Goaltending and special teams can be key down the stretch and the Dallas Stars got stellar performances from both Monday night. Kari Lehtonen stopped 32 of 33 shots and Ray Whitney and Tyler Seguin scored power play goals as the Stars defeated the Winnipeg Jets, 2-1, at American Airlines Center.
“I thought we played well. I was a little concerned that we missed some great opportunities in the first period, but we stayed with it,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “We played sound defensively. Special teams won us the game and our goaltender made some big saves when we needed them.”
The victory pulled the Stars to within one point of the Phoenix Coyotes for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Stars have one game in hand on the Coyotes, who lost 4-3 in overtime to the New York Rangers Monday night.
The Dallas win came a little more than a week after the Jets pounded the Stars, 7-2, in Winnipeg. This time around the Stars were much better, especially on the defensive side of things. The goaltending was solid as well.
"Kari was excellent,” said Ruff. “His saves were great, and his puck handling really helped us. He made some decisions, some good passes to help relieve their pressure on the forecheck. That part of his game was excellent."
The power play, which had scored only once in the previous five games, was 2-4 on a night when no goals were scored at even strength.
“The power play and specialty teams in general will be the difference here in the last 11 games,” said Whitney. “If you look around the league, every game is relatively tight. The power play won it for us tonight, and the power play got them back in it, so it’s just how the game is kind of going to be played the rest of the way.”
The loss left the Jets, who are 2-6-3 over their last 11 games, seven points behind Phoenix and six points behind the Stars in the Western Conference playoff race.
““It is (tough to make a playoff push like this),” said Jets coach Paul Maurice. “The final results haven’t been good enough for our team and like I said, before you go anywhere you got to know how you’re playing. We’re just getting closer to it. We’re not there. With where we are right now, we’re missing some key pieces and that hurts us a little bit, but the guys that have come in have given me what they have.”
The Stars went on the game’s first power play 4:17 into the first period and cashed in to take a 1-0 lead. Jamie Benn sent a cross-ice pass to Whitney, who scored on a blast from the left circle at the 5:32 mark.
Lehtonen came up with a big save 9:10 into the period, stopping Blake Wheeler from close range to keep it a 1-0 game.
The Stars had a couple of chances to extend the lead later in the period, but Jets goaltender Al Montoya stopped Valeri Nichushkin as he broke in alone on net with the Stars on their second power play of the night, and Alex Chiasson shot wide on a point blank chance at even strength.
The Stars finally did extend the lead late in the second period by cashing in on their third power play. After Seguin hit a post on a shot from the left circle, he dug the puck out during a scramble in front of the Winnipeg net and put it past Montoya to give the Stars a 2-0 lead with 3:51 remaining in the second period.
“Five-on-five was pretty tight out there and it always is this time of year,” said Stars defenseman Alex Goligoski. “If your power play can get two there is a good chance you are going to win. That was good to see.”
The Jets pushed hard in the third, outshooting the Stars 15-6. Lehtonen had a great stop on Evander Kane 6:43 into the period and held the fort until late, when the Jets went on a four-on-three power play and then pulled Montoya to make it a five-on-three. Bryan Little banged in a rebound of a Kane shot with 2:44 left to make it a 2-1 game. But that was as close as the Jets would get.
“It was a solid team effort,” said Lehtonen. “The first two periods were really good, we got those two goals and we went from there.”
Next up are the Blackhawks Tuesday night in Chicago.
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.