When Dallas Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen left the ice late in the first period of Tuesday’s contest versus the Los Angeles due to complications with his groin, many Dallas Stars fans saw that moment as the metaphorical final nail in the coffin of a tumultuous season.
The Stars at the time were coming off of impressive back-to-back wins over the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks, but still sat a handful of points outside the Western Conference playoff picture, and were in the process of trying to regroup themselves after the recent trading away of veterans Brenden Morrow, Derek Roy and Jaromir Jagr.
With time running out and without Lehtonen, the team’s number one goalie and their undisputed MVP on the season, all postseason hope seemed lost.
Sophomore backup goaltender Richard Bachman skated into the Stars net to relieve Lehtonen, but tensions were still high. Bachman had struggled heavily in the season up to that point, sporting one of the NHL’s worst save percentages at .838 and allowing four goals in each of his last three games.
But despite the hefty challenge presented to him, the competitive Bachman stepped up when his team needed him the most, turning aside all 22 shots that the defending-champion Kings threw at him, backstopping the Stars to a dominant 5-1 victory. The Kings have one of the biggest forward groups in the NHL, but the 5’10” Bachman stood stall and stood his ground against the LA attack.
The perfect game against the Kings was exactly what the doctor ordered for Bachman, as the 25 year-old regained his confidence and hasn’t looked back since. With Lehtonen still injured, Bachman followed up the win over the Kings with a 26-save performance in a 5-2 win over the Nashville Predators on Friday, and then a spectacular 31-save, 2-1 victory over the Sharks the very next night that earned him the game’s 1st star.
Over his last three contests Bachman stopped a combined 79 out of 82 shots that he faced, for a sparkling .963 save percentage that has now bumped that number for him on the season from .838 up to .884.
Most importantly, Bachman’s play helped Dallas’ ongoing winning streak reach a season-high five games, vaulting the Stars up the Western Conference standings and right back into contention for a playoff spot. The Stars currently sit in 9th in the West, a mere two points behind both the 7th place Minnesota Wild and 8th place Detroit Red Wings.
With only seven games remaining in the regular season, Bachman’s turnaround couldn’t have come at a better time for the Stars, who are now playing with more confidence and cohesion than they have at any point this year, firmly believing that they are a team that has what it takes to make the postseason.
Lehtonen’s groin injury remains day-to-day, and there is talk that he could return to action as soon as Monday night’s game against the powerhouse, league-leading Chicago Blackhawks, but if he is still unable to play the Stars can feel assured that Bachman will be ready to battle once again if he goes back between the pipes.
“You get your confidence up when you play more and more and you get a little better feel for the game and the stuff that happens out there,” said Bachman after Saturday’s win against the Sharks, as quoted by Mark Stepneski on starsinsideedge.com. “The guys are doing such a great job out there right now in front. You can see it over our last five games, they are doing the little things right, protecting the front of the net. If we don’t have anything they aren’t afraid to ice it, flip it out of the zone. We’re doing small things, little things.”