Rogers Center.
"After tonight, we'll regroup tomorrow and we're going to focus on Detroit," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said.
Dallas moves into ninth place in the Western Conference with 47 points, edging out Detroit, who was idle on Thursday, via a tiebreaker for the ninth spot. The Red Wings had a game in hand entering Thursday's slate. Columbus, who was playing a late game on Thursday at Staples Center against the Los Angeles Kings, occupied the West's final playoff spot with 49 points.
"I thought we played really good throughout the whole game. I don't think it was just the third period," Eakin said. "(Cory) Schneider came up really big on a couple of plays in the first and in the second, and in the third we were just able to capitalize on our chances. If you put enough pucks there, that's going to happen most nights."
In a hard-fought game that was 0-0 after one period and 1-1 after two, the Stars wasted little time in taking the lead for good in the final period.
The flurry started at 1:36 of the third when Eakin beat Schneider through the five-hole with a 40-foot wrister for his seventh of the season. Eakin had nearly scored with six seconds left in the second but saw his shot that first struck the right post cleared off the line by Canucks defenseman Andrew Alberts.
Benn then converted a costly Vancouver turnover at their blue line into his 11th of the season at 4:09 of the third, beating Schneider top shelf to make it a 3-1 game.
Whitney then tapped in a rebound for his 11th at 7:03 to give the Stars considerable breathing room. Schneider had made a pad save on Benn's attempted tip-in, but Whitney was waiting at the near post and he pounced.
Cole's ninth goal of the season, which came courtesy of a 43-foot wrister with 1:42 remaining and with Dallas on the power play, made it a 5-1 final.
"Yeah, it's hard to explain," Vigneault said of giving up four straight goals in the third period. "In the first two periods, I thought we were good and they had a little bit of momentum after (Lapierre)'s penalty.
"But prior to that, I thought we were playing a good road game against a very desperate team. (Dallas) got a little bit of momentum on their goal and on our penalty at the end of the second there. We just made some mistakes in the third that ended up in the back of our net."
Benn and Eakin had a goal and an assist each for Dallas, who also got a 37-save performance in net from Kari Lehtonen, who was seeing his first action since suffering a groin injury in the first period of a 5-1 win over the Kings on April 9.
"It was good," Lehtonen said of his return to the ice. "It took me a little bit to kind of get comfortable, but I had lots of energy. I was just trying to contain that and not be too excited.
"It was fun to play and things went well, I got lots of bounces and it was nice to get all those goals in the third period, too."
Derek Roy had the lone goal of the night for the Canucks, who ended their five-game road trip at 2-2-1. Roy broke the deadlock at 6:38 of the second, beating Lehtonen with a 14-foot backhand to make it 1-0.
Roy began the season with Dallas before being traded to Vancouver prior to the NHL trade deadline on April 3. The Canucks center won a one-on-one battle with former Dallas teammate Alex Goligoski in the Stars end and then dashed up the ice before converting for his sixth goal of the season.
"When it was 1-1, we were fine," Roy said. "Kari was making good saves on the other end and we talked about it after the second to get more traffic in front of him, get more shots through and battle on the rebounds.
"Penalties kill us. I think we took three or four in the third period. It's hard to win games in this league when you're playing PK all period."
Dallas tied it at 12:09 of the second when Vernon Fiddler netted his fourth goal of the season. Eric Nystrom's pass from the left faceoff circle deflected off several players before resting at Fiddler's skates and he finished with a 21-foot wrister into the right side of the net to make it 1-1.
The Stars had gone on the power play at 10:03 when Vancouver's Maxim Lapierre was called for interference on Cole.
Schneider stopped 25 of the 30 shots he faced. Dallas plays on Friday night in St. Louis, the Stars' final back to back of the regular season.
NOTES: Before the opening faceoff, Dallas honored former defenseman Sergei Zubov for his inclusion on the Stars' 20th Anniversary Team. Zubov, who now works in the front office of the St. Louis Blues, spent 12 seasons in Dallas and was a member of the Stars' 1999 Stanley Cup championship team. ... Defenseman Derek Joslin, who was recalled from the American Hockey League on Wednesday, and winger Tom Sestito were both healthy scratches for Vancouver. Defenseman Jordie Benn was Dallas' lone healthy scratch. ... Canucks center Derek Roy played his first game in Dallas since the Stars dealt him to Vancouver on April 2 before the NHL trade deadline.
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