The Dallas Stars ended the regular season on a roll, and they kept on rolling as they opened the playoffs Thursday night, defeating the Minnesota Wild, 4-0, at American Airlines Center to take a 1-0 lead in the Western Conference first round series.
Radek Faksa’s goal early in the second period turned out to be the only goal the Stars would need as goaltender Kari Lehtonen stopped 22 shots for his second career playoff shutout.
“The play in front of me was excellent,” said Lehtonen. “Our defensive play has been getting better and better and tonight it was really good. I am really happy about the way guys were blocking shots and coming back and working really hard. That was the key today, I think.”
Stars captain Jamie Benn registered one goal and two assists and Jason Spezza and Patrick Eaves both recorded one goal and one assist for the Stars, who built a 2-0 lead after two periods and then put the game away with two goals late in the third.
“It was an intense game. They were ready to play. They played us tough,” Spezza said. “They played a patient game. The fans were into it. Once we got the first goal, the rink really got rocking, and I thought we used the momentum well.”
The Wild, who were missing key forwards Zach Parise, Thomas Vanek and Erik Haula, had a hard time generating much offensively against the Stars.
“The guys that are out are offensive guys, but we’ve all got to step up and try to create offense any way that we can,” said Wild forward Jarret Stoll.
“They were making it tough in-zone. We didn't use the net as much as we usually do, and weren't able to get as much zone-time as we usually do,” said Wild forward Jason Pominville. “They pressured hard once we were in the zone, and they had good layers and supported each other well. They made it tough on us, but as well as they played, we have to be better, and we know that and we'll regroup, and hopefully be better.”
The Stars outshot the Wild 14-2, registered a 30-8 advantage in attempted shots and had three power-play opportunities in the first period, but the two teams were scoreless after 20 minutes. The Stars had their chances. Patrick Sharp hit a post on the power play. And Wild goatlender Devan Dubnyk had two big saves on the Stars’ third power play, stopping a Spezza shot and then a rebound bid by Eaves.
The Stars started to cash in on some chances in the second period. After Hemsky stole the puck from Minnesota’s Jarret Stoll in the neutral zone, he set up Faksa, who scored from the slot to give the Stars a 1-0 lead at the 3:53 mark.
“It was a big goal for us because it started us off,” Faksa said. “After that we kind of controlled the game. We all just stayed focused and played defense first, and we started playing a very hard game. It was very hard to get through their defense, so we just battled hard, and we got rewarded.”
Antoine Roussel made a key play on the goal as well, hustling off the ice to avoid an offside call.
“That’s desperation to make sure you are not offside,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “That play counts as much as what anybody else did on that goal.”
Hemsky had a great chance at 10:52 of the second, but Dubnyk made a great poke check to deny the Dallas forward’s breakaway bid. But less than two minutes later, the Stars extended the lead to 2-0. Spezza came down the right wing on the rush, faked a slap shot and then moved into the bottom of the circle and scored short side, roofing a shot over Dubnyk’s shoulder at the 12:17 mark.
“I’ve scored a few there,” Spezza said. “I just kind of take what’s open. I have had really good looks.”
The Stars tacked on a couple more goals in the third. Eaves scored on the power play, putting home the rebound of a Spezza shot at the 14:16 mark to make it a 3-0 game. Minnesota challenged the goal for goaltender interference, but the goal stood. Benn scored into an empty net at the 16:00 mark to make it 4-0 Dallas and that’s way it stayed until the final horn.
“I think the last month has been very important for him. We’ve been under a lot of pressure to get where we wanted to go, and that was to try to finish on top. He was a big part of it, so that was a step and tonight was another step for him. To step inside a playoff game again because of where we left off in the previous playoffs, he did a great job for us tonight with the saves and his puck handling helped relieve pressure.”
- Stars coach Lindy Ruff on goaltender Kari Lehtonen
*The Stars outshot the Wild 32-22 and had a 62-46 advantage in shot attempts.
*Jason Spezza led the Stars with 6 shots on goal and 10 shot attempts.
*Spezza scored his first playoff goal since Apr. 23, 2012.
*Radek Faksa scored his first NHL playoff goal.
*The Stars were 1-6 on the power play and 2-2 on the penalty kill.
*Dallas won 38 of 69 faceoffs (55 percent).
*Jason Spezza won 13 of 21 faceoffs (62 percent). Radek Faksa won 10 of 17 (59 percent). Minnesota’s Mikko Koivu won 17 of 34 (50 percent).
*Stars players John Klingberg, Radek Faksa, Stephen Johns and Mattias Janmark all made their NHL playoff debuts Thursday night.
*Klingberg led the Stars with 26:10 of ice time. Ryan Suter led Minnesota with 27:24.
*Thursday’s attendance was 18,532, a sellout.
Game 2 of the series is Saturday night at American Airlines Center. Game time is 7:00 p.m. Central Time.
Jamie Benn – Cody Eakin – Patrick Sharp
Valeri Nichushkin – Jason Spezza – Patrick Eaves
Antoine Roussel – Radek Faksa – Ales Hemsky
Mattias Janmark – Vernon Fiddler – Colton Sceviour
Alex Goligoski – John Klingberg
Johnny Oduya – Stephen Johns
Kris Russell – Jason Demers
Injured: Tyler Seguin (Achilles), Brett Ritchie (lower body)
Scratched: Jordie Benn, Travis Moen, Patrik Nemeth, Jamie Oleksiak
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.