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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — This was just the kind of playoff preparation Dallas coach Lindy Ruff wanted. A physical game against a quality team that featured some tense moments late before his team held onto the win.
Mattias Janmark returned to the lineup from injury and posted his first career two-goal game and Antti Niemi made 34 saves against his former team as the Stars held off the San Jose Sharks 4-2 on Saturday.
“It’s a good test because the emotions were going both ways. The momentum in the game went both ways,” Ruff said. “We found a way to stabilize and ended up winning the game. You’re going to see some of that.”
Patrick Sharp added a power-play goal, Jamie Benn scored an empty-netter and Jason Spezza had two assists to help the Stars remain in first place in the Central Division by winning for the fourth time in five games.
Niemi, traded to Dallas last offseason after five seasons in San Jose, got the win in his first start in two weeks.
“Really exciting game, exciting day,” Niemi said. “It’s been a while since the last game and also since the last win so it feels pretty good.”
Joel Ward scored a short-handed goal and Tomas Hertl also scored for San Jose. But the Sharks’ late attempt at a rally fell short in their third straight regulation loss at home, once again delaying their playoff clinching. Martin Jones made 13 saves.
Janmark had missed six games with an upper-body injury but looked fresh in his return, scoring the first two goals of the game to help lead Dallas to victory.
“I’m real happy to have him back,” Spezza said. “I think we’ve been really good 5-on-5 as a line when we’ve played together and hopefully we can continue that. He’s a great skater and we just seem to feed off each other.”
But it didn’t come easy as Dallas struggled to hold onto the 3-0 lead after two periods. San Jose’s comeback attempt started when Jordie Benn gave the puck away in his own zone to Ward with Dallas on the power play. Ward knocked it into the empty net to give the Sharks a spark.
San Jose then picked up the forecheck and added a second goal when Hertl knocked in the rebound of Joe Pavelski’s shot to make it 3-2 with 14:14 to go.
But Dallas killed two penalties later in the third to hold onto the win. The Stars killed all six penalties against the third ranked power-play unit in the league.
“If you give our PP unit that much time, we have to get one,” Pavelski said. “We have to really find a way to produce, not just chances but goals. We still need to be cleaner.”
The game got off to a chippy start when Dallas forward Antoine Roussel was hit hard twice within seconds by Roman Polak and Tommy Wingels. Roussel got up from the second hit and slashed Michael Haley in retaliation. As soon as Roussel got out of the penalty box, he started a fight with Wingels and appeared to pull his hair before the linesmen broke it up.
“I was embarrassed to a part of that ongoing fiasco the entire game,” Wingels said. “Every shift after that, you are going to try and fight again, the refs don’t want that. I don’t think that belongs in our game.”
Dallas then broke through first late in the period when Janmark deflected a point shot from Jordie Benn past Jones.
Janmark scored his second early in the second period during 4-on-4 play when Roussel and Haley were sent off after another tussle. Jason Spezza drew Jones out of the net and slid a pass in front to Janmark, who knocked it in for his 15th goal.
Pavelski then took a boarding call late in the second, leading to Sharp’s power-play goal after a nice cross-ice feed from Spezza.
NOTES: San Jose D Brent Burns had 10 shots to give him 324 for the season, breaking the team mark of 317 set by Jonathan Cheechoo in 2005-06. … Sharks F Joonas Donskoi sat out after leaving Thursday’s game with a lower-body injury. … Stars D Kris Russell (lower body) missed his third straight game.
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