The Dallas Stars could head into the Christmas break alone atop their division.
The Stars will try to break a three-way tie for first in the Pacific on Friday night when they host the Nashville Predators, who erased a pair of three-goal deficits en route to a thrilling win in their last game.
With 39 points, Dallas (19-13-1) is even with San Jose and Phoenix atop the Pacific. Both the Coyotes and Sharks are also in action Friday before the NHL takes two days off for the holidays.
After two last-place finishes under Marc Crawford, the Stars have turned things around with first-year coach Glen Gulutzan. They’ve gotten big contributions from a line comprised of veterans Eric Nystrom (11 goals), Vernon Fiddler (12 points) and Radek Dvorak (14 points).
Though none of the three would be considered stars on their own, they’ve been recognized as one of the league’s more unheralded lines.
“You call them a third line but they might be one of the best second lines in the NHL right now, they’ve played so well,” center Steve Ott told the Stars’ official website.
While the Stars and Predators split four games last season, Dallas has historically had an overwhelming edge in the series in Texas, going 18-5-1.
Dallas enters this game having lost two of three, though, after falling 4-1 to Philadelphia on Wednesday. Michael Ryder scored for the third straight game, moving past Loui Eriksson and Nystrom for the team lead with 12 goals.
Ryder, who scored 18 goals in each of the last two seasons with Boston, has two goals and two assists in five career games against the Predators.
With an assist against the Flyers, Eriksson extended his point streak to four games - one shy of matching his longest this season. Eriksson, who has a goal and five assists during his latest run, was the Stars’ top scorer against Nashville last season, tallying two goals and three assists.
Though the Predators (18-12-4) have struggled in Dallas, they have to be feeling good after arguably their most exciting victory this season.
The Predators trailed 4-1 after one period and 5-2 midway through the second to league-worst Columbus on Thursday before rallying. David Legwand’s power-play goal with 3:46 left tied the score, then Martin Erat scored with 8.4 seconds remaining for the 6-5 win.
“I’ve seen this so many times in the past where something comes too easy for a team, all of a sudden they’ve got a big lead,” coach Barry Trotz said after Nashville’s sixth victory in seven games. “All you have to do is chip away because there was a ton of time left. We did that.”
Shea Weber had three assists, helping set up the tying and winning goals, and has two goals and five assists over the past four games. However, Weber has notched just two assists and is a minus-5 in 10 career contests in Dallas.
Pekka Rinne, who was lit up for four goals in a 3:18 span of the first period against the Blue Jackets, is expected to be back in net Friday. On Oct. 23, 2010, Rinne made 30 saves for the first of his six shutouts last season while helping Nashville to a 1-0 victory in Dallas.
Eriksson beat Rinne with a late power-play goal Feb. 26 at the American Airlines Center, helping the Stars rally from a goal down to win 3-2.