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Stars' Lehtonen saves best for last

Flips script on Blues with key stops in final seconds of Game 6

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / Staff Writer

ST. LOUIS -- It felt oh-so-familiar. There was a goaltender, making two huge saves, one right after the other. In Game 5, that was St. Louis' Brian Elliott, saving his team with back-to-back stops on Cody Eakin early in the third period. In Game 6, it was Dallas goalie Kari Lehtonen, saving his team with back-to-back stops on Kevin Shattenkirk and Jaden Schwartz late in the third period.

"We can just flip the script and say how well Elliott played in the previous game and just change the name to Lehtonen now," Dallas Stars coach Lindy Ruff said after his team defeated the Blues 3-2 to force a Game 7 Wednesday in the Western Conference Second Round. "It really is pretty well the same. Elliott made six or seven great saves in our building to keep the game where it was at."

On Monday, it was Lehtonen.

The seconds were ticking down, with half a minute to go. The St. Louis Blues were where they had spent most of the final 40 minutes of the game, right in the face of Lehtonen. There was a slapshot from Shattenkirk. There was David Backes trying to stuff the rebound home with 30 seconds remaining. There was Schwartz from the slot with 22 seconds left.

None of the shots got through.

Video: DAL@STL, Gm6: Lehtonen's late saves ensure Stars' win

"It was exciting," Lehtonen said. "I just try to stay relaxed as I can and just follow the puck and not try to play it any other way than I've done the last 59 and a half minutes. It's easy to say, but today it worked."

He knew they were coming, knew it as his team built its lead, one, two, three goals. He knew what he was in for. So he just tried to be prepared. He tried to set himself and do what he has done at his most successful.

"It was one of those games," Lehtonen said. "We got three goals early and it changes the game a little bit. We knew they were going to take more risks. We didn't have to score anymore, so we tried to play a more defensive game, maybe. We didn't get much going on after the first period, but that was enough tonight."

Because of him. Lehtonen faced 37 shots in the game, saving 35 of them, 14 of those coming in the second and 14 more in the third.

Video: DAL@STL, Gm6: Lehtonen stones Lehtera on the doorstep

"Our goalies have been good in the playoffs," Ruff said. "And tonight he stood tall for us and that happens in the playoffs. Goalies have to win you games sometimes. As much as we deserved the previous game, the analytics, we can just flip them around, go the other way."

When Blues coach Ken Hitchcock was asked whether the game came down to lack of finish or Lehtonen, Hitchcock at first appeared unwilling to give credit to the other team's goaltender. As he said, "I don't like giving the other goalie credit for anything, other than he wears pads, that's it."

But later, he relented. He noted what Lehtonen did in that final minute, with the Blues goalie - Jake Allen, at that point - out of his net and the Blues swarming.

"I think the goalie's save of his year was with the goalie pulled," Hitchcock said. "Two unbelievable saves with the goalie pulled. That's hockey. When you get two good teams going at it, that's hockey."

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