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NEW YORK -- It started badly enough for the Dallas Stars when Derek Stepan opened the scoring for the New York Rangers just 27 seconds into the game.

Undeterred, the Stars scored seven of the next nine goals to take a commanding four-goal cushion into the final period, which is almost always enough offense to guarantee an easy win.

It was hardly over, however, as the Rangers scored three times in the first 7:26 of the third period to the cut the deficit to one.

It wasn't until Kari Lehtonen, who came on in relief after the Rangers' sixth goal, made four saves in the final five seconds that the Stars were able to escape with a wild 7-6 victory at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night.

"Stars' hockey," quipped Patrick Sharp, who scored to the put Dallas ahead 2-1 in the first period and again to make it 5-3 after the Rangers pushed back in the second period.

With the Stars, no lead is safe no matter which team has the advantage. They chased Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist with seven goals on 27 shots through two periods. Stars netminder Antti Niemi allowed six goals on 28 shots before exiting for Lehtonen, who may have deserved first star honors with his 12 saves in a little more than 12 flawless minutes.

"That's a really tough spot to jump into," Sharp said. "What a pro jumping in there on a big stage in a loud building and making some big saves, especially with the scramble at the end. That's tough to do."

Magnus Hellberg held the fort in place of Lundqvist by stopping all four shots he faced but the damage was too great. Chris Kreider trimmed the lead to 7-4 while Stepan and Mika Zibanejad got the deficit down to 7-6 with their second goals of the game as the Rangers outshot the Stars 25-4 in the third period.

Despite the gaudy scoring totals, both goaltenders were more the victims of horrendous play in front of their nets than their own shortcomings.

Lundqvist's defense let him down with poor net-front coverage and neutral-zone mistakes that led to odd-man chances off the rush. Jamie Benn's breakaway goal late in the first period that gave the Stars a 3-1 lead was stoppable, but most of Dallas' goals could be attributed to catastrophic turnovers and an inability to defend the crease area.

"There's no doubt we need to do a better job in front of our own net," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "Our offensive game is pretty good at this time, but defensively there are too many breakdowns. On three of the first four goals, we have someone in front of the net and we're just not taking the pass."

Lundqvist, who has allowed 20 goals in his past four games and has a career worst .902 save percentage, didn't deflect much of the blame on his teammates.

"I feel like it's embarrassing, frustrating and disappointing," he said. "At the same time, I spent the last 24 hours really working hard and trying to prepare for this game and you come and get a pretty good start. Most goals were scored right in front. As a goalie, you need to just be more aware, I guess.

"The bottom line is I need to find another level."

The Rangers (28-16-1) may be struggling, but it's far from time to worry about losing their playoff spot. The Stars (19-19-8) needed two points no matter how ugly after a 4-1 road loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Monday afternoon.

Benn was furious during and after that game and responded with a three-point night against the Rangers.

The third-period high-wire act, however, seemed to leave him with a bad taste in his mouth.

"I wouldn't say it was our strongest game, but we came in here with a fresh mindset and did what we had to do," Benn said. "We got two points and now we can move on."

NOTES: Stars D Johnny Oduya left the game midway through the second period with an injury. The team will have an update Wednesday. ... The Stars scratched LW Curtis McKenzie, D Jordie Benn and RW Brett Ritchie. ... Dallas RW Adam Cracknell returned to the lineup after a two-game absence and scored in the second period. ... Stars C Cody Eakin, who also scored, fought Rangers LW Chris Kreider in the second period after Eakin ran over Rangers G Henrik Lundqvist when the teams first met Dec. 15. ... Rangers C Mika Zibanejad (broken leg) returned from a two-month absence. He missed 25 games. ... New York D Marc Staal missed his fifth straight game with a concussion.
Top Game Performances
 
Dallas   NY Rangers
Jamie Benn 3 Points Derek Stepan 3
Patrick Sharp 2 Goals Derek Stepan 2
Jamie Benn 2 Assists Mats Zuccarello 3
Patrick Eaves 1 Power Play Goals Chris Kreider 1
N/A Short Handed Goals N/A
Kari Lehtonen 1.000 Save Percentage Magnus Hellberg 1.000
Antti Niemi 22 Saves Henrik Lundqvist 20
Team Stats Summary
 
Team Shots Goals Power Play Penalty Kill Penalty Mins Face Offs Won
Dallas 31 7 1-1 1-2 11 32
NY Rangers 40 6 1-2 0-1 9 34
Upcoming Games
  • NY Rangers will play their next game on the road against Toronto. The Rangers have a W/L % of .536 after a win and .765 after a loss.
  • Dallas will play their next game on the road against NY Islanders. The Stars have a W/L % of .211 after a win and .556 after a loss.