Playoff hockey returned to American Airlines Center Monday night, and a sellout crowd of 19,120 got their money’s worth. Kari Lehtonen turned in a sparkling performance in net, pitching a 37-save shutout as the Dallas Stars defeated Anaheim, 3-0, to cut the Ducks’ lead in the series to 2-1.
“I think tonight [Lehtonen] made a statement that he was determined to be better than he was in the previous game,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “And I asked all the players to be determined to be better in some small areas and I thought we were tonight.”
Lehtonen, who came into the game 0-4 in his playoff career, was particularly sharp over the first two periods when the Ducks had a 30-15 shots advantage, but the Stars were able to build a 2-0 lead. By the end of the night he had his first NHL playoff win and first playoff shutout.
“At the age of 30, it was about time to get that first one,” said Lehtonen. “It was nice to be able to be back there and help the team out. That’s what I have to keep doing.”
Jamie Benn, Valeri Nichushkin and Ryan Garbutt scored goals for the Stars, who scored their first two goals shortly after killing off Anaheim power plays. The Stars were 5-5 on the penalty kill in the game.
“I thought everyone did a great job,” Benn said of the penalty kill. “They’ve got a lot of skilled guys there. They know how to move that thing around. We did a good job as a group taking their time and space away. … Any time you can get some momentum off the penalty kill, you want to take advantage of it. We scored right after. We fed off the crowd.”
The Stars got a major boost from the Dallas fans, who were loud and enthusiastic from the players hitting the ice to the final horn.
“I thought the atmosphere was tremendous. I got on the bench, took a look around and it just put a big smile on my face with the energy and the waving of the towels,” said Ruff. “It’s my first playoff game here in Dallas and I thought the crowd was tremendous. You could tell they had been waiting for a playoff game. They got a game they liked and they had something they could cheer about. We wanted a little boost from our fans and, as much as Anaheim got a boost from theirs, we got a boost from ours and it was great to see.”
“We saw the towels this morning and we were pretty excited for that,” said Stars defenseman Trevor Daley. “We got to see it down the stretch. They were great. Keep it going.”
The Ducks who were opportunistic in the first two games of the series, had a 37-22 shots advantage Monday night, but couldn’t find the back of the net.
“I told the players I thought we did a lot of good things. We did a lot of good things but we didn’t score,” said Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau. “It’s a real difference playing with the lead and playing from behind in this league and from confidence to taking chances. When we were pressing a little much there and it was giving them some odd-man breaks, but I thought chance wise and skating wise and territorial wise, that we were a lot better tonight than we’ve been in the first two games.”
The Stars struck late in the first period to take a 1-0 lead. After the Stars killed off a hooking penalty to Benn, the Stars captain came out of the penalty box, joined the rush and banged home the rebound of a Shawn Horcoff shot with 35 seconds left in the first period.
“We wanted to get off to a good start and we found a way tonight,” Benn said. “Got a little bit of a lucky bounce there and it was fortunate enough there to go in the net.”
Lehtonen came up with a big save early in the second with Anaheim on its second power play of the game, stopping Saku Koivu from close range to keep it a 1-0 game. Lehtonen stopped Nick Bonino from the slot about 40 seconds later with the teams playing at even strength.
“Just looked calm. He was under control. He made some great saves for us. He made some real timely saves. But he just looked real comfortable in net,” said Ruff. “I think we’ve got a lot of players that don’t have a lot of playoff experience. I still think some of that showed. I’d like to see us show a little bit more composure with the puck at times, which led to some opportunities against. But Kari’s play back there was a calming force for us.”
The Stars killed off another Anaheim power play late in the second and then scored less than 30 seconds later to take a 2-0 lead. Tyler Seguin set up Nichushkin, who beat Ducks goaltender Frederik Andersen off the rush from the top of the right faceoff circle with 2:45 left in the second.
The Stars killed off another Anaheim power play late in the second after Antoine Roussel picked up an extra roughing minor after he and Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf went at it following a scramble in front of the Dallas net. The Ducks were not happy that Roussel took shots at Getzlaf, who was wearing a cage to protect a facial injury. The Stars saw things differently.
“It’s just something that I guess you do anything to win, but it’s not something that I think our team would do,” said Boudreau. “We’ll take them and be as physical and be as mean as they want, but obviously they know there’s something wrong with his jaw, so they’re going after it.”
“We tried to play hard, we tried to play the man,” said Ruff. “There was a couple of scrums that I’m pretty sure if you watch the scrums, our guys got punched in the face a few times in those scrums. When you’re getting punched in the face, I think eventually you’re going to punch back. Playoff hockey’s emotional.”
The Stars rounded out the scoring with 12:08 left in the third when Garbutt knocked home the rebound of a Cody Eakin shot to make it a 3-0 game and ensuring the Stars would head to Wednesday’s Game 4 a win away from tying the series.
“We are right back in it. Instead of it being 3-0, you’re at 2-1 so it’s obviously a different series,” said Daley. “We still get one more at home so we are going to concentrate on that one and do a lot of the same stuff, look at the video, clean up some of the areas and get right back at it.”
This story was not subject to the 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