The Dallas Stars had the Vancouver Canucks on the ropes.
It should’ve been an easy knockout.
But last night at Rogers Arena, the Canucks and their peashooter offense finally found a goalie they could light up. Kari Lehtonen allowed five goals on 30 shots, and the Stars lost, 5-4, in overtime.
Even more maddening for the Stars, they entered the third period with a 3-1 lead.
And then Loui Eriksson got one through Lehtonen’s five-hole:
And then Brandon Sutter scored on the power play:
The Stars regained the lead a few minutes later, only for rookie Troy Stecher to pot his first NHL goal in the final two minutes of regulation:
Markus Granlund then added the winner in sudden death:
To be sure, all four of the above goals featured defensive miscues by the Stars. There was a turnover just prior to the Eriksson goal, Sutter was given too much time in the slot before his, Jamie Benn let Stecher beat him at the point, and Granlund had a clear shot off a faceoff in OT.
But let’s face it, Lehtonen has to make a save or two. The Stecher goal was the real killer. Stop that and the Stars probably win. It should’ve been stopped.
Now, if last night was just a one-off, no big deal. But it wasn’t. Far from it. We all know the story here. It’s been going on for a while.
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So far this season, Lehtonen and Antti Niemi have save percentages of .891 and .892, respectively. And with cap hits of $5.9 million and $4.5 million through next season, respectively, they’re practically untradeable.
But here’s the reality — there’s no guarantee that this team will make the playoffs, especially if the goaltending doesn’t improve. The banged-up Stars (6-6-4) are barely in a wild-card spot right now, and the trade deadline is a ways away. Which is to say, the Lightning have no urgency to move Ben Bishop until March 1, if they move him at all. To get Bishop now would take a very significant offer from Nill.
It’s a tough situation, one that may not have a solution. Nill has done a great job overall in Dallas, but his great work doesn’t include the goaltending.