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"These last two games have been a little bit of a present for our fans," Dallas Stars head coach Lindy Ruff said after his club's 4-1 dismantling of the Vancouver Canucks. "We'd like to wish all our fans a Merry Christmas, too."
And to you and your family the same, coach.
Tyler Seguin, Val Nichushkin, Colton Sceviour and Erik Cole all had stocking stuffers for the faithful last night in an entertaining performance but it was Kari Lehtonen's trek from the naughty list to the nice one that may resonate in the longer term as the club embarks on a daunting trip to California for a couple of late nights with the Sharks and the Kings.
With Dan Ellis' recent success at home in recording four of the Stars' (then) six home wins Lindy Ruff admitted that, along with many of us, he did contemplate starting his backup again.
That's unfamiliar ground for Stars' fans and players alike who have seen Lehtonen's many backups fail to spell him for small stretches, much less challenge his status in games where he's clearly available and rested. Put another package under Dan Ellis' tree for his work thus far this season in getting to this point, but Lindy Ruff knows the Stars need to get their big guy rolling and Lehtonen responded to whatever added pressure he experienced, or more likely put on himself.
"He made a couple of short-handed saves that could've turned the momentum of the game," Ruff said, "And the one glove save in the second period...when you talk about needing a save at the right time, he got a save at the right time and it was a big one and it was good to see because we know we're going to need him."
That would be this glove save, which is worth another look...
"The defining moment of the game there was his save on Hansen," said Rich Peverley after the game. "That could have made it a 2-2 game. That was a turning point right there."
One of many stellar bids from Lehtonen last night while the game was in doubt.
By the time Val Nichushkin scored the Stars' fourth of the night, a dagger expertly generated by Seguin and Erik Cole, Dallas had all but, to borrow a phrase from Josh and Bruce on the post-game show last night, broken the Canucks' will on that particular night. It would have been impossible without Kari's efforts throughout the late stages of the first and second periods.
"It was fun playing out there and I was able to make a couple of good saves in the first and a couple in the second," Kari told media. He didn't mention the third there, and why not? The Stars allowed the Canucks just five even strength shots in the third, one of which was recorded as an 88 foot attempt. They salted that one away in a boring and altogether pleasing fashion in contrast to Tuesday night's frantic final moments.
Add it all up and it was his 100th win as a Dallas Star.
The young defense in front of him will continue to expose him (or Sergei Gonchar while on the power play...). It's the nature of the beast- But if he can raise his level of play like he did last night and keep the Stars within striking distance in the West in the sprint leading up to the Olympic break then he'll find much deserved rest, and perhaps a healthy Trevor Daley when they reconvene.
Perhaps then the oft-cited struggles of Lehtonen in March and April can be overcome and the team may dare to keep its short-term dream alive while Nill and Gaglardi eye the bigger picture.
In the mean time Lindy Ruff now has two goaltenders he trusts and a home-heavy schedule in January in which to find them both work. They'll both be needed as a young team faces the pressure cooker that is the NHL when the calendar turns to a new year.
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