Recap: Kari Lehtonen Stands Tall and the Stars Hold off the Wild in OT
There were some positives to take from tonight. The third period tested the guts of Kari Lehtonen, and he responded in the best way.
The Dallas Stars won in overtime 4-3 against the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday night. The game had every aspect of hockey that fans could ask for. Wild (no pun intended) momentum swings, breakaways, special teams, mad scrambles around the net, and ludicrous saves.
The game was on national television, NBCSN. The Stars have had mixed results in terms of quality broadcasting on NBCSN, but Dave Strader saved the day. The broadcast itself was solid as long as you had something else to do during intermission.
The first period started slow for the Stars, giving up a pseudo breakaway to Erik Haula. Haula got past Valeri Nichushkin through the neutral zone, and then cruised by Jon Klingberg who looked like he really misjudged the speed of the attack. The goal was a pretty one with Haula dropping his shoulder and sweeping to back hand, where he went cookie jar on Kari Lehtonen.
The Stars responded a few minutes later on a grinding shift by Benn-Seguin-Eaves-Klingberg-Goligoski. Goose was able to sneak the puck by Darcy Kuemper on a nice feed from Seguin. The deadlock was broken by Justin Fontaine a few minutes later when the Wild caught the Stars in a 2 on 1 (it was basically a breakaway). Seguin was in position to take the pass away, but Fontaine beat Lehtonen to his near post.
The possession game was pretty much even at even strength in the first, but the Wild saw the majority of scoring chances (5-3 by my count). Dallas was able to get into a good rhythm with their cycle game, but the same could be said for Minnesota.
Mattias Janmark, Patrick Sharp, and Valeri Nichushkin came out of the Line-O-Matic tonight and the results were fabulous. In the second period Jason Demers scored on a (lucky) deflection off of a Wild player, but the setup came from the creative churning of Nuke, Janmark, and Sharp.
Every time 43-13-10 got on the ice in the second period, the surface seemed to tilt. Janmark and Sharp nearly scored on the same sequence in the second period. Conceptually, the combination makes sense. They seemed to play well off of each other, and I liked it.
Halfway through the second frame, Dallas scored on the powerplay (!!!). Patrick Eaves ripped one to the far post on another great setup by Tyler Seguin in the high slot.
Kuemper was solid as the Stars seemed to tap into some "first-half-of-the-season" creativity on the power play. The Wild/Kuemper was able to kill off a late period power play. You can bet that the Wild were happy to hear the period horn blaring.
The defensive lapses were still there for the Stars, and in some ways was a "typical" period for the team. Dominant to fairly dominant on offense at even strength, with a few nearly catastrophic high danger chances given up. Lehtonen played well not to give up at least three goals in the frame.
It was far from a perfect period, but it was an encouraging sight for Stars' fans. The team looked fast and played with their proverbial hair on fire. All you can ask for is more defensive focus even when things are flowing offensively. It is a difficult balance, but one that must be found for long term success.
Everything positive the Stars had built through two periods went flying out the window when the third began.
The final frame started with the Wild on a power play, and it didn't take long for the them to draw level. It was a weird goal by Mikko Koivu in a mad scramble around Lehtonen. It was reviewed in Toronto but upheld. It was a tough spot for Lindy Ruff, because the play may have been challenge-able, but it had already been reviewed. It was unlikely to get overturned. It was 3-3 Dallas and the game was very much in the air.
Kari Lehtonen kept the game even when he stoned Nino Neiderreiter on the doorstep. A shot from Suter came off Lehtonen's pad and fell straight to Neiderreiter. Lehtonen did well and fought off the shot. Kari had to stand tall early in the third, as the Wild came out shooting.
To make matters worse for Dallas, the Stars did not register a shot on goal for over 13 minutes.
Chance after chance came for the Wild, but Kari Lehtonen was able to hold the fort. At times, he must have felt very alone when the Wild crashed the net.
As glad as the Wild must have been to hear the horn in the second, the Stars were happier about it at the end of regulation. Shots were 16-5 in the third period.
Overtime was a different story.
Not surprisingly the skill game of 3 on 3 was a nice change of pace for the Stars.
After Minnesota controlled the opening draw, it was all Dallas. After some great chances, Jamie Benn dangled and found Klingberg in his favorite place: between the circles. Klingberg made no mistake and cooked a wrist shot by Kuemper high glove side.
The game had it's highs and lows, that's for sure.
Dallas probably feels fortunate to win a game in which the third period played out the way it did. But it has to be a boost of confidence. Good teams win ugly, and that third period was ugly.
Kari Lehtonen deserves his own article after his performance tonight. It seems odd praising a goalie that gave up 3 goals, but he faced 39 shots. Some of the saves he made were vintage Lehtonen, showing off his athleticism and flexibility. The Big Fin was terrific, and stole the game for the Stars.