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Dallas Stars, Kari Lehtonen Stifle Oilers With Impressive Defensive Game

When a hockey team is playing well and playing confidently there are nights when the wins don't look as pretty as you'd normally like. While thrilling victories over the Vancouver Canucks and Chicago Blackhhawks have been fun to watch, games like Friday night's against Edmonton are going to be needed if the Stars hope to make the playoffs.

It's impossible for a team to maintain the high level of emotion and intensity we've seen the past few games from the Dallas Stars so when those games don't happen, it's important for the Stars to be able to at least find a way to win. With defense and discipline being the approach for the night the Stars methodically dispatched an overmatched Edmonton Oilers team and commenced their road trip with a relatively easy 3-1 win.

"It was an important game for us to come out and establish ourselves on this road trip," said Stars defenseman Sheldon Souray. " We're in a dog fight. It sounds like a broken record, but we're looking at the standings every night and we're trying to take care of our own business. It was a good start to this road trip. We didn't paint a Picasso, but we were strong when he had to be and we got the two points. Our goalie was good. We needed this win."

The Stars received goals from Tomas Vincour and Radek Dvorak to jump out to a 2-0 lead in the second period. Unlike past games this season the Stars were able to easily maintain that lead with strong defensive play that stifled any Edmonton attack for most of the third period. Despite a late-minute goal from Sam Gagner, the Stars dominated the final 20 minutes with frustrating defense that kept the Oilers from mounting any true comeback attempt.

The Stars maintained their spot in 8th place in the Western Conference with the win, building a three-point cushion on Los Angeles and Colorado and pulling within two points of division leading Phoenix. The Stars have made it known they're well aware of where they sit in the playoff race and each game it's clear the team knows what has to be done.

"Naturally, you kind of look at the standings before the game and you realized if we win this game we are starting to catch teams and put ourselves in a playoff spot," saidAdam Burish. "The goal is to keep getting points because it is so darn tight."

From the very start of the game it was obvious this would not be the normal, high-intensity game we've seen from Dallas over the past month as odd bounces and generally poor offensive play kept the game from truly opening up. To the Stars credit, they were able to maintain four lines rolling through the game and stay patient, not allowing frustration to overcome them in an underwhelming game overall.

What's most encouraging about the win is how the Stars maintained their discipline in a game that could have easily gotten out of hand due to the potent Oilers power play. Instead, the Stars were able to not take a penalty in 60 minutes of regulation play. Considering the lopsided nature of the special teams play of the Stars this season the discipline shown in this game is another sign of a team knowing it has to take care of business and move on, with a very big game against Calgary coming on Sunday.

"We played really tight the whole third period," said Kari Lehtonen. "They didn't get to start any kind of comeback."

With a 2-0 lead in the third period,Lehtonen and the Stars shut down the Oilers, allowing just five shots in the final frame while not worrying much about a counter attack. With a tough stretch ahead for the Stars it was good to see the team easily coast through a third period with a two-goal lead, even if the game overall wasn't the best we've seen this season.

Games like this one the Stars would have lost two months ago, when the energy level wasn't the highest and it wasn't the cleanest offensive game we've seen from the Stars. This time around, however, the Stars stayed within the system they've played so well with over the past month and easily dispatched a struggling Oilers team -- who once again is looking at another top three draft pick this summer.

One reason for the continued success of the Stars is the strong play of Lehtonen in net, who came just 29 seconds from his third shutout of the season.

"You need good goaltending in this league, and you need to score goals," Souray said. "Right now we're getting a little bit of both. Kari wants to play and is ready every night, and we're confident with him back there. It wasn't our best offensive game, that's for sure. We weren't firing on all cylinders, but we got some ugly goals, which is good for us."

Since the All-Star break Lehtonen is 8-4-3 and was a big reason the Stars were able to work through some major offensive struggles without Jamie Benn. In those games, Lehtonen has a 2.01 goals-against average with an impressive .926 save percentage, one of the top performing goaltenders in the NHL in that span. What's good to see is that Lehtonen is still fresh and isn't wearing down, especially with Richard Bachman proving to be a capable backup.

Coach Glen Gulutzan knows it wasn't the best game from the Stars this season but at this point in the season, all that matter is the fact the Stars won.

"Not our best outing, but we've got to take points right now and not worry about how we're getting there," said Gulutzan. "We've got to get points. We limited their chances. We didn't start very good, but in the second we got going a little bit after the goal. In the third I thought we played pretty tight defensively. Not our best outing, but we've got to take points right now and not worry about how we're getting there. We've got to get points."