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Burnside: Five takeaways from Stars' solid bounce-back win

Dallas' special teams continue to shine with both goals in Friday's 2-1 victory coming on the power play

by Scott Burnside @OvertimeScottB / DallasStars.com

CALGARY -- The Dallas Stars ended their two-game losing streak in gritty fashion Friday night, holding off the host Calgary Flames for a 2-1 victory. The win, just their second on the road against four losses -- including the two to start this current five-game road trip -- brings their season record to 6-5-0.

Here are some thoughts and ramblings from an important win in Calgary.

 Video: DAL@CGY: Radulov buries PPG to put the Stars ahead

 

1. Too early for must-win

But, let's be honest, after dropping a 5-3 decision against a lesser Colorado team Tuesday, and then blowing a third-period lead in a 5-4 loss in Edmonton on Thursday night, the ability of the Stars to turn things around in less than 24 hours was critical for a team still trying to figure things out.

Unlike Thursday's mistake-fest, Friday was a much more tightly-played contest, and while the Stars have struggled to nail things down, it was just the opposite as they held the Flames to just eight shots in the third period.

"It was real important for our team confidence-wise," said defenseman Dan Hamhuis. "We haven't been able to secure wins late in games and it's a great confidence booster for our team. I think everybody raised their play today, individually. Effort level, the determination was higher and gave us a good chance to win."

Head coach Ken Hitchcock said the game had a playoff feel for a team that has played four one-goal games in their last five (and the other featured an empty-net goal by Colorado).

"It feels like we've been in playoffs since the start of this season," Hitchcock said. "I've said this before, our record doesn't indicate how well we've played. We deserve a lot better record based on how we've played, and this is kind of the reward, for me, for doing that because Calgary played awful well, we played awful well. It was really a playoff game.

"It had that feel from the drop of the puck in the first period. We finally got rewarded for just hanging in there and staying with it."

Video: DAL@CGY: Lehtonen stones Backlund with blocker save

 

2. Kari's kind of night

He's not exactly sure what the team trophy -- a kind of Roman military visor -- is, or maybe he's just not saying, but kudos to netminder Kari Lehtonen for being awarded the player-of-the-game honor by his teammates after he turned aside 29 of 30 Flames shots to secure his first victory on the season.

It's been a rough go for Lehtonen, who is used to playing lots, but is now in a limited role behind starter Ben Bishop. Friday was just his second start of the season, and he's lost both games in which he'd come on in relief of Bishop. But Lehtonen was rock solid against Calgary, beaten only by a fine shot by sniper Johnny Gaudreau midway through the second period.

"Kari was great for us tonight," Hamhuis said. "It was a tough task for him. Not playing for so long, but he works real in practice to keep himself sharp and I think we've seen him rewarded with that work tonight."

What was so impressive about Lehtonen's performance was that he made key saves at crucial moments, like thwarting Mikael Backlund on a shorthanded breakaway in the second period to keep the Stars to within a goal.

It was after the save on Backlund that Esa Lindell scored on the power play to tie the game at 1-1.

"It was big for me. I haven't played much, and then now, I was able to get a chance and of course you want to do well and help the team, and that was nice," he said. "You just have to go out there with a fresh mind and believe in your abilities as a goalie."

As for the team award, that too was nice.  

"I don't know what it is called," he insisted. "Or where it came from. But it's here and I'm happy to have it for a couple of nights."

Video: DAL@CGY: Lindell one-times PPG from the blue line

 

3. Power doesn't always mean pretty

This isn't to say that the winning goal -- a wicked shot from a sharp angle by Alexander Radulov -- wasn't a pretty goal. It was. But what led to the team's second power-play goal of the night, and fifth in two nights, was what was so impressive.

The Flames had a chance to clear the zone but couldn't, and the team's top power-play unit continued to chase down loose pucks and maintain possession until Devin Shore found Radulov down low.

What was also crucial on this night was the contribution for a second straight night from the second power-play unit. Lindell scored, but it came after some good work from Jason Spezza, who also had the primary assist on Lindell's goal Thursday, and Mattias Janmark, who rebounded nicely from a grisly outing in Edmonton where he was minus-4.

"Our power play is very effective," said Hitchcock of a unit that ranked third in the league heading into play Friday. "It's got skill, but it's got skill that works extremely hard and is together, and they've scored big goals for us all year."

Video: Radulov, Lehtonen propel Stars to 2-1 road victory

 

4. Captain sets the tone

Jamie Benn leads the Stars with 13 points in 11 games. He did not appear on the score sheet on Friday night, but here's what a frontline player does: he backchecks like crazy on a potentially dangerous play in a 1-1 game in the third period and then races back up the middle and draws a penalty driving through the slot.

And then he's on the ice in the ensuing power play, helping to create what is the winning goal.

On a night when a lot of players made a lot of the small plays correctly, it was instructive to see the captain setting the tone.

Video: DAL@CGY: Lehtonen turns away redirection attempt

 

5. Oh, and yes, the penalty kill rocks, too

Part of the reason that the Dallas penalty kill is so successful is that they don't take a lot of penalties.

They allowed just three Calgary power plays and killed all of them. The Stars' penalty kill ranks second in the NHL -- the same rank that the power play ranks.

And finally, a tip of the hat to Gemel Smith, who was impressive in just his second game of the season. And Martin Hanzal might have had his best game as a Star.

This story was not subject to approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. You can follow Scott on Twitter @OvertimeScottB, and listen to his Burnside Chats podcast here.

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