On a night when the Dallas Stars scored six goals, including four on the power play, it was still a night that belonged to goaltender Kari Lehtonen. The Dallas netminder, playing his first game against his former team, stopped 29 shots and as the Stars routed the Atlanta Thrashers 6-1 at American Airlines Center Saturday night.
The win was the third straight for the Stars, who ran their points streak to six games (5-0-1). Trevor Daley and James Neal each scored two goals. Adam Burish and Jeff Woywitka also scored.
“It was the most exciting game for me this year. Lots of emotions,” said Lehtonen, who was traded to Dallas from Atlanta last February. “Played my own game and the guys came up big there in the third period and last part of the second. It was a good win.”
And it was a win against a team that had changed a lot since Lehtonen departed almost one year ago.
“I was kind of surprised when I looked at their lineup and it was just eight players that I used to play with. They felt like an enemy for me, so I guess I am now a Dallas Star for sure,” Lehtonen said. “I am really excited and happy to be here.”
Lehtonen, a first round pick (second overall) by Atlanta in 2002, played more than 200 games for the Thrashers over five seasons before the deal that brought him to Dallas.
“I’m sure it was extremely important to him,” said Stars forward Steve Ott. “Any time a team moves you on or kind of gives up on you as a goalie, you find life somewhere else. ... It’s pretty obvious he’s moved on. He’s our catalyst and without him it would be a completely different game. He’s been that solid for this team.”
As he has all season, Lehtonen came up with big saves at crucial times for the Stars.
“He wanted to come in have a big game and he did just that,” said Neal. “He’s done a great job for us and I’m sure he’ll keep it going for us. Anytime you’ve got big goaltending you’ve got a chance to win every night.”
Lehtonen stopped Bryan Little with just under eight minutes left in the first period to keep the Stars ahead 1-0 in the game.
After Atlanta tied the game at 1-1, he made big stops on Little and Evander Kane with Atlanta on the power play and trying to take the lead in the game.
Not long after those saves, Burish tipped a Stephane Robidas shot past Atlanta goalie Ondrej Pavelec to give the Stars the lead for good.
Daley, who gave the Stars the lead with a power play goal in the first period, added another power play goal late in the second to make it a 3-1 game.
The Stars would add three more goals in the third, including two more on the power play, to blow the game open.
It turned out to be a big night for the Stars’ special teams. The power play was 4-5 and the penalty kill went 3-3 on the night.
“We scored on three broken plays on our power play, the sticks were in the right place and it kind of just went in and the best play was the last one,” Stars coach Marc Crawford said. “I thought our penalty kill was really good and was very important and Kari made some terrific saves.”
Pregame words exchanged
There were words exchanged between the two teams during pregame warm-ups. Players from both teams gathered around center ice and there was some heated discussion, but there were no punches thrown.
Apparently it started when two players bumped into each other.
“It was almost like a money line on the redline that nobody wanted to do anything,” said Stars forward Steve Ott. “It’s good to see the intensity. They’ve struggled and maybe they’re a little cranky and we’re trying to establish a home presence. You’re obviously going to have a little heat sometimes.”
Goalie change for Atlanta
As expected, Chris Mason got the start in goal for Atlanta but he didn’t last long. Early in the game, Atlanta forward Chris Thorburn slid into Mason while trying to break up a play. Mason appeared to be injured on the play but stayed in the game. At the 7:48 mark of the first period, Mason left the game with a lower body injury and was replaced by Ondrej Pavelec.