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WASHINGTON (AP) — Even if Dallas Stars players didn't know how much they've dominated the Capitals lately, they were well aware of Washington's home winning streak.
"Yeah," forward Patrick Sharp said. "We all were."
Behind 42 saves from goaltender Kari Lehtonen, the Stars beat the Capitals 4-2 Monday night to snap that home winning streak at 15 and home point streak at 17.
It was the NHL-leading Capitals' first regulation loss at home since Dec. 17 and their first of any kind at home since Dec. 29.
"It's a tough place to play," said Sharp, whose empty-netter sealed the victory. "You can see when their big guys get going, it's tough to settle the game down. We're a younger team and to hold on to win that one in the third period is big for us going forward."
The Stars extended their point streak against the Capitals to 12 games, going 10-0-2 in the series dating to their previous regulation loss to them Nov. 30, 2006. Dallas won in D.C. for the sixth consecutive visit to move within five points of a playoff spot.
That puzzling domination continued because of a stellar performance from Lehtonen and three goals on 11 shots that chased Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender Braden Holtby. The Capitals outshot the Stars 44-22, but made costly errors that dug a hole too deep to climb out of.
"I thought we maybe gave away a couple goals," said Nicklas Backstrom, who scored his 21st of the season but turned the puck over on Radek Faksa's goal. "I gave away that second goal to them. It's all about managing the puck, and they capitalized on our mistakes."
Holtby fell to 0-4-0 with a 4.79 goals-against average and .837 save percentage in five games against the Stars, the only team in the league he hasn't beaten. He entered the game first in the league with a 1.89 GAA and second with a .931 save percentage this season.
Holtby said he didn't think a few losses to the same team represented a trend. He couldn't be blamed for the first two goals he gave up, namely the second that came after a turnover from Backstrom.
"I think the biggest disappointment is Holts getting pulled there," said Capitals winger T.J. Oshie, who scored his 25th of the season to make it interesting in the third period. "For how many times he's saved us this year and how many wins he's gotten, it's a bad feeling when he has to leave the net."
Devin Shore, Faksa and Jason Spezza — whose shot beat Holtby clean — got those goals to put Dallas up 3-0 early in the second period. That spelled the end of Holtby's night as Philipp Grubauer relieved him and stopped all 10 shots he faced.
Season-long struggles have plagued the Stars, who at five points back of the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference still face an uphill climb with 16 games remaining. Coach Lindy Ruff said Monday morning, "We're in a position we need to win every game almost," a herculean task for a team that has won three consecutive games only once this season.
Thanks in large part to Lehtonen, who made 41 saves Saturday at Florida, Dallas is on a two-game winning streak.
"The last two games, they were huge for us to get back in the picture," said Lehtonen, who extended his personal point streak against the Capitals to 10. "The hunt continues."
Sharp knows most don't consider the Stars in the hunt, but they do.
"Yeah, why not?" Sharp said. "You look at the standings and there's great teams all across the league and crazier things have happened."
NOTES: Stars captain Jamie Benn had an assist to extend his point streak to a season-best seven games. ... Tyler Seguin has a point in each game he has played for the Stars against the Capitals. ... Stars F Adam Cracknell returned after missing five games with a lower-body injury. ... The Capitals' home winning streak was the longest since the Detroit Red Wings' record 23 in a row at Joe Louis Arena in 2001-02.
Stars: Host the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday looking for their first three-game winning streak since late December.
Capitals: Open a three-game California road trip Thursday at the Pacific Division-leading San Jose Sharks.
Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SWhyno .
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