Lehtonen, top line push Stars back to top of Pacific
March, 29, 2012
By Mark Stepneski | ESPNDallas.com
A stellar outing from Kari Lehtonen and a productive night for the top line helped pushed the Dallas Stars back to the top of the Pacific Division on Wednesday night. Lehtonen made 31 saves and Michael Ryder, Mike Ribeiro and Loui Eriksson combined for three goals and five assists as the Stars beat the Edmonton Oilers, 3-1, at Rexall Place.
The Stars now have a one point lead over both Los Angeles and San Jose in the division. They have a two point lead on Phoenix, which also holds the ninth place spot in the Western Conference. All four teams have five games remaining.
“We are in a battle for our lives and we need every point we can get,” said Stars coach Glen Gulutzan. “Getting two tonight was big for us.”
It was a strong bounced back effort for the Stars, who were coming off a 5-4 loss in Calgary on Monday night to open their four game road trip.
“The last game we kind of took the flow away from ourselves with some penalties and stuff like that. Tonight our PK was good and Lehts (Kari Lehtonen) was great again,” said Ryder. “It’s a matter of doing the little things right now and make sure we don’t make those key mistakes and sticking to the hard game plan.”
Lehtonen came up with several big stops in the game for the Stars, including early. He had a sharp save on Ben Eager and then stopped Nick Schultz on a shorthanded two-on-one to keep it scoreless game in the first period.
“He’s an elite goalie; he’s up there with the big guys,” said Gulutzan. “He’s one of the reasons we’re fighting for this division title and fighting for our lives to get into the playoffs. When you get goaltending like that every night it gives your guys confidence. He’s our MVP.”
Ryder got the Stars on the scoreboard 11:53 into the game, splitting two Edmonton defenseman and then beating Oilers goalie Devan Dubnyk with a backhand shot.
The Stars extended the lead to 2-0 early in the second by cashing in on a two-on-one as Ribeiro finished off a give-and-go with Erikson.
Lehtonen came up with a huge save early in the third period, stopping a Jordan Eberle shorthanded breakaway to keep the Stars up 2-0.
“I had enough time to see who was coming and remember how he likes to deke on the penalty shots and breakaways,” Lehtonen said. “I had a feeling what might be coming, but he made that deke so fast I was lucky to get to get something there.”
Gulutzan’s thoughts on the save: “Huge. Huge. He’s been doing that all year. That’s why we are here.”
The Stars extended the lead to 3-0 a couple minutes later when Eriksson won a puck battle near the Edmonton goal line, got the puck to Ribeiro, who then quickly set up Ryder, who scored from close range.
Ryder ended the night with a two goals and an assist, Ribeiro had one goal and two assists and Eriksson chipped in two assists.
“We’ve been living and dying with that line for the last 15 games. They bounced back tonight. They were real sharp and made some real nice plays,” said Gulutzan. “Your big players have to be your best players in these games and they were tonight.”
The Oilers scored with 11:39 remaining when Ales Hemsky scored on a rebound. It came just moments after Lehtonen was stung by a high, hard shot off the stick of Ryan Smyth.
“It was a stinger up from the shot,” said Gulutzan. “I know he can play through those.”
The loss ended a seven game points streak for the Oilers.
“They didn’t do anything spectacular over there,” said Eberle. “The few mistakes we made they capitalized on. We just couldn’t find a way to battle back into a game that was important for us.”
*The Stars swept the season series from the Oilers, outscoring them 14-4 in the four games.
*The Stars are 14-5-0 against the Northwest Division this season.
*The Stars were 4-4 on the penalty kill in the game and 0-5 on the power play.
*Stars forward Reilly Smith made his NHL debut Wednesday. He played 4:05 and had one shot on goal.
*Radek Dvorak (ankle), Eric Nystrom (leg) and Mark Fistric (abdominal strain) were out for Dallas.
*Tom Wandell, Toby Petersen and Jordie Benn were healthy scratches.