The new undisputed number one goalie sparkled in front of the home fans at the American Airlines Center, making 34 saves to lead the Stars to a 2-1 victory over the Colorado Avalanche.
The win leaves the Stars 1-1-0 in the 2010-11 exhibition schedule.
James Neal scored a goal and an assist for the Stars, Steve Ott also scored for the Stars, and Brad Richards added two assists. But the real story was Lehtonen, who make 14 saves in the second period alone and was a major reason why the Dallas penalty killing unit nullified all seven Colorado power plays.
“Our goalie was real good tonight,” Stars coach Marc Crawford said. “I thought we did a real good job defending in the first period, and through all the power plays they ended up with, he was very strong. He made some very difficult saves look fairly routine and I think his calm and his demeanor in the net helped our defensemen and our defensive play.”
“I felt good,” Lehtonen said. “You go out there usually with zero expectations when it’s your first game, you just try to do the right things and see what happens. I definitely got some good breaks there, one hit the post and didn’t go in, and things started rolling in the second period. It was nice to get that feeling again - that’s the best part about being a goalie, when you’re comfortable and things go your way. You just enjoy it.”
Lehtonen was also happy that he played the entire game instead of splitting duty, which often happens in the pre-season.
“That’s what you need to do during the season and if you play half or just two periods, you get things going and then you need to come out,” said Lehtonen, who was also named the game’s first star. “There’s not that grind or that mental part of it to keep being focused. It’s easy to be focused for a period, and that’s what I need to get used to again.”
The Stars struck first blood on Neal’s goal at 12:03 while the clubs were skating 4-on-4. After Richards carried the puck into the Colorado zone, he slipped a drop pass back to the charging Neal, and the third-year winger unleashed a scorching wrist shot from the top of the left face-off circle that beat Colorado starting goaltender Peter Budaj just inside the left goalpost.
“Richie had lots of speed going through, made a good move, and just dropped it off to me and I got a quick shot on net,” Neal said describing the play.
It took until there was 5:34 remaining in the opening period for the contest’s first fight, when Brandon Segal squared off with the Avs’ Cody McLeod in a pretty spirited scrap.
Dallas dodged a bullet with 2:12 left in the first when Colorado defenseman Colby Cohen’s wrist shot from the right point beat Lehtonen but clanked off the post.
Up by one heading into the second period, the Stars relied upon Lehtonen to maintain the lead, as the Stars were outshot 14-7 in the period, and the Finnish netminder stopped all 14, some of them of the sparkling variety.
His blocker save on Stefan Elliott’s wrist shot from the right circle seven minutes in was outstanding, as was his glove snag on Ryan Stoa’s point-blank rebound chance with 8:36 to go.
Former Stars property Jason Bacashihua replaced Budaj in goal for the third period and made a couple of early saves.
But Dallas increased their lead to two on a power play 6:51 into the final period, as Ott scored just off to the left of the goal. Richards’ slap shot from the point was deflected just wide by Neal, but the puck ricocheted so quickly off the end boards and out the other side, that Ott had just enough time to fire it off the diving Bacashihua and in.
The Avalanche got one back just 2:24 later, when Patrick Bordeleau was left all alone in front of Lehtonen. Following Lehtonen’s save on Kevin Shattenkirk’s shot from the high slot, Bordeleau had plenty of time to backhand a rebound that Lehtonen also stopped, before finally lifting the second chance over Lehtonen’s pad and in.
Lehtonen then came up with a huge shoulder stop on Cohen’s in-close backhander with just 3:16 remaining.
About 45 seconds later on the counter-attack, the Stars nearly made it a two-goal advantage, but Bacashihua made a sparkling glove save on Brian Sutherby’s one-timer from the slot.
The Stars kept the pressure on, as Aaron Gagnon had a big chance with 2:01 to go when he swept out from behind the net on a wrap-around attempt, but this time, Bacashihua made it across to deny him.
Things got a bit more interesting for Dallas, though, when Stephane Robidas was whistled for an interference penalty with 1:36 left when he attempted to shove Elliott over the boards and into the Stars’ bench.
The Avalanche pulled their goalie for an extra attacker, giving them a 6-on-4 advantage, but were unable to muster much of a push, with their only shot an easy save for Lehtonen on Brandon Yip’s attempt from the left corner.
“They came close there in the third, but we were able to get the win and that always feel good,” Lehtonen said. “I was a little worried when we got the penalty and it was 6-on-4, but I don’t think I needed to make a save - maybe one save from the corner, but that was great.”
“All in all it was good, and I thought we got a real good performance from our penalty killers,” Crawford said. “I thought Ott and Benn showed some proficiency together, Neal and Richards were good, Gagnon was okay. There were some very good things.”
The Stars get right back at it Saturday night, hosting the St. Louis Blues at the American Airlines Center (7 pm start), which will most likely feature a large dose of players that sat out this one. And of course, before that is the Stars Open House, where fans can watch the club practice on the American Airlines Center ice, starting at 10:30 am, for free.