It wasn't pretty, but it was two points for the Dallas Stars thanks to goaltender Kari Lehtonen. Lehtonen turned in a superb performance, stopping 34 shots to lead the Stars to a 3-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche Thursday night at American Airlines Center.
"He was fantastic," said Stars center Cody Eakin.
"You need a game every once in a while where your goalie makes some big saves to get you a win," said Stars forward Jason Spezza. "Kari did that for us tonight."
Lehtonen and Colorado center Nathan MacKinnon staged a game within the game. MacKinnon was outstanding for Colorado, getting several great chances and twice was denied on outstanding stops by Lehtonen, including a great glove save in the third period that kept the Stars up 3-2.
"He's one of those players you have to be aware when he is on the ice," Lehtonen said of MacKinnon. "In the third period it seemed like he played every shift."
Stars coach Lindy Ruff called Lehtonen "the bright spot" for the Stars but didn't like much about the game, other than the first period when the Stars built a 3-0 lead. After that, Colorado dominated play, outshooting the Stars 30-16 and scored twice to make it a close call for the Stars.
"I thought we played 20 minutes. Maybe a little more than that," Ruff said. "I don't think we played well enough. Not even close to well enough. In fact, I thought it was embarrassing how we played."
Video: Early start leads Stars to 3-2 victory
Ruff was particularly upset that the Stars gave up another shorthanded goal, their fourth of the season. That cut the Dallas lead to 3-1 and Colorado took over the game after that.
"I'm frustrated with the shorthanded goals we've been giving up because it's been big momentum in a lot of games," Ruff said. "It's lack of attention to detail, and I'm sick of it."
Johnny Oduya, Brett Ritchie, and Patrick Eaves scored goals for the Stars, who improved to 7-6-5 on the season.
MacKinnon had one goal and one assist for the Avalanche, who lost for the fourth time in six games and fell to 7-9-0 on the season.
"Loved our guys' effort for the final 40 minutes, but unfortunately 40 minutes doesn't get the job done on many occasions," Colorado coach Jared Bednar said. "That was frustrating to watch, the first period. You got to give Dallas a little credit; they came after us in the first period. For me, we weren't ready to go from the drop of the puck."
The Stars jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first 20 minutes. Oduya opened the scoring by putting a shot on net that bounced off Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie and into the net at the 8:15 mark. It was Oduya's first goal since December 2015.
"I just close my eyes and shoot," Oduya said. "I told Patty (Eaves) that I'm not like him, putting it top shelf every time. For me, it's kind of shoot at the net and see what happens, and sometimes it goes in."
The Stars added to the lead with a pair of power play goals. Devin Shore set up Ritchie who scored from the slot at 10:19 of the period. Tyler Seguin then set up Eaves, who tallied from the right circle at the 19:39 mark.
Lehtonen made several big saves in the second period including a slick save on a MacKinnon breakaway, going down on the shot, stretching out and trapping the puck in his pads.
"[MacKinnon] is so fast that it's nearly impossible to get your whole body over when he makes a move," Lehtonen said. "I just tried to keep my pad close to the puck, he felt there was almost no room to shoot and he almost went past the goal line and tried to bank the puck in. It was able to stay in my padding instead of hitting me and going in."
But Colorado got on the board with a shorthanded goal at the 12:06 mark. Andreas Martinsen was strong on the forecheck and fed the puck from the corner to MacKinnon, who scored from close range to cut the Dallas lead to 3-1.
Lehtonen came up with a couple more big saves later in the second to keep Dallas up by two, stopping a Tyson Barrie backhand shot from the slot and getting a glove on a Carl Soderberg shot from the left circle off the rush.
Colorado made it a 3-2 game early in the third when Mikhail Grigorenko made a slick one-handed deflection of a MacKinnon shot from the point at the 1:51 mark. But that was as close as it would get thanks to Lehtonen, who made a spectacular glove save later in the period on a point-blank shot by MacKinnon off a rebound in the third to keep it a 3-2 game.
"I made the initial save and saw it was going to their guy. I just tried to reach and get as far as I can. It was definitely a good feeling to have that puck hit my glove," Lehtonen said. "He and I were probably the only two players who knew the puck didn't go in. It was a cool moment, and it was nice to get those two points."
Eakin returns; Hudler feeling better
*Stars center Cody Eakin returned to the lineup after missing the first 17 games of the season due to a knee injury he suffered on the first day of training camp. Eakin centered a line with Devin Shore and Lauri Korpikoski, played 14:18 and won 15 of 23 faceoffs.
"I felt good," Eakin said. "I felt the timing was there. I did some good work on ice and off ice that led up to it. I felt good."
*There was some positive news on Stars forward Jiri Hudler, who missed his ninth straight game due to illness. Hudler has missed 14 of 18 games this season due to the illness.
"Jiri was here today. He is feeling a little bit better," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. "From what I've heard, he is close to exercising again."
*Patrick Sharp took part in Thursday morning's optional skate at American Airlines Center. Sharp has missed 14 games due to a concussion but is getting closer to a return.
"We're just waiting for him to give us the go," Ruff said.
*The Stars assigned defenseman Esa Lindell to the Texas Stars of the AHL. Ruff said the goal is to get Lindell some playing time.
"The plan is to get him a couple games and keep him active," Ruff said. "We've got eight defensemen that have been able to play, and it's been a little bit up and down for everybody. Esa put together five or six good games for us, but at this point, everybody believes he needs to keep playing."
*Colorado goaltender Semyon Varlamov's 11-game winning streak against Dallas came to an end.
*The Avalanche outshot the Stars 36-22 and had a 77-46 advantage in shot attempts.
*Jordie Benn led the Stars with 4 shots on goal.
*The Stars were 2-7 on the power play and 2-2 on the penalty kill.
*The Stars have allowed 4 shorthanded goals, tied with Philadelphia for most in the league.
*The Stars won 41 of 80 faceoffs (51 percent).
*Cody Eakin won 15 of 23 faceoffs (65 percent). Jason Spezza won 9 of 13 (69 percent). Tyler Seguin won 11 of 18 (61 percent). Radek Faksa won 2 of 14 (14 percent).
*Jamie Benn led the Stars with 22:24 of ice time.
The Stars homestand continues Saturday when they take on the Edmonton Oilers at American Airlines Center. This will be the second meeting of the season with the Oilers. The Stars won, 3-2, in Edmonton on Nov. 11.
Antoine Roussel - Tyler Seguin - Patrick Eaves
Jamie Benn - Radek Faksa - Jason Spezza
Devin Shore - Cody Eakin - Lauri Korpikoski
Curtis McKenzie - Adam Cracknell - Brett Ritchie
Dan Hamhuis - John Klingberg
Johnny Oduya - Stephen Johns
Patrik Nemeth - Jordie Benn
Scratched: Jamie Oleksiak, Gemel Smith
Injured: Patrick Sharp (concussion), Jiri Hudler (illness), Mattias Janmark (knee), Ales Hemsky (hip)
Watch: Postgame Quotes
Lindy Ruff: "Kari was the bright spot for us. Kari played exceptionally well."
Cody Eakin: "I don't think my top gear was there, but that's going to come from playing and working hard. Other than that I felt pretty good."
Kari Lehtonen: "That was definitely a good start for us."
This story was not subject to approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.