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Stars' Lehtonen not flashy, just successful

Dallas goaltender didn't make eye-popping saves in Game 1 against St. Louis, just enough to win

by Amalie Benjamin @amaliebenjamin / NHL.com Staff Writer

DALLAS -- The fireworks, perhaps, went to Brian Elliott. The Blues goaltender had the notable saves, the big stops, the constant bombardment of pucks.

It was a quieter night for Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen in Game 1, as the Dallas Stars and the St. Louis Blues began the Western Conference Second Round. But, if the chances Lehtonen saw were less dangerous or fewer in number, his performance was no less important.

Half the game was scoreless. And even after Antoine Roussel scored for Dallas at 9:36 of the second period, Lehtonen was tasked with protecting a one-goal lead, which he did for 20 minutes before allowing a game-tying score to the Blues' Kevin Shattenkirk. The Stars picked up Lehtonen when Radek Faksa score at 15:16, and the goaltender made that stand.

So though Lehtonen didn't have the flashy statistics, the 15 high-danger saves of Elliott (he had nine) according to war-on-ice.com, the Stars goaltender was the one with the victory at the end. And maybe he finally is starting to get some credit and some confidence going into Game 2 on Sunday at American Airlines Center (3 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, TVA Sports).

"I've liked [his games]," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said Saturday. "I've said the Game 6 [win] against Minnesota [in the Western Conference First Round] was a learning experience for everybody. I think it was for him. I thought early in that series, the first game wasn't really tested. Game 2, pretty good, but it was a funny series when it came to chances and how games unfolded. There'd be nothing for a long period of time and then there would be a lot of chances inside a short period. So I like where his game is at."

Ruff said he sees some positives in the way Lehtonen is playing, despite some rough patches.

Video: STL@DAL, Gm1: Lehtonen stones Stastny on doorstep

It certainly helped that the Stars played better defense in front of him than they have in past games. And there will be games in which it isn't as good. Lehtonen will have to be able to counter that.

"It was very strong," Lehtonen said of the defense in front of him in Game 1 against the Blues. "I know they're a great team and they're going to find ways to get more chances. We need to adapt to that. That's what makes these series more exciting. You see the momentum swings and you kind of see how they're trying to adapt to something we do and vice versa, so it's exciting."

All of that will test him, especially given the way Elliott played in the Western Conference First Round against the Chicago Blackhawks and in Game 1 of the second round against the Stars. Lehtonen will have to match that.

It wasn't an easy first round for Lehtonen against the Wild. He started four of the six games, with Antti Niemi starting the other two. In five Stanley Cup Playoff games he is 4-1 with a 2.01 goals-against average and .925 save percentage.

That's a far cry from what he has done in the past, even with the blips, including allowing four goals in the third period in Game 6 against the Wild.

Before the 2013-14 season, Lehtonen had played in two postseason games, in 2007 with the Atlanta Thrashers. During the 2014 playoffs, he went 2-4 with a 3.29 GAA and .885 save percentage.

Ruff sees a different goalie now.

"There's some calmness to his game now and I think the team feeds off of that calmness," he said. "I think he feels good about his game and his numbers are good. His numbers are all good.

"We just hope that winning a series does for him what it should do to other players. It gives you that confidence that he finally knows he can be the goalie and help win a playoff series. I was extremely happy for him. The criticism has been there. He was in a tough place Year One [2013-14] when I was here when we lost out, and it's been a heck of a battle for him."

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