2012 NHL Playoff Race: Shane Doan's Vicious Elbow & Kari Lehtonen's Big Game Heroics

via www.myhockeyshots.com

In an emotionally charged and incredibly entertaining game on Tuesday night, the Dallas Stars showed us that they are a team more than capable of responding to two bad losses as the race to the 2012 NHL Playoffs gets tighter and tighter. The Stars came out from the opening faceoff looking to make a physical statement with Steve Ott leading the charge, and the result was a frantic start to the game that was both good and bad for the home team.

The Stars used that early charge to get off to a 1-0 lead thanks to a Loui Eriksson snipe, yet lost their gameplan a bit as the physical nature of the game amped up throughout the first period. What was good to see, however, is that the Stars responded admirably in the second period with two goals and generally controlled play through the middle frame.

The third period saw turnovers and a few breakdowns erase those good feelings -- but it has to be noted that for the most part, the Stars played a solid game against a very desperate team. The unforced errors are concerning and coach Glen Gulutzan was not happy with the game overall, but in the end the Stars walked away maintaining control of the Pacific Division lead.

There are two things that this game will be most remembered for: Kari Lehtonen's late-game heroics and Shane Doan's vicious elbow to the jaw of Jamie Benn in the second period. After the jump, some brief thoughts on these hot topics...

For those that missed it, here's video of Doan's hit on Benn:

Doan received just two minutes for elbowing, although I guess it's understandable that the officials didn't see the hit as viciously as it looked in replays. There's no question that this is a suspendable offense and it's a shame to see Shane Doan the one to put a hit like this on Benn; I've always considered Doan as one of the classier players in the NHL and I admire his loyalty to the Coyotes franchise. This one hit doesn't change my views on Doan, either -- I don't suddenly seem him as a "cheap shot artist" who is the scum of the earth. He just made a very bad decision.

There's no doubting that the Coyotes were physically going after the Stars, however, and using borderline hits to do so. It seems that the early physicality by Ott and the Stars really amped up the anger on the Coyotes bench and they used their physical nature to effectively overwhelm the Stars at times in the third period. Some will point to the multiple hits by Benn as examples of their attempts to "run" the Stars, but it was the hit on Ribeiro late in the third period that really showed what they were attempting.

What's interesting about the reaction to these tactics by the Coyotes is that some Stars fans immediately turned on Dave Tippett, at least in the short term. I think the Coyotes were definitely crossing the line more and more as the game went on, but if we're honest a few of the hits by Ott and others early in the game were a bit questionable as well.

It's the Doan elbow to Jamie Benn, however, that's most important.

The reaction by the Stars players on the ice is what I'm most proud of and goes to show why we all love Morrow so much, even in the twilight of his career. He immediately went after Doan and was instantly overpowered -- but players like Ott and Trevor Daley were also quick to jump in on the action. This is what is great about hockey and what we love so much about the brutality of the sport; it's at times like these that allowing the players to police themselves is what makes hockey so enjoyable.

Shane Doan will be suspended and the debate is now over just how long that will be. He's technically a repeat offender but recent history by the NHL says that he'll likely get no more than three games, especially since Benn wasn't badly injured on the play.

What's been most interesting to me about this whole issue is the lack of a national outcry, although I'm not exactly surprised by it. It was mentioned, briefly, on NHL Home Ice this morning and it was discussed on NHL Tonight and NBC Sports Network as well. All agreed it should be a suspendable hit. What I don't get, however, is that the amount of coverage dedicated to Nystrom's hit on Letang is miles beyond what we're seeing in regards to this hit.

Perhaps it's because Benn wasn't hurt and perhaps because we can't even debate whether it was an elbow -- but suddenly there aren't any national pundits talking about how "star players" are being targeted and national outrage doesn't exactly exist right now about a player like Benn being taken out by such a vicious elbow.

This incident also shows that Stars fans are, generally, a very classy group. While the reaction to the hit on Benn definitely cause anger, I don't see one example of fans going out of their way to attack Doan or the Coyotes. While what happened to Nystrom was not indicative of Penguins fans, it's a good example of just how far things can go. Good on Stars fans for not falling into the same trap.

If nothing else, this is a perfect example that bias does in fact exist in the hockey media. If this were a Penguins player or a Bruins player -- say Malkin or Seguin, for example -- then the outrage that would exist in the hockey media would be incredible. Instead, this was the Dallas Stars and Jamie Benn and while we all agree Doan should be suspended there's really no use debating the issue beyond that.

Which is a shame. I stand by assertion that no matter the player and no matter the injury all dirty and illegal hits should be treated the same. Won't ever happen, of course.

The other topic of the night was just how incredible Kari Lehtonen was after allowing the third goal in the third period. It's impossible to accurately put into words just how good he was, in just a very short amount of time in one game -- but the impact of each save he made is incredibly substantial.

Consider how devastating a loss light night would have been if OEL had scored in overtime or if Lehtonen hadn't stood tall on multiple first and second chances late in the third period and overtime. The Stars would have dropped out of the lead in the division and suddenly found themselves right back in the middle of the pack and trying to work through a three-game losing streak.

After allowing the Coyotes to tie the game in the third period, Lehtonen was nothing less than heroic for the team in front of him. It was perhaps the best 10 minutes of hockey of his career and until this point might have been the most important. Lehtonen has been the MVP for the Dallas Stars this season and if they have any hope of making it to the postseason it's going to be because he led them there.

For good measure, here's the save of the year from Kari Lehtonen. The old school windmill pad stack just might be my favorite type of save of all time.

What's it going to take to get a "KARI KARI KARI" chant going in the AAC?

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