Sharp hit Stars netminder Kari Lehtonen up high with a shot during warmups and “woke the beast,” Lehtonen joked after the game.
The Finnish goalie’s performance was no laughing matter, though, as he stopped all 30 pucks the Sharks threw at him to lead the Stars to a narrow 1-0 win. Lehtonen admitted afterward that it was nice to get the shutout, but also credited his teammates.
“Yeah, they always feel nice. It’s been a tough year so it’s something that, after a game like this, it feels especially good,” said Lehtonen. “Just the way we played, the whole 60 minutes, was really cool. Guys were blocking shots and getting to all the rebounds. We were making simple plays and not turning the puck over like we had in the past.”
Curtis McKenzie, who scored the game’s only goal, gave full credit for the win to Lehtonen.
“We didn’t really get him the shutout, he got it himself,” said McKenzie. “I think it’s really awesome for him to get that- he deserves it big time. He works hard everyday, so it’s nice to see him get that shutout.”
Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said of his club, “We’ve got to stick with it; it’s not all bad by any means. There’s a lot of good that’s going on, but right now, we’re cold and we’re paying a price for that.”
The loss extended the Sharks’ losing streak to three. Though they’ve scored just two goals over that span, captain Joe Pavelski felt his team was competitive in all three games and stressed the need to keep battling.
“We’ve just got to stick with it, keep going and keep working,” said Pavelski. “These points are important, there’s no time to hang our head. This team never does, we’ve just got to find a way to be a little bit better.”
Sharp was noticeable throughout the game, but drew the referee’s attention just 3:52 into the first period for cross-checking Pavelski. The Stars’ penalty kill was both aggressive and effective, denying the Sharks a shot on goal during their man-advantage.
The Stars generated several chances in the first 20 minutes, testing Sharks goalie Aaron Dell. Perhaps his best stop of the period came at 13:57, when Sharp’s centering attempt caromed off the skate of defenseman Justin Braun and straight back toward the net.
How Dell-icious is this save?
— San Jose Sharks (@SanJoseSharks) March 21, 2017
Dell also slid across the crease to deny Sharp on a Stars power play late in the period, keeping the game scoreless. The Sharks held an 8-6 shot lead after 20 minutes.
The second period featured more back-and-forth action than the opening frame, but both teams struggled to get shots through traffic. After seven minutes of play, the Sharks were out-shooting the Stars 2-0.
In the fourteenth minute, the Stars’ fourth line struck. Center Adam Cracknell loosed a shot from the left point and McKenzie, who was screening Dell, redirected the puck into the net for the game’s lone goal.
“Great job by Cracks [Adam Cracknell] just holding onto the puck,” said McKenzie. “That’s probably the biggest strength in his game. He must have had it for a good 10 seconds before he shot it at the net and I just found myself open in front, so I was able to get a tip on it.”
A couple of minutes later, the Sharks applied pressure with some extended offensive zone time, but Lehtonen was equal to the task.
— Dallas Stars (@DallasStars) March 21, 2017
The final minute of the period proved eventful, as Dell made a huge stop on Brett Ritchie off the rush to keep it a one-goal game and Stars defenseman Dan Hamhuis took a stick up high as time expired. Hamhuis remained on the ice while the Sharks filed off, then was helped to the Stars’ dressing room, leaving a small pool of blood on the ice. He would return for the third period, somewhat worse for wear.
The Sharks led 18-14 in shots after two periods.
Because Hamhuis was hit on the follow-through of a shot, no penalty was called and Stars fans offered a loud dissenting opinion. When winger Remi Elie was boxed for roughing two minutes into the third period, the home crowd’s disdain for referees Garrett Rank and Ghislain Hebert reached a new low. Fortunately for the duo, the Stars’ penalty kill, led by Lehtonen, proved solid once again and the crowd set down their pitchforks and torches.
The Stars were awarded a power play of their own at 7:25, when Marc-Edouard Vlasic was found guilty of slashing. The man-advantage fizzled, ending in an ugly scramble in the Stars’ zone after Cody Eakin had his pocket picked while crossing the blue line.
Though the Sharks managed 12 shots on goal in the final period, they couldn’t put any past Lehtonen. Stars coach Lindy Ruff thought his goalie played “very well” and looked “really sharp,” but he was also pleased with the team effort as a whole.
“I think the execution part of defending and doing the right thing when you have the puck was excellent tonight,” said Ruff. “There were times when we had no room and the pucks went in deep, when they had speed and transition we had some people back. Once they were inside the zone I thought we got some real good blocks. We had people in lanes.”
DAL – Curtis McKenzie (5) assisted by Adam Cracknell (5) and Jiri Hudler (8)
THW Three Stars
First: Kari Lehtonen (30 saves)
Second: Curtis McKenzie (1 goal)
Third: Aaron Dell (19 saves)
Dallas Stars at Chicago Blackhawks
United Center – 7:30 p.m. CT on Thursday, March 23
Broadcast channels: FS-SW+, CSN-CH
2016-17 Season Series: October 5 – Blackhawks 3, Stars 2
October 6 – Blackhawks 4, Stars 3 (OT)
December 11 – Blackhawks 3, Stars 1
February 4 – Blackhawks 5, Stars 3
San Jose Sharks at Minnesota Wild
Xcel Energy Center – 5:30 p.m. PT on Tuesday, March 21
Broadcast channels: NBCSN
2016-17 Season Series: January 5 – Wild 5, Sharks 4
March 5 – Wild 3, Sharks 1
Matt blogged about all things hockey at On Goal Analysis/The OGA Blogs from 2008-2014 and has written several travel articles for The Dallas Morning News. He began covering the Dallas Stars and Florida Panthers for The Hockey Writers in August 2015. Matt is also writing a biography of “Tex” Rickard, the Texas cowboy who founded the New York Rangers and the Madison Square Garden Corporation.