DALLAS – On the night the Dallas Stars honored the greatest goaltender in franchise history, it was fitting that their current netminder put forth an outstanding performance of his own.
Following a pre-game ceremony celebrating Ed Belfour’s recent induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame, Kari Lehtonen put on a show of his own, making 33 saves and leading the Stars to a 2-1 shootout victory over the Minnesota Wild Saturday night at the American Airlines Center.
Lehtonen, who grew up in Finland but still idolized the mercurial former Stanley Cup-winning Belfour, bailed out the Stars numerous times with big saves and stopped two more in the shootout to secure Dallas a much-needed triumph.
“It was great, he was one of those goalies that I used to look up to when I was a little kid and I was fortunate enough to play against him a couple of times,” said Lehtonen, who improved his record to 19-11-1 on the season. “He’s one of my heroes and it was nice to see him out there and get recognition. It was a good way to start the game.”
The win was the Stars’ third in their last four games and was crucial for Dallas in the ultra-competitive Western Conference standings. The Stars now sit ninth with 56 points, two points back of the Wild, who gained a point for losing beyond regulation, for the eighth and final playoff spot.
After each team failed to score during abbreviated power plays in overtime, the Stars won the shootout tie-breaker 2-1, as Loui Eriksson and Jamie Benn each beat Minnesota netminder Niklas Backstrom while only Matt Cullen was able to solve Lehtonen.
Benn clinched it with a wide, sweeping move to the right, then drifted back into the middle before firing a quick wrist shot just inside the left goalpost. Lehtonen then secured the second point with a nice glove save on the Wild’s Jared Spurgeon.
“It was a couple of nice goals by Loui and Bennie and a real nice kill at the end of the game there,” Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said of his team that is now 4-2 in shootouts this season. “Kari stole the show a little here tonight.”
“We’ll take it,” said center Mike Ribeiro, whose goal late in the second period gave Dallas a 1-0 lead. “They came back and tied the game, but most of their chances were created by our turnovers and they finally scored one in the third period but we stuck with it. I was happy that Loui and Bennie scored and I didn’t have to go. And once again, a big game from Kari, big saves. We just stuck with it and the way we’re going to win is to limit them scoring against us. We played well defensively and if we can clean up our turnovers, we can clean up like six, seven chances they had on those.”
That Ribeiro’s goal came on a power play was big for the Stars, who have struggled much of the year with the man-advantage. This was the third straight game they connected on the PP, just the second time this season they’ve accomplished that feat and first since early November.
“We’ve been scoring every game, but it was just simplifying things a bit,” said Ribeiro of the extra-man unit, which was 1-for-2 and is now 3-for-7 over the last three games after going 2-for-29 in the previous 11. “We’re not trying to make those nice plays. If you look around the last 50 goals around the league on the power play, they’re one-timers, shots from the point, rebounds. You don’t have those nice goals any more, so we just simplify it, bring the puck to the point, converge on the net and get those rebounds. It’s about time we started scoring on the power play.”
But none of that would have matter if Lehtonen had not delivered a stellar outing, winning his third straight start, a stretch in which he’s allowed just three goals. For Lehtonen, who had lost four consecutive starts prior to shutting out Anaheim on Jan. 24, it seems like he’s getting back in a good groove.
“Certainly, that’s kind of how it feels,” Lehtonen said. “I’m getting some bounces. I feel like I’ve been moving well and just overall feeling good. It’s nice that I have that now and hopefully I’m able to keep it for a long time. Those things seem to come and go and sometimes you’re able to play well for a longer period of time and hopefully I can do that.”
Ribeiro snapped a scoreless tie at 15:12 of the second period, as the Stars struck on their first power play of the evening. Alex Goligoski drilled a slap shot from the point that sailed just wide of the right post, but it ricocheted off the end boards quickly, bouncing past Wild defender Nick Schultz and right to Ribeiro in the right face-off circle. With Backstrom still down in the crease, Ribeiro cruised into the slot and fired a high wrist shot home for his 11th goal of the season.
Lehtonen came up with a huge stop to keep Dallas in front less than two minutes later when Kyle Brodziak wound up alone in front. Brodziak made a move to his backhand, but Lehtonen made the save.
Leading 1-0 heading into the final period, the Stars surrendered the tying goal just 5:18 in after a turnover in their own zone led to another glorious chance for Brodziak, and this time, he capitalized. After Jake Dowell’s pass was picked off by Nick Johnson in the slot, Brodziak collected it and went in alone on Lehtonen, this time making a wide deke to his forehand and lifting a rising wrist shot over the diving netminder for his 15th goal of the year.
The Stars put themselves in a tight spot when Sheldon Souray was whistled for hooking with just 1:07 left in regulation, giving the Wild a late power play. Dallas managed to kill it off for the rest of regulation to at least secure one point, but the task became harder in overtime when it became a 4-on-3 advantage.
On the Wild’s only good opportunity during the power play in OT, Lehtonen made a flashy glove save on Dany Heatley’s slap shot from the right circle at 55 seconds, effectively ending the PP threat.
Lehtonen made an outstanding shoulder save through a screen on Nate Prosser’s wrist shot from the top of the right circle with 1:08 left in overtime, keeping the Stars alive until they could go on a power play of their own when Cal Clutterbuck took out Ribeiro with a knee-on-knee hit and was penalized for tripping with 56 seconds to go.
The Stars nearly connected with about five seconds left when Goligoski fed the puck into the crease from low on the left side, and as the puck bounced tantalizingly in front of a gaping net, Minnesota’s Darroll Powe outmaneuvered Jamie Benn and cleared it out of harm’s way.
“Our PK was real big, really big. I thought we did a really good job,” Gulutzan said.
With the Wild on the game’s first power play at 5:18, Lehtonen made a nice save on Dany Heatley, who was alone in front, seconds after scrambling back into position after Heatley bowled him over just outside the crease.
Just over a minute later, All-Star Jamie Benn generated the Stars’ first legitimate scoring chance, but his blazing wrist shot from the slot was deflected just wide by Backstrom’s blocker.
Dallas came oh-so-close to snapping the scoreless tie at 9:05 when Michael Ryder’s lightning-fast snap shot from the right face-off circle clanked off the post/crossbar elbow over Backstrom’s glove.
The Wild pushed back after that and ended up outshooting the Stars 12-2 over an 11-minute span ending with 2:40 left in the period, and wound up with a 13-10 edge in the period overall.
Gulutzan wasn’t all that thrilled with how the team played, noting that he expected more from them in such a critical matchup.
“Well, we relied on our goalie a lot,” Gulutzan said. “We have to be better. We have to be better. I’m ecstatic about the two points. It’s going to help us and you can go back and rewind games. But we have a different level that we need to get to.”
The Stars will have two days off before hosting Phoenix here on Tuesday night (7:30 pm start, FSSW) in another contest that holds important playoff implications. The Coyotes currently sit 12th in the West with 52 points.
- The ceremony celebrating Belfour’s induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame last November was emceed by Stars broadcasters Ralph Strangis and Daryl ‘Razor’ Reaugh and featuring appearances by Belfour’s 1999 Stanley Cup teammates Mike Modano, Brett Hull and current Dallas GM Joe Nieuwendyk. Former Stars defenseman Darryl Sydor was also in attendance as an assistant coach for the Wild.
- Ribeiro’s goal gives him three points (one goal, two assists) in the four games since he returned to the lineup after missing six contests with a knee injury. Including the two games before his injury, Ribeiro has five goals in his last six outings.
- Goligoski’s assist on Ribeiro’s goal leaves him with five points (one goal, four assists) in his last five contests.
- Stephane Robidas also earned an assist and now has four points (one goal, three assists) in his last seven games after picking up just one assist in his previous 11.
- Winger Michael Ryder skated in his 600th career NHL regular season game.
- The Stars have now won 15 consecutive home games against the Wild, last losing to them in Dallas on March 21, 2003.