The Dallas Stars wanted to put an emphasis on getting their goals against down and it was mission accomplished Thursday night thanks to Kari Lehtonen. The Stars goaltender was brilliant, stopping 40 shots for his first shutout of the season and 22nd of his career as the Dallas Stars defeated the Los Angeles Kings, 2-0, at Staples Center.
While Lehtonen kept pucks out of the net for the Stars, Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney – the team’s two elder statesmen – put them in the net in the third period as the Stars bounced back from a tough loss in Colorado Wednesday night.
Lehtonen, playing on consecutive nights, was a rock in goal for the Stars, who were outplayed for a good part of the game.
“We didn’t have a practice this morning so we wanted to give him some extra shots,” Jagr joked after the game. “So, he doesn’t have to work out after the game because he worked out during the game. That was our plan and it worked. Not all the time, but today it did.”
And Lehtonen saw plenty of shots, several of them quality chances. His first save of the game set the tone for the night. With the Kings on the power play, Lehtonen shot up his glove hand to stop a Jake Muzzin shot from the slot.
“It started well and I had a couple of good saves and that carried the whole game,” Lehtonen said. “They had a lot of good chances, but sometimes you get lucky and sometimes you don’t. It was nice to get a few of those bounces tonight. We’ve had it rough the past couple of weeks, so it was nice.”
The Kings had 30 shots over the first 40 minutes of the game, including 18 in the second period. But despite being outplayed through two periods and outshot 30-15, the Stars were in a scoreless tie thanks to Lehtonen.
“This is one where your goalie saves you in the first 40 and we picked up in the last 20. Certainly, Kari kept us in,” said Stars coach Glen Gulutzan. “It was a back-to-back and in back-to-backs you need your goalie to be good and he was tonight. Our goalie was our best player.”
The Stars then cashed in on two chances in the third to give Lehtonen some breathing room. Jagr’s goal came first, and was set up by some good work by Jamie Benn in the defensive zone. After winning a puck battle with Kings forward Anze Kopitar, Benn led the rush into the Kings zone and dropped the puck off for Jagr, who skated to the left circle and backhanded the puck off the skate of Kings defenseman Drew Doughty and into the net at the 6:34 mark.
“What was I thinking? Deke two guys and top shelf,” Jagr said. “Sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn’t. But that is what I am thinking all the time.”
The Stars made it a 2-0 game a little more than four minutes later when Cody Eakin took a hit to get the puck out of the Stars zone and start the rush and Whitney finished it off, beating Quick with a blast from the left circle at the 10:56 mark.
“That’s why you have them,” Gulutzan said of Whitney and Jagr. “They’re stingers. It doesn’t take them much to sting you. You saw that tonight, they don’t need many to get it. You look at other guys, third and fourth line guys, they’ve to create ten chances to score a goal. These guys don’t, they just need one or two.”
The Stars improved to 14-13-3 with the victory and pulled to within one point of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. They now head home for a key five-game homestand.
The Kings, who had a three-game winning-streak snapped, fell to 17-11-2 on the season.
“Didn’t cash in,” said Kings coach Darryl Sutter. “Got shut out, so you could say he (Lehtonen) was hot, but we didn’t cash in. I mean, we had lots of opportunities that we didn’t quite complete. It’s too bad, because we worked hard.”
*The Stars have won four straight games at Staples Center and have handed the Kings two of their three regulation losses at home this season.
*The Stars were 3-3 on the penalty kill Thursday. They are 9-9 on the PK over their last five road games and rank second in the league in road penalty killing at 88.1 percent.
*Jaromir Jagr has scored a goal in four straight road games and has five goals during that stretch.
*Ray Whitney has a five-game points streak (three goals, three assists).
*Defenseman Philip Larsen was back in the lineup after missing the last two games due to illness.
*Right wing Tomas Vincour was in the lineup after being a healthy scratch the last four games.
*Alex Chiasson, Jamie Oleksiak and Reilly Smith were scratched Thursday night.