Stars goalie Lehtonen stays hot, shuts out Penguins
After winning the last three games by a 14-1 margin, Dallas coach Lindy Ruff and goalie Kari Lehtonen believe the Stars’ latest win was their best this season.
Lehtonen made 24 saves for his second shutout in three games to lead the Stars to a 3-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night.
”The last three games have all been excellent in all three zones,” Ruff said. ”This one against a highly skilled team and taking care of special teams probably knocks the other two down a little bit.”
Sergei Gonchar, Jamie Benn and Rich Peverley had Dallas’ goals, and Lehtonen also had an assist for the second consecutive game.
”This is up there,” Lehtonen said. ”That team’s really good. We were able to play a lot better than them. We dominated the power play and the penalty kill. Overall, it was a great effort.”
The Metropolitan Division-leading Penguins have lost two games in six days by a combined 8-1 to Dallas and Florida, teams fighting to get into playoff contention.
Gonchar had a power-play goal, his second score this season, with just under 5 minutes remaining in the first period against his former team. Dallas has scored with a man advantage in seven consecutive games.
Alex Goligoski, another former Penguins player, had an assist when Benn scored to make it 2-0 at 3:14 of the second. Peverley closed the scoring a little more than 7 minutes later.
”This is desperation for (the Stars) and we saw that in their last two games. We saw it again tonight,” Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said. ”This was a desperate team, played hard. We have to be able to match that regardless of where our position is or what the standings look like.”
Lehtonen faced only 12 shots during the first two periods, before the Penguins doubled their attempts in the third.
”There were a couple of good (saves) in the second period when it was 2-0,” Lehtonen said. ”After that, we were able to score to make it 3-0. After that, it was quite relaxing. If I let one in, there would still be a two-goal lead.”
He stopped Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin point-blank 9 1/2 minutes into the third.
”With the team in front of him for the first 40 minutes, you couldn’t find more than one or two good chance,” Ruff said. ”In the third period when he really needed them, he stood tall.”
Dallas’ line of Cody Eakin, Antoine Roussel and Ryan Garbutt neutralized the line centered by Penguins scoring leader Sidney Crosby.
”We were sharp, quick and crispy, and it worked out for us,” Eakin said.
Dallas dominated the first period, with 10 shots on goal to Pittsburgh’s 4, and scored first.
Gonchar took a pass at the top of the slot from Ray Whitney on the right wing boards, and fired a high shot over Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. Lehtonen also received an assist on the score.
The Penguins’ Kris Letang went off for roughing at 1:14 of the second period. One second before the penalty expired, Benn took a pass from Goligoski in the right faceoff circle and shot over Fleury’s shoulder to make it 2-0.
The two power-play goals came against Pittsburgh’s league-leading unit, which entered the game with a streak of 11 successful penalty kills.
”They capitalized on their power plays. We didn’t,” Crosby said. ”We didn’t execute when we got chances. They carried the play for the first two periods.”
Bylsma added: ”I think momentum changed, we turn over the puck in the neutral zone. That led back to a chance against and then we took a penalty. That got their first power-play goal and in this game, we’re minus-2 in the special teams battle. That was a big part of the story tonight.”
Midway through the second period, Shawn Horcoff stole the puck in the neutral zone and passed to Peverley, who skated into the right circle and shot into the upper right corner of the net with 9:40 remaining.
The Stars again outshot Pittsburgh in the second, 12-8.
NOTES: Lehtonen leads NHL goalies with four assists this season. He has 31 in his career, with a high of six in 2010-11. … Goligoski has five assists in his last three games. … The Stars’ power-play streak is their longest since a seven-game run Dec. 11-23, 2010. They have improved from 29th in the league this season to 24th. … Dallas’ penalty killers have succeeded on their last 15 opportunities, including four Saturday. … Pittsburgh had won seven of the previous eight games against the Stars, dating back to 2003-04. … Fleury had entered the game 6-0 with a 1.95 goals against average vs. Dallas. . Defenseman Matt Niskanen’s career-high six-game point streak ended for Pittsburgh. … Benn has nine points in the past seven games.