The way last season ended for the Dallas Stars left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth throughout the organization, and they’re determined not to let it happen again.
Loui Eriksson had a fluke goal 13 seconds after the opening faceoff and scored again early in the third period, leading Dallas to a 3-1 victory over the Anaheim Ducks on Friday night and helping extend the Stars’ winning streak to five games.
Mike Ribeiro also scored for the Stars, who are 6-1-0 after missing the playoffs in each of the previous three seasons. It’s their best start since 2006-07, when they won eight of their first nine and finished 50-25-7 before losing in the first round of the playoffs. The only other time they started 6-1 was 1996-97.
The Stars have never missed the playoffs in four consecutive seasons.
”We set a goal to make the playoffs, and I think what happened last year gives us more (incentive),” said Kari Lehtonen, who made 35 saves to run his record to 6-0. ”We started very well last year, too, but then we faded away when other teams started getting better. We remember how hard it was to miss the playoffs, so we don’t want that to happen again. Hopefully, we can work and get better as a team and keep playing well and getting these wins.”
Lehtonen started Dallas’ final 23 games last season, going 11-7-5 with a victory and a pair of overtime losses against the Ducks. The Stars’ road loss against Minnesota in the regular season finale prevented them from getting a playoff berth and cost coach Marc Crawford his job.
Had Dallas won its final game last season, the Pacific Division would have become the first to put five teams in the playoffs since 1997-98, when the Northeast Division had five of six teams get in. The following season, the NHL went from four divisions to six after expanding to Nashville.
”It’s a very tough division, and there’s a lot of parity,” defenseman Stephane Robidas said. ”We lost our last game last year, and that’s why we didn’t make the playoffs. So every point that we can get is huge. So early in the season, we’ve got to take advantage and make sure we’re ready to play every night.”
Lehtonen made 35 saves, giving up a power-play goal to reigning MVP Corey Perry with a tenth of a second left in the second period after the Stars took a 2-0 lead.
Lehtonen has a 1.48 goals-against average during his six-game winning streak. It’s the longest at any point of a season during his NHL career and the longest by any goalie since the franchise moved from Minnesota to Dallas, eclipsing Marty Turco’s record. The Stars’ only loss came with Andrew Raycroft in net.
”We’re kind of getting used to it from Kari, and we’re relying on him to make a lot of those saves,” left wing Brenden Morrow said. ”We’ve been getting outshot almost double some nights, and he’s been huge for us. That was the case tonight. We’re a team in transition. We’ve got a new coach and six or seven new faces. But the success that we’re having now is something we can build on.”
Lehtonen has faced at least 37 shots in five of his starts. Since the start of last season, he is 14-3-2 when facing 35 or more.
”He’s a world-class goalie, and we know what kind of start he’s had, but I don’t think we did enough as a team to generate enough consistent pressure,” Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said. ”And anytime we did, there weren’t a lot of second opportunities. And on some of our best opportunities, we either misfired or shot it right into him.”
The Ducks’ loss ended their four-game winning streak. Lubomir Visnovsky hit the left post with a long wrist shot from the right point in the opening minute of the second period with Perry setting up a screen in the low slot. Lehtonen got another break at 4:12 of the period, when a goalie-interference penalty against Perry negated defenseman Cam Fowler’s apparent power-play goal.
Anaheim’s Jonas Hiller, back between the pipes after watching backup Dan Ellis’ 3-2 victory win at San Jose on Monday night, stopped 16 shots. Hiller got an early wake-up call when Eriksson played the puck at the goal line to the right of the net after a dump-in by Steve Ott and banked it in with a backhander from a sharp angle.
”Our game plan was to get the puck deep, and that’s what Ott did,” Eriksson said. ”He rimmed the puck around and it bounced out to me. I was just trying to get it to the net, and it their D-man and went in. So that was a really good start for us.”
Hiller, 3-0 with a 0.97 GAA in his previous three starts, thwarted Jamie Benn on a breakaway 1 1/2 minutes into the first period after Ott sent him in alone with a long pass from deep in the Stars’ end. But Dallas made it 2-0 at 7:40 of the period on Ribeiro’s first goal of the season. Hiller stopped a one-timer by Alex Goligoski, but the puck dribbled behind him in the crease and Ribeiro beat defenseman Francois Beauchemin to it for an easy tap-in.
Eriksson added his fifth goal at 1:42 of the third on assist from Benn behind the net, resulting in his 17th career multi-goal game. Benn also got an assist on Eriksson’s first goal.
”We came out very flat,” Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf said. ”You can’t do that against a good hockey club, and it obviously cost us tonight.”
NOTES: Visnovsky, who led all defensemen in scoring last season with a career-high 58 points, has two assists through his first six games. His hat trick against Dallas on March 4 at Anaheim made him the first defenseman in franchise history to score three goals in a game. … The Ducks have killed all 17 opponents’ power plays at home. … The Stars haven’t lost a game in regulation when leading after two periods since Oct. 31, 2009, when Alex Auld gave up three goals in the third at Nashville in a 4-2 defeat.