NASHVILLE - Going head-to-head with the hottest goalie in the league, Kari Lehtonen didn't flinch.
Facing Nashville's Pekka Rinne, who came in having posted a shutout in two of his last three starts while flaunting a 1.15 goals-against average in his last six, Lehtonen proved what type of goaltender he is by making 34 saves to lead the Stars to a 3-1 win over Nashville on Tuesday night at Bridgestone Arena.
Lehtonen was simply spectacular in his fifth start of the season, single-handedly keeping the Stars in the game by turning aside all but one of the Predators 26 shots during the first two periods. In the third, he preserved his third win of the season by foiling Martin Erat's partial breakaway attempt while shorthanded with 13 minutes to go, then stood tall when Colin Wilson snapped a quick shot from in tight while streaking in from the right wing with less than 60 seconds remaining.
The Stars then showed their defensive composure and resilience over the final 34 seconds when they allowed just one Nashville shot to be attempted while the Predators enjoyed a 6-on-4 advantage, as Rinne was on the bench for an extra attacker and defenseman Nicklas Grossman was in the penalty box for a slashing infraction.
It was the fourth time in seven appearances this season that Lehtonen, acquired from Atlanta in a February trade, had allowed two or fewer goals, and his dominant performance gave the Stars their third win in the last five games.
"Our goalie was really good for us tonight," defenseman Trevor Daley said. "We're going to need that down the stretch. We managed to get two points from a team that's pretty hot right now."
Lehtonen was also helped by his friends, as Dallas blocked an amazing 24 shots, with Grossman leading the way with six blocks followed by Stephane Robidas' five.
"We got a lot of shots from the outside, but we really let (Lehtonen) see a lot of pucks," Nashville left wing Steve Sullivan said. "We didn't have a lot of pressure on them. That's what kills the will of a team, when you're able to stay in their zone and move the puck around and get them on their heels. We weren't able to do that."
Loui Eriksson snapped a third-period tie with his team-leading 27th of the season early in the third, adding to his assist in the first period, and Matt Niskanen registered the insurance tally 30 seconds later, as the Stars snapped Nashville's six-game winning streak.
Daley also scored for the Stars, who began a four-game road trip with their second win in their last three away from home.
"It's the start of a big road trip for us, and we wanted to start it off right," Daley said. "We did that."
That strong start looked intimidating going in, as Rinne entered with a 131 minute, 36 second home shutout sequence. But the patient Stars bided their time for shots -- they finished with just 14 -- and when they got them they made sure Rinne wasn't able to get a clear view.
"We wanted to get pucks on him and traffic in front of him," Daley said. "If he's going to see it, he's too good and he's going to stop it."
With the score knotted at 1 after the first two periods, Eriksson gave Dallas a 2-1 edge 90 seconds into the final frame. After stealing a pass in the neutral zone, Brad Richards sent Eriksson into the Predators zone on the right wing with a nifty feed, and Eriksson quickly let loose a sharp snap shot that beat Rinne.
Exactly a half-minute later Niskanen scored his third of the season to make it 3-1. From the right point, his slap shot eluded Rinne, who was screened by Mike Ribeiro.
After a scoreless first period, the Stars were able to break through when Daley recorded his sixth of the year at 8:10 of the second period to give Dallas a 1-0 advantage.
From below the goal line, Richards sent a pass to the front of the Nashville net, but the puck bounced off Nashville defenseman Ryan Suter's skate and towards the Predators net. After Rinne bobbled it, the puck squirted around a mass of skates before popping loose in the low slot, where Daley pounced on it and drilled it home.
"I saw they had a broken stick, so I came up into the play," Daley said. "The puck bounced out and I was able to put it in."
The Stars nearly doubled the lead with 8 minutes left in the middle frame when Steve Ott's shot from in tight went off Nashville forward David Legwand's stick before grazing the crossbar. The rebound then landed in the crease, where Eriksson's attempt to jam it home was denied by Rinne's glove.
The Predators tied it at 1 with 3:58 left in the second when Shea Weber scored his 14th of the year. Off the faceoff in the left circle, the Predators were able to work the puck around to Weber, who skated in a couple of strides from the right point towards the outer edge of the right circle along the boards before unleashing a wicked blast that beat Lehtonen to the short side.
The Stars continue their four-game road trip on Thursday when they play at San Jose (9:30 p.m., FSSW). The Stars dismantled the Sharks, 8-2 last Tuesday in Dallas.
It will be the second of three meetings between the two teams during the month of March.