Kari Lehtonen leaves with injury in Stars’ win over Wild

Minnesota Wild left wing Erik Haula (56) collides with Dallas Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen (32), who loses his helmet during the third period an NHL hockey game in Dallas Saturday, March 8, 2014. The Stars won 4-3.

Richard W. Rodriguez/AP

DALLAS—Looking at the bottom line, the Dallas Stars brought a smile to the face of franchise icon Mike Modano, who saw his trademark No. 9 raised to the rafters at American Airlines Center before the game Saturday with the Minnesota Wild.

However, with Dallas losing top goaltender Kari Lehtonen to a likely concussion early in the third period, that 4-3 win was a bit more subdued than it normally would have been.

Lehtonen was run into hard by Minnesota’s Erik Haula at 6:37 of the final frame, with the Wild centerman striking No. 32 so hard, his head snapped back, struck the crossbar and his helmet flew off.

And once the Stars medical staff started attending to him, it was clear that Haula’s rush had drawn blood.

So, in that case, the referee was correct in sending Haula off the ice for the rest of the game as he received a charging major and a game misconduct for the play. Lehtonen quickly left the ice, paving the way for the Dallas debut of one Tim Thomas, acquired in a trade earlier in the week from the Florida Panthers.

Thomas was stellar, stopping all six shots he faced to earn his first win as a Dallas Star.

Naturally, Stars head coach Lindy Ruff was less than pleased to see Lehtonen have to leave the ice early in the final frame.

"Obviously not good. He went in hard, hit the crossbar hard," Ruff said. "Likelihood it’s a concussion on just a dirty play. He (Haula) should be suspended. Fourth-liner takes out our goaltender."

In years past, seeing Lehtonen leave the ice after such a hard blow to the head would have made Stars fans nauseous to say the least. But with Thomas, a guy who won a Stanley Cup with Boston not all that long ago as the Bruins’ Conn Smythe Trophy winner as playoff MVP, now backing Kari up, there isn’t much to be concerned about, other than Lehtonen’s prognosis of course.

Thomas is a true professional and even after coming into a game he never thought he’d be part of and even while sporting his red goalie pads from his days with the Panthers, he delivered a stellar performance, even if he did face just six shots.

In short, that is exactly what Stars general manager Jim Nill and Ruff wanted from Thomas from the moment Dallas acquired him.

And as a guy who isn’t one to shy away from a microphone, Thomas thanked the Dallas fans for the warm reception he received once he hit the ice in less than ideal circumstances.

"I was very honored with the reaction that I got," Thomas said. "The crowd was awesome tonight. Actually the crowd’s been great both nights that I’ve been here. Being that all this happened on Mike Modano night for me, it’ll be a night I’ll never forget."

We should know more about Lehtonen on Sunday, but at least for now it appears Thomas makes his first start in net for the Stars on Monday night when Dallas concludes a three-game homestand against the Columbus Blue Jackets.