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Stars say confidence in goalies not an issue

Niemi pulled in Game 3 loss to Blues after relieving Lehtonen in Game 2

by Amalie Benjamin @amaliebenjamin / Staff Writer

ST. LOUIS -- There wasn't much to say when it was all over. It was evident, what had happened, and what, really, could anyone in the Dallas Stars' dressing room add? They had watched it unfold, saw their goaltenders victimized, their defenders posterized and their team lose in spectacular fashion, 6-1 at the hands of the St. Louis Blues in Game 3.

It was only one loss. Just one, putting the Stars down 2-1 in the best-of-7 series in the Western Conference Second Round. But it was more than that, in the way that it exposed issues that the Stars have dealt with all season; a defense that ranked 19th in goals against during the regular season and an uncertain-at-times goaltending tandem.

"It hasn't been a goalie issue, really," said defenseman Alex Goligoski, who had a giveaway that led to the Blues' first goal and who had a puck go off his skate for their fourth goal. "We're giving up some big chances at bad times, early in games. We're putting pucks in places we're not supposed to, and they've been a little harder on some battles and put 'em in the back of our net. Give them a little credit.

"But losing confidence in our goalies is not an issue. It's our game. It's been that way all season."

Still, Dallas coach Lindy Ruff will be faced with a decision entering Game 4 on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports) after Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi were pulled early from starts in the last two games. Lehtonen lasted one period on Sunday after giving up three goals on five shots. Niemi lasted slightly longer on Tuesday; he was removed after Troy Brouwer's goal at 2:34 of the second made the score 3-1. Niemi had allowed three goals on 12 shots. Lehtonen, in relief, allowed two more on 14 shots before the end of the period and another one on 13 shots in the third.

Video: STL@DAL, Gm3: Brouwer beats defense to net goal

The Blues have scored 10 goals in the last two games.

Asked about his goaltenders, Ruff said only, "They're not at the front of this one."

"I thought we handed them some plays in their own end," Ruff said. "That hurt us."

Throughout the season, the Stars have relied on their pair of goaltenders, splitting their time in net. Lehtonen and Niemi responded, for the most part. They finished the season with 25 wins each, with nearly identical numbers, including save percentage (.906 for Lehtonen, .905 for Niemi) and goals-against average (2.76 for Lehtonen, 2.67 for Niemi).

Lehtonen got the bulk of the starts in the first round, with four to the two started by Niemi. He seemed to be playing better, seizing the net from his co-star. But then came Sunday. But with a chance to bolster his team and put himself in line for a Game 4 start, Niemi couldn't do it.

"I felt pretty good after the first, like I'd made a couple of good saves," Niemi said. "We were still in the game. Obviously I'd like to get a couple of those goals back, but I felt OK after the first."

It didn't last. He didn't last.

And the Blues believed they could take advantage. They did, getting six goals in the game, including two by Alexander Steen and two by David Backes en route to the win at Scottrade Center.

Video: DAL@STL, Gm3: Steen nets a pair in Game 3

"They're a unique situation," Brouwer said. "They're kind of like us, where they use two goalies all season long. We've been able to have success in the last two games on one of the goalies and chase [him]. That gives us confidence to keep putting pucks to the net.

"Our shot totals were a lot better tonight than they were last game, than the first game. We've got to continue that, we've got to keep those totals high, making sure we're getting second and third rebounds, putting pucks at his feet, trying to make sure that we're creating more chaos around the net."

But whose feet will it be? Will it be Lehtonen in Game 4? Niemi? Who will be able to steady the Stars and find his game when Dallas needs it most? It wasn't exactly a question that the Stars were ready to ponder in the immediate aftermath of the loss.

They didn't want to address it. Not yet. And they certainly didn't want to lay blame.

Asked whether the Stars got enough saves from the goalies, Jamie Benn said, "We got a lot of saves, actually. The score could have been a lot worse. I think they almost put up 40 shots [41 shot attempts, 26 shots on goal]. I thought [Lehtonen] did a great job of coming in there. Couple of bad bounces for him, but he made some huge saves for us."

One of the two goalies will get the call to start Game 4. That goaltender will need more help. That goaltender will need the Stars to be better defensively. It's something the Stars believe they owe to whoever Ruff calls upon to try to even the series on Thursday, with changes possibly coming to the defense.

"One hundred percent," Benn said. "We should be better as a group. That's the bottom line."

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