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Kari Lehtonen Keeps Hope Alive As Stars Down Flames 4-3 in Shootout

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The Flames gave everything they had, but Kari Lehtonen and Ales Hemsky led the Stars to a victory against the desperate Flames.

Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

Kari Lehtonen stood tall when he needed to as the Stars managed to hold off what I would aptly describe as a #pesky Flames team Wednesday night.  Ales Hemsky scored two goals, and Jamie Benn added another, but it was Tyler Seguin's shootout goal that held up after Kari's three saves in the skills competition sealed the victory for a jubilant Stars team.

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This much-anticipated game started with what felt like nineteen straight icings by Calgary, so the Stars' usually hectic pace took a while to set in.  Hemsky and Klingberg both had forays into the zone, but Jamie Benn would have the first good chance, tipping a wide shot into Ramo's pads before it finally died just in front of the goal line.

Meanwhile, in the defensive zone: Jordie Benn lost an edge going in behind the net, but Vernon Fiddler was able to clear the subsequent chance just as the puck was centered.  As a result of the scramble, Benn took a high stick for a four-minute power play, and the Stars went on the job in a building where they love to score.   The first half of the double minor was eventful, but the Stars couldn't quite sync up for any extended chances other than one nice Benn/Seguin exchange.  Horcoff finally did get a good chance off a nice move by Goligoski as the second half of the power play expired, but Karri Ramo was able to find the puck with his left pad to prevent the backdoor attempt from succeeding.  All in all, it was way too much of the old "one and done" chances that coaches loathe so very much.

The Stars worked their SOG advantage to 12-2, which included a 2-on-1 with Eakin and Spezza where the Ninja ended up shooting the puck right into Ramo to end that chance.  And as is their wont, the Stars promptly surrendered the best chance of the game to Calgary after some messy defensive zone coverage, but Kari Lehtonen made a nice push to his left to shut down the shot by Sean Monahan.

Mikael Backlund rung one off the far post with about two minutes to go, proving once again that Dallas's constant shot advantages mean nothing because all stats are lies. The Stars would then go back on the job after Klingberg got shoved into Lehtonen post-whistle, but again, the Stars couldn't string anything together.  Jason Spezza whistled a shot just wide after carrying the puck in, and the puck appeared to glance off Karri Ramo's stick shaft.  That would do it for the first period, with Dallas leading in shots 13-6 and tied in goals naught to naught.  Squandering six minutes of power play time against a desperate playoff bubble team seemed to bode ill going into the intermission.

The second period would start quite favorably, as Ales Hemsky ripped a wrist shot past Ramo's blocker after wafting his way across the blue line.  It was the product of some good backchecking by Seguin, and it was exactly the type of goal we all hoped we would see after Hemsky's signing last summer.  He almost added another right afterwards, but a good stick by Kris Russell kept him from elevating it past a sprawled Ramo.

Things got scary about four minutes in as Antoine Roussel was downed by a high shot off the back of his helmet as he was battling with Lance Bouma in front of the crease.  When the dust was settled Hemsky was sitting in the box serving an interference minor for Roussel.  Sure looked like the refs just wanted to get the Flames a power play to keep things from getting too uneven, but that's nothing new in this league.  Thankfully, Roussel appeared to be okay, and he returned late in the second period after what I sure hope was a visit to the concussion center to make sure he would not be in any danger.

The Stars did a great job of shutting down the first half of the penalty, but then Cody Eakin inexplicably went fishing and took a tripping call near the opposite blue line, putting the Stars two men down for nearly 60 seconds. Kari Lehtonen came up absolutely huge no less than three times, however, and the 5-on-3 proved fruitless for the Flames.  The remaining seconds of the penalty almost proved to be a blessing for the Stars, as Jamie Benn took the puck into the opposite zone and found Shawn Horcoff all alone with a beautiful pass, but the spent Horcoff (who was at the end of his shift) was unable to beat Ramo.

Jordie Benn continued to have a bit of a rough game, but he drew another minor after Joe Colbourne decided to join the Offensive Zone Penalty Parade.  This power play would look like the very distant relative of the Stars' previous time on the man advantage, as a long stretch of puck possession led to a Jason Spezza dangle, a Jason Spezza pass, and a Jamie Benn goal on the back door.  It was a thing of beauty that put the Stars up 2-0, yes siree Bob.

Unfortunately for Dallas, the Flames took a cue from the old "extended zone time" example Dallas had set, and a rather debatable non-dump by McKenzie saw the Flames come back in the midst of a Stars line change 3-on-2 and find one Johnny Gaudreau for his 21st goal of the season off basically the exact passing sequence you are supposed to do on a 3v2 rush.

Calgary almost tied it up on another 3-on-2 rush (thanks to a Cody Eakin decision in the offensive zone), but Kari Lehtonen came up with three saves in succession to shut things down.  He couldn't shut down the chance right after that, though, as Jamie Benn and Seguin were out of sync on a puck exchange below the red line, and Deryk Engelland wristed a shot past a very screened Lehtonen to level the score.  It was Engelland's first goal in *checks internet* forty-six years.

The Flames took their momentum and ran with it, nearly evening the shot total and drawing a power play off a Spezza trip that never happened. This is honestly not whining, just reporting.  Spezza did not trip anyone.  Anyhow, the Flames found themselves moving the puck with #crispitude on the first portion of the power play, but Dallas appeared to be buckling down to get to the intermission without giving up the lead.  Jamie Benn made another rush down the ice (as the leading shorthanded scorer in the league loves to do), but Ramo handily made the glove save. Jamie Benn wasn't done however, as he would draw a penalty of his own (a real trip, this time) to nullify the remaining Calgary power play.

Dallas wouldn't wait for their power play to begin before scoring.  During the 4-on-4 portion of the night, Shawn Horcoff basically shoved over Lance Bouma (who was doing something of a Cody Eakin impression) at the Stars' blue line , and the rushing Stars showed their ability to execute a 3-on-2 of their own.  Horcoff made an incisive pass to Ales Hemsky streaking to the net for Hemsky's second pretty goal of the night, which Razor aptly titled the tally a "bonus goal," as the Stars were set to begin the third period on the power play after reclaiming their lead.  It was a very nice way to go into the final frame after the seesaw affair that was a five-goal second period.

Lance Bouma opened the final period with a shorthanded rush, but Kari was able to send the slapshot wide, keeping the Stars up by one. It would prove to be the only event of note on the Stars' abbreviated power play.

Jamie Benn would continue the "Benn draws a power play" theme of the night, as the Flames would commit a weak trip of their own (in their defensive zone, finally).  The Stars decided to forgo the sweet puck movement from their previous tally, however; they would again give up a good shorthanded chance, but Lehtonen stood tall yet again, sending a Joe Colbourne shot aside.  Ruff called his timeout upon that whistle as he clearly took umbrage with the Stars' "decision" "making" up to that point on the power play. The Stars appeared to heed their coach's advice, and while they failed to convert on the remaining time with Calgary shorthanded, Ramo was forced to make a couple of saves, which is the general idea.

Ales Hemsky found himself the recipient of a wide open chance on a 2-on-1 as Wideman chose to protect the passing lane, but Ales decided to skate at Ramo before attempting a too-late pass to Spezza that was easily broken up.  If you want a summary of why Hemsky can drive fans crazy, that play is probably it.  He had scored two pretty goals thus far, but then he forces a pass instead of taking an open shot on the goaltender for the hat trick. I really do love the guy, but I would definitely send him a frowny face video emoji after that play if I had his Meerkat account.  I don't understand any digital media these days.

Do you want to know who the Calgary Flames are?  They are the team that you can out-chance and outplay all night, but then it is the third period and Deryk Engelland scores his second goal of the night and, I believe, the millennium.  I am emphasizing the absurdity of Engelland's scoring twice against the Stars.  Yes, that's right, it happened, and the Stars were tied at 3 again. It was another stupid screened point shot, and everything was clearly destined to just be the worst at that point. As if to prove that statement, Curtis McKenzie would be sent to the box almost directly thereafter.  The Stars would survive thanks to Kari, but only barely, as fate and Cody Eakin both seemed determined to provide the Flames with chance after chance.  At one point, Eakin appeared to accidentally bat the puck in on Lehtonen, but Kari was oddly (or maybe not so oddly) prepared for it.  The final five minutes shaped up to be as tense as any this season.

Did I mention how fate hates the Stars?  Jason Spezza drove into the zone and fired a puck that trickled past Ramo, but Ales Hemsky was responsible for the apparent goal, and incidental contact was called to nullify the goal.  In all fairness, it looked to be the correct call (it maybe should have been outright interference on Hemsky).

Jamie Benn fed Seguin from below the red line, but #91 was in too tight to elevate the puck, and the mysteriously heroic Ramo was able to hold his ground yet again.

Joe Colbourne then took what Razor termed an "idiotic penalty," launching himself into Hemsky's numbers along the boards.  Hemsky would go to the locker room looking extremely shaky.  I could rant about this play here, but there's no need.  It was stupid, and you should hear about it elsewhere.  Colbourne had to know exactly what he was doing, and I will be livid if the league just takes a sip of tea after the two-minute minor and does nothing else.  Hemsky would return, so I guess that's something.

The Stars again possessed the puck in the offensive zone for nearly a full minute on the ensuing power play, but the Flames were just #gritty enough to prevent the highest-grade chances.  Tyler Seguin was extremely upset after the puck was whistled down for hitting the netting, as the puck appeared to have only hit the glass (but I can't be sure).  That ended the flurry for Dallas, although Jason Spezza would have a crack at his own heroics with a last-second wrister from the slot, but the puck sailed just high, and the game would go to overtime because why wouldn't a game in the Pacific time zone go to overtime?  It's not like we all have jobs or anything.

Benn and Seguin would both have glorious chances earlier in the period, but Ramo came up absolutely huge both times.  He would have to do so again later on, as the Stars actually seemed to be the better team in overtime (for once), with Benn/Seguin + Nemeth/Klingberg doing everything except scoring for what felt like another solid minute in the Flames' zone without result.  Calgary would make its own late push into Stars territory, but the only save Kari really had to make came from almost below the red line, and we were sent to the shootout that every general manager except one is determined to diminish.

Tyler Seguin opened the shootout by scoring on a sweet glove-side wrister after Kari stopped Joe Colbourne, then Gaudreau was similarly denied by a well-positioned Lehtonen. Colton Sceviour couldn't find the five hole to win it, but it wouldn't matter as Kari Lehtonen came up huge to stop Sean Monahan and give the Stars a victory that seemed perpetually elusive tonight.

I will say this: after this game, I can see why the Flames are still hanging around in the playoffs despite their underlying numbers.  It can't last, and it won't, but man, this was the opposite of an easy game even with the numerous power plays the Stars had.  The West is a good conference.