Could Kari Lehtonen drag the Stars to the playoffs?

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The funny thing about all the doom and gloom regarding Brad Richards’ Dallas Stars departure is that he might not have been the team’s MVP last season. Kari Lehtonen deserves an equal claim to that title, at worst.

Lehtonen won both of his starts so far this season while facing a barrage of pucks. Only two out of 79 shots pierced the Finnish netminder, as he frustrated the Chicago Blackhawks and what must have been an angry Phoenix Coyotes team.

The Stars fell one win short of the playoffs last season, but Lehtonen plugged a lot of leaks for a leaky Dallas defense. He managed to win 34 games last season while stopping the fourth most shots in the NHL, but the worry remains that Lehtonen’s injury-riddled past will catch up to him.

My guess is that five teams are close to sure things to make it in the West: the Vancouver Canucks, Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks, San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings. The rest of the field is wide open, although the Nashville Predators have been all-business so far. Even assuming that the Predators make it six, I’d say it comes down to the Stars wrestling with four teams for one of two spots: the St. Louis Blues, Anaheim Ducks, Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche.

Jamie Benn’s star is clearly rising, but make no mistake about it: Lehtonen is the team’s most crucial player. Do you think Lehtonen can pull it off? Let us know in the comments.