Kari Lehtonen and the Dallas Stars aren’t slowing down, even if it hasn’t been easy to stay on this late-season surge.
The sputtering Minnesota Wild gave them all they could handle, but the Western Conference’s hottest team emerged with yet another win.
Jamie Benn’s goal early in the third period, and Lehtonen’s second consecutive shutout gave the Stars their sixth straight victory, 1-0 over the Wild on Tuesday night.
”We got two points, and that’s what we came here for. We’re not trying to make it pretty out there,” Benn said. ”We want to keep it ugly, play a simple game, and that’s why we’re successful lately.”
Benn scored for the third time in four games to give him 21 goals this season. He snagged a rink-wide pass from Brenden Morrow that glanced off Wild left wing Stephane Veilleux’s stick and straight to Benn for the tip-in with 16:14 remaining.
”What you have to do is stay patient. We know the game is 60 minutes, and if it takes 59 minutes, then it does. Keep sticking with the game plan,” Benn said.
The Stars haven’t needed that long to score lately. They’re 10-0-1 in their past 11 games, with seven victories in regulation. The Stars have taken over the Pacific Division race, and have a four-point lead with 12 games to play.
”I’m really realizing in this league that there’s no breaks,” first-year head coach Glen Gulutzan said. ”If you take your foot off the gas for a second, someone’s going to pass you.”
Lehtonen made 25 saves. He hasn’t lost a road start in regulation since Feb. 14 at Detroit.
”He stops every puck pretty much. The guy is a workhorse. He’s unbelievable back there,” Benn said.
With Wild goalie Matt Hackett pulled for an extra skater, Kyle Brodziak had a prime chance to tie it in the final seconds when Devin Setoguchi’s pass set him up in front of the net for a one-timer. Lehtonen smothered the puck, even though he didn’t appear to realize where it was.
”The only thing I didn’t like about it is he looked behind him, but he had it squeezed in there tight. That gives a coach heart attacks, but that’s just the kind of goaltending we’ve been getting,” Gulutzan said.
Hackett, the rookie making his second straight start, made 24 saves. With Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding both bothered by lower-body injuries, one bright spot for the Wild down the stretch of this lost season is the opportunity to give Hackett more time.
”He’s composed and focused, and technically he’s very sound, and I think we all have to be impressed with what we’ve seen,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said.
For only the second time in 10 games, the Wild kept their opponent scoreless in the first period. They held up in the second period, too. Hackett served up a few big rebounds but received a loud cheer from the crowd when he located a loose puck in the crease and scissor-kicked his legs together to cover it from Benn.
Benn was around the net all night, so it was fitting he was there for the only goal, too. Benn leads the team with seven game-winners this season.
”Keep playing simple and hard and don’t try to do too much. We’ve been able to eliminate big mistakes, and that’s working,” Lehtonen said.
Morrow has two points in two games since returning from an 18-game absence due to neck and shoulder stiffness. He collided with Wild center Matt Cullen at the end line in the final seconds of the middle frame, knocking knees with Cullen and drawing a tripping penalty that gave the Wild a 4-on-3 advantage. The Stars killed that off, and have given up only one power-play goal in their last 35 short-handed situations. They reached the top 10 in the NHL in that category after being in the bottom third just three weeks ago.
”I give a lot of credit to Dallas. You can see why they’ve been as good as they have been lately, because they just stick with their game,” Yeo said.
The Wild, in danger of posting their lowest point total in 10 years, have won only six times in regulation in their past 40 games — and twice in their past 19 without the aid of a shootout. Beset by injuries to some of their best forwards, their lineup is as depleted as ever. Veilleux played on the first line, and Darroll Powe was again with the second group. They are last in the league with 150 goals.
But the effort was better in this game, and that’s about all they can hope for at this point.
”When we play like that we give ourselves a chance to win every night,” Brodziak said.
NOTES: Cullen hobbled to the locker room but returned in the third period. Wild D Steven Kampfer took a stick to the face and left the ice bleeding in the final frame. … Wild RW Cal Clutterbuck (illness) returned from a three-game absence. RW Nick Johnson was a healthy scratch, two days after Yeo said he needed to see more urgency from his skaters. … Stars D Sheldon Souray (lower body) was scratched for the second straight game. RW Radek Dvorak (ankle) was out, too, after getting hurt in the previous game.