With Boost from Olympics, Benn and Lehtonen Ready for Playoff Push

Wednesday, 02.26.2014 / 6:15 PM / Inside Edge
By Mark Stepneski
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With Boost from Olympics, Benn and Lehtonen Ready for Playoff Push
Jamie Benn and Kari Lehtonen were back on the ice practicing with the Dallas Stars Wednesday. Both brought their Olympics medals with them.

Jamie Benn and Kari Lehtonen were back on the ice practicing with the Dallas Stars Wednesday. Both brought their Olympics medals with them to show the media. Both talked about having their sights set on a stretch run that they hope will push the Stars into the playoffs.

“Obviously, I went over there for one reason and that was to win gold. Fortunately, we were able to do that,” said Benn. “It’s definitely nice to be back here with the guys and finish off our season right.”

“It was a great experience. The last couple of days after getting the [bronze] medal have been awesome. It’s such a huge difference between being in fourth place and third place. You have something for the rest of your life,” said Lehtonen. “[The playoffs] are where we need to be, and we need to get there. That is something that is on the list.”

Lehtonen and Benn got a taste of high pressure, playoff intensity hockey at a high level in Sochi. Now the goal for both is to help the Stars get into the playoffs. Benn has never played in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Lehtonen played two playoff games with Atlanta in 2007, but he hasn’t been there since. Both are motivated for postseason hockey.

“It’s been strong but it feels more like reality this year with the way we’ve been playing and just how our overall team is performing,” said Lehtonen. “I’ve just been trying to do my thing back there, but I just feel more comfortable, especially the last few games we’ve started to play real good defense. That helps a lot.”

“It’s hard not to be [motivated],” said Benn. “The biggest games, the high pressure situations are the ones you want to be in. You want to be the go-to guy, the guy that steps up. Those are fun games to play in as a hockey player.”

Both players stepped up and gained confidence in Sochi. Benn scored two goals – both game-winners – including the game’s only goal in a 1-0 win over the United States in the semifinals. He started out on the fourth line, got moved up to the top line and settled in on the second line with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. That trio was Canada’s best at times. Benn was also a key penalty killer for Canada.

“I came back with confidence,” Benn said. “I definitely want to keep it rolling the last 24 games with the Stars and be the leader here. I want to be the go-to guy and hopefully lead our team into the playoffs.”

Benn also played with Sidney Crosby and Patrice Bergeron and got to spend a lot of time with some of the best hockey players in the world. That’s valuable experience as well.

“You can take a lot out of it. Those guys have been there – Stanley Cup Finals, gold medal games. They’ve done it all,” Benn said. “It’s special to be around them each and every day to see how they go about their business. They are so serious about hockey, but they have fun at the same time. It was great to see what they were all about.”

Lehtonen was unsure what his role would be when he headed off to Sochi. Many thought he would be Finland’s third goaltender, but he ended up in the second spot behind Tuukka Rask. He played two games, posting a 1.51 goals against average and a .935 save percentage. He also had two assists.

“It was good to be in a big situation there playing and I think that is going to help me in the future,” Lehtonen said. “Olympics are such a huge thing in Finland. I think in our semifinal we had 2.5 million people watching out of the 5 million that we have in Finland. It shows how much people care about the national team, and it was cool to show that I can play there.”

He was pressed into duty in the semifinals when Rask became ill just prior to the game. Swedish defenseman Erik Karlsson’s game-winning goal still bugs him, but overall he was happy with the way he played in Sochi.

“That second goal against Sweden is one I wish I could have back, but there were plenty of good saves,” Lehtonen said. “I was told by everybody how calm I was there and how comfortable guys were playing in front of me. That was a good thing.”

And a good building block as he prepares for what he hopes will be playoff hockey this spring.

“For sure. That was a good warm up for those games,” said Lehtonen. “That’s a different animal, too. Those are seven-game series and you really get to know who you are playing against. Hopefully, and I believe we can be there in a few weeks.”

Quotable

“We talked as a team today that we put together a heck of a run just before we left. We’ve put ourselves in a good position and we’ll take it one game at a time. Jamie’s experience, Lehts experience and even Val, sitting in the room with the talent he sat with, it should be a big boost for him, too.”

Stars coach Lindy Ruff on how the Olympic experience of Jamie Benn, Kari Lehtonen and Valeri Nichushkin can help the team

Quotable II

“It’s been cool as long as I have been able to show it before Jamie, because it doesn’t get that exciting if you see the gold one before. It’s been fun.”

Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen on showing off his bronze medal

Nill on Robidas’ status

Stars GM Jim Nill appeared on The Ticket Wednesday afternoon and was asked for an update on defenseman Stephane Robidas, who has been out since late November with a broken leg. Nill said Robidas is getting closer.

“He’s been cleared for contact. His original date was March 17, I think he might be a little sooner. I don’t want to put exact deadlines or dates on there,” Nill said. “I think anywhere in the first two weeks of March you are going to see him ready to come back. We’re going to play it by ear, game by game, but once he is ready to go we can’t wait to get him back in the lineup.

“He’s a big part of our team, he’s great in the dressing room and he’s a right-handed shot. People that aren’t in the business don’t understand how important it is to have a right-handed shot on the backend for keeping pucks in and getting shots through. He has a lot of value to us in the dressing room and on the ice and we’re excited about him coming back.”

Wednesday’s practice lineup

Here’s how the Stars lined up in Wednesday’s practice.

Jamie BennTyler SeguinValeri Nichushkin
Erik ColeCody EakinRich Peverley
Antoine RousselVernon FiddlerRyan Garbutt
Ray WhitneyShawn HorcoffAlex Chiasson

Alex GoligoskiTrevor Daley
Jordie BennBrenden Dillon
Aaron RomeSergei Gonchar
Kevin ConnautonStephane Robidas

Kari Lehtonen
Dan Ellis

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.

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