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Lehtonen leads Stars to win after shaky start

by Brian Compton
NEWARK, N.J. -- Kari Lehtonen turned some early opening-night jitters into late heroics at the Prudential Center on Friday night.

After allowing two goals in the first 7:13, the Dallas Stars goaltender rebounded and finished with 27 saves as his team rallied for a 4-3 overtime win against the New Jersey Devils.

Things didn't look good early for Lehtonen, who allowed Travis Zajac's wrister from the right circle to squeak between his skates and into the net at 2:45 of the opening period. Zach Parise made it 2-0 on a wrister from the left circle as Dallas fell into an early hole.

But Brenden Morrow made it 2-1 midway through the period before Loui Eriksson tied it early in the second, which allowed Lehtonen a chance to repay his teammates.

"That was huge," Lehtonen said of his team's rally, which was capped by Eriksson's goal at 1:36 of the extra period. "I certainly didn't get the start that I wanted. It was an easy goal there at the start of it. They got a 2-0 lead. It was great to see that our guys just kept going. When I was having a hard time, they picked it up. It was great to see the guys help me out there."

Lehtonen admitted that he suffered from some opening-night jitters, which may have played a role in his rough start.

"Especially when it's the first game of the season, you're so excited to get out there," Lehtonen said. "When things don't go your way, it's hard. But you just have to bear down and keep doing what you do well. That worked today."

It certainly did in the third period, when the Devils bombarded Lehtonen for a large portion of those 20 minutes and peppered him with 13 shots on goal. But the second pick at the 2002 Entry Draft (by Atlanta) stopped them all to help the Stars force overtime, when Eriksson ended things quickly.

"Our goalie, while he wasn't great through the first two, was absolutely dynamite in the third," Dallas coach Marc Crawford said. "He deserved the chance for us to get it into overtime."

Crawford used his timeout after Parise's tally that put the Stars in a 2-0 deficit. It was the right button to push, as Dallas managed to turn things around from that point and did a better job of managing the puck.

"I just told the guys, 'Hey, stay with it,'" Crawford said. "We weren't playing that bad, but we just can't allow them to counterattack with as much speed as they had been. When you play Jersey, they've always been a team that has taken advantage of miscues and turnovers. I thought we corrected that pretty good as a team and we got back to doing the things that would make us successful."

But the Stars wouldn't have been successful had Lehtonen not helped them weather the storm in the third period, when New Jersey outshot them 13-4. With each shot, Lehtonen began to ooze confidence.

"In the last period, Jersey got some more chances, but my game started going better at that point," Lehtonen said. "I just felt more comfortable and got into the game more. I wasn't getting too many shots before that. I just tried to get some action and get comfortable and get things rolling. We ended up with the two points, so that was huge."

Dallas will attempt to make it two in a row on Saturday night against the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum. The Stars certainly enter the contest riding some momentum after an impressive come-from-behind victory that featured some stellar goaltending late in the game.

"A huge comeback win for us ... great character and great leadership," Crawford said. "They were very committed to do the things they had to do."

Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL
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