DALLAS – With their offense stuck in neutral, the Stars counted to their goalie to bail them out like he’s done so many times throughout this season. He didn’t let them down.
Kari Lehtonen made 27 saves to earn his first shutout of the season, and 18th of his career, to help the Stars snap an ugly five game winless streak with a hard-fought 1-0 win over the Anaheim Ducks at American Airlines Center on Tuesday night in the final game before the All-Star break.
Lehtonen was simply spectacular in putting on a clinic against a surging Ducks (18-23-7) team that came in riding a red-hot nine-game stretch where they went 8-0-1. Not only was Lehtonen able to deny grade A scoring chances from Anaheim top guns Corey Perry, Teemu Selanne, and Saku Koivu, he was also able to control many rebounds that prevented the Ducks from getting second and third opportunities after the initial attempt.
“He’s been solid all year long and gives us a chance to win every night,” Stephane Robidas said. “He made some big saves and kept us in the game.”
Lehtonen proved he was on in the first period when the Ducks outshot the Stars by a whopping 10-3 margin, but the Stars took a 1-0 lead into the locker room after the first 20 minutes on Alex Goligoski’s tally late in the frame.
The second period was no different than the first, as Anaheim swarmed Lehtonen by peppering him with another nine shots compared to Dallas’ four. But the fabulous Finn was up to the challenge, keeping the Stars in it in order for them to pick up their first win since a shootout victory at Los Angeles on January 12. That win came two days after the Ducks downed Dallas 5-2 in Anaheim.
“It feels good,” Lehtonen said. “Lately I haven’t been getting (shutouts) so it’s nice to get the first one. Hopefully I’m able to get some more and help the team. We have the break coming up so we were trying to get a win. They’re good players and they had some good chances, but it was nice for our guys to help me out. I was able to see most of the pucks.”
The Stars did a better job of shutting things down in the third, and outshot the Ducks 9-8 over the final 20 minutes. They also allowed only a pair of shots over the final 1:43 while Anaheim goalie Jonas Hiller was pulled for the extra attacker.
“I thought as the game went on we got a little bit more comfortable,” Goligoski said. “You could tell that club’s playing good hockey right now. They played a great game, but it came down to Kari, and we got the one goal. That was all we needed. The third period was great…no turnovers and just playing smart hockey. That’s encouraging to see. We have a lot of guys on this team that know how to win on this team, so that’s good stuff.”
It was the first time in the past 28 meetings between these two teams that Dallas came away with a shutout. The last time the Stars turned the trick was back on November 5, 2007 when they recorded a 5-0 win.
Dallas (25-21-2) also received a boost with the return of center Mike Ribeiro, who missed the past seven games because of a lower-body injury. Ribeiro was still showing signs of discomfort while trying to overcome some pain, but his presence helped steady Dallas’ ship just enough to go into the break on a high note.
“Playing these one goal games, we know we’re a team that’s going to play in a lot of them,” Goligoski said. “That’s the way it’s got to be. Guys have to embrace roles, and that’s what’s going to make us a success.”
In going 1-4-1 over their last six games, the Stars have scored just seven times. But with over a week before their next game, offensive catalysts Ribeiro and Jamie Benn will have ample enough time to heal their wounds. Benn missed his fifth game because of an appendectomy, but he’s expected to represent the Stars this weekend at the All-Star Game in Ottawa.
“We didn’t play well the last few games, so it was nice to play better and see that we can play well, especially against a team that was winning games,” Lehtonen said. “It takes six guys on the ice to play together and work hard. There were definitely a couple of chances, but it was nice to be a little lucky today.”
Hiller made 15 saves for the Ducks, who had their five-game winning streak snapped.
“We got outchanced in this game, but our best player was our goalie,” coach Glen Gulutzan said. “We also got a few lucky bounces, but it was a good game to get. Tonight we didn’t play as well, but we got everything. You just have to stay to it. It’s a good game for guys to go into the break, especially Kari. You saw a great performance by a great goaltender.”
The Stars got the only goal of the game when Goligoski, who just inked a new four-year contract extension on Monday, netted his sixth of the season with 3:19 to go in the first. Ribeiro started the play when he skated into the Ducks zone before peeling off towards the left boards to drop the puck to Goligoski. Goligoski blistered a shot from the top of the left circle that went off of Anaheim defenseman Cam Fowler in front before trickling past Hiller.
“It was a little bouncy ball I guess,” Goligoski said. “It feels good to get that one there and get a lead. We haven’t played with a lead a lot lately, so that was nice.”
The Stars will now enjoy the break, and won’t play again until February 1 at Anaheim. (9:30 p.m., FS-SW+). They’ll then take on the San Jose Sharks the following night before returning to Dallas for a short two-game homestand starting on February 4 against Minnesota.