Stargazing: Texas Stars Fall, Lehtonen Feeling Good, Crawford Responds

For many Stars fans, the thought of the team not being in the NHL playoffs -- again -- is a very painful one. I know that many of you are still enjoying watching playoff hockey, but personally it's hard for me to watch hockey during the first round of the playoffs when the Stars aren't playing. It's just too soon, and it's impossible not to think how great it would be to see the Stars in a game with so much intensity as you find in the postseason.

Last year, however, there was some consolation. The Texas Stars, led by Jamie Benn, surprised the AHL by going all the way to the Calder Cup Finals. Stars fans jumped on the bandwagon and there were some very lively open threads on DBD as we all cheered on Texas in one hell of an exciting postseason run.

This year, they're right back in the playoffs and start off against the Milwaukee Admirals. Unfortunately, things didn't go so well in Game 1. The Stars played an overall lackluster game and were hammed, 5-2, scoring four unanswered goals and chasing Richard Bachman from the net. Ray Sawada was obviously not happy,via Hundred Degree Hockey:

"It was frustrating, just a couple mental breakdowns where we weren't going to the right places at the right times and weren't strong on the puck. It's a tough one. A lot of those goals against were preentable, I thought."

The Allen Americans also dropped Game 1 of their series, losing a close game to the Odessa Jackalopes, 3-2, in front of a lively Americans home crowd. 

Fun fact: There was a larger crowd on hand for the playoff game in Allen (2,850) than there was for an AHL playoff game in Milwaukee (2,587). 

More after the jump.

Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News spoke to Kari Lehtonen, who said he feels great after having one hell of a career season, setting personal marks for games played (69) and goals-against average (2.55). After entering the offseason last summer weighing 230 pounds, Lehtonen is a svelte 210 pounds and healthier than ever. He started the final 23 games of the season.

``That's a big difference, and I definitely feel the difference and feel better,'' Lehtonen said. ``So now I just have to keep it up.''

``I'm coming into that age where most of the goalies are at their best,'' he said. ``Hopefully, I can raise my game and become one of the top goalies.''

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Marc Crawford has spoken to several media outlets since being fired, even taking the time to speak to a hometown Canadian newspaper before heading off on a long car trip to British Columbia. He's thankful for his time in Dallas and he says he understands why he was fired....but he's also VERY proud of what he "accomplished" in Dallas. Here are a few choice quotes:

Via The Intelligencer:

"It was a club in decline, that's why I was brought here," he said. "The club is now a better club, a much more hard-working club and the culture has changed. I feel responsible for that. We were in every game this year, there were very few we weren't in.

"Dallas needed a culture change. There are some great, great people here. Guys like Stephane Robidas and Brenden Morrow, a guy who was caught up in the crap and then got back to his game and had a career year. I'm happy about that. Brad Richards was not a top guy when I got here. Now, he's back to being one.

"But I've been around long enough to know what happens. First, you get close. Then you learn to win those games and then you learn to win more often.

"I thought I'd improved and there was momentum moving forward. I did a great job here. I don't need anybody to tell me that."

ESPN Dallas:

"Quite truthfully, I had to step on too many toes the year before to change the culture here," he said. "Some of the leftover guys from the previous year were a handful. I probably stepped on a few too many toes along the way, but I think and I think everybody was appreciative of the changes I made this year. But in the end, it's such a delicate balance."

I'll just let these quotes speak for themselves.

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Finally, Mike Heika makes a very apt comparison between the situation that Brad Richards is in regarding free agency and that of Ed Belfour back in 1997 -- and how Richards has already gone through one team being torn apart before in his career.

What led to Belfour turning down a more lucrative contract in San Jose and coming to Dallas instead was that he saw a stable team with a very bright, immediate future. Belfour had been on a Blackhawks team that had been torn to pieces and Richards went through it in Tampa Bay:

He and good buddies Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis helped the Tampa Bay Lightning win the Stanley Cup in 2004. The Lightning had a core of great, young players and should have been a Stanley Cup contender for the next six to seven years or longer. But ownership struggled with the financial end of the deal, and the team fell apart. Goaile Nikolai Khabibulin was lost in the first summer to free agency. Then came the trades and the extended ownership issues. Eventually, the Lightning moved most of the team, including playoff MVP Richards and top-level defenseman Dan Boyle.

"Within three years, there were maybe three guys left from a Cup winning team,'' Richards said. "That's not how you want to build."

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