- Mark Stepneski, ESPNDallas.com
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DALLAS -- With a big two points on the line Saturday afternoon goaltender Kari Lehtonen came up big for the Dallas Stars, leading the way in a 4-1 victory over the Calgary Flames at American Airlines Center.
“Tonight our start got us a 2-0 lead and our goalie did the rest,” Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said.
“I can’t say much more (about Lehtonen). We keep talking about elite,” Gulutzan said.” Just hope it keeps going."
The win pushed the Stars into first place in the Pacific Division and third place in the Western Conference, but whether they’ll be there at the end of the night depends on the rest of Saturday’s games.
It was a huge loss for the 11th place Flames, who fell four points behind the Stars and saw their winless streak hit five games (0-2-3) despite outshooting Dallas, 36-20.
“Well, the first five minutes or so we were standing and watching. We weren’t moving our feet. Then we got going and we played a pretty darn good hockey game after that,” Flames coach Brent Sutter said. “We didn’t give them much, hardly any shots at all. Their goaltender definitely was first star tonight, no question about that.”
Lehtonen, who picked up an assist in the game as well, was particularly impressive in the second and third periods, stopping all 29 shots he faced as the Stars held onto a 2-1 lead until the final minutes when they were finally able to add a couple of goals.
“That was fun. I felt I haven’t been my best the last three games, so it was nice to be able to help out and get some good saves,” Lehtonen said. “It’s just great to get two points.”
Lehtonen got all the goal support he would need early in the game. Benn scored on a wrap-around 1:37 into the game to put the Stars up 1-0. Michael Ryder made it a 2-0, taking a pass from Mike Ribeiro and firing a shot from the right circle past Flames goalie Miikka Kiprusoff.
“[The strong start] was huge,” Benn said. “That’s something we want to do, we want to see if teams are ready. We learned our lesson against Chicago when they came out and gave it to us in the first couple minutes. That’s what we want to do to teams.”
The Flames’ Mike Cammalleri scored off a one-timer from the right circle at 12:27 of the first to make it a 2-1 game.
After that it was the Kari Lehtonen Show. At one point the shots over the final two periods were 26-9 in favor of Calgary, but the Flames couldn’t get another puck past Lehtonen.
“His level is rising in important games,” Gulutzan said of Lehtonen. “They threw a lot of bodies at him, but he’s a big guy and he fights through it.”
Benn sealed the win for the Stars, scoring his second of the night with 3:33 left in regulation. Steve Ott sent a cross-ice pass to Benn, who beat Kiprusoff with a blast from the right circle.
Stars captain Brenden Morrow round scored into an empty net with 1:28 remaining to make it a 4-1 final.
The two teams will meet again Monday night in Calgary.
*The Stars honored former defenseman Karlis Skrastins prior to Saturday’s game. Skrastins was killed when the plane carrying his KHL team crashed in Russia last September. A framed set that included an autographed Skrastins jersey, photo and puck raised $2,750 at silent auction held during the game.
*The Stars were 4-4 on the penalty kill in the game and are now 51-54 (94.4 percent) on the PK over their last 16 games.
*Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen has a two-game points streak, picking up assists in each of the last two games. The last Dallas goalie to pick up assists in consecutive games was Marty Turco in November 2007.
*Stars defenseman Mark Fistric missed his second straight game with an abdominal strain.
*Saturday’s attendance was 17,238.