Shooting Stars Over Raleigh as Kari Lehtonen Shines in 500th

Spoiling the Dallas Stars’ hopes of adding to their 70 points and inching up in the Western Conference wild card race was what the Carolina Hurricanes had in mind Thursday night. It would be the battle of the goalies, as Kari Lehtonen, playing in his 500th NHL game, with a 2.94 GAA and .906 save percentage, suited up for Dallas against his Carolina counterpart, backup Anton Khudobin. Doby came into the game 2.63 GAA and a .903 save percentage. At 10,025, the home crowd was sparse, as expected as the game occurred at the same time as the ACC basketball tournament. The Stars saw fit to run a little smack about the small crowd:

Sloppy

From my vantage point in the press box, the  game started out with a bit of sloppy play by both teams. The ‘Canes however were able to get the all-important early lead at 4:06 in the first period when Victor Rask captured the rebound off a shot by Brett Bellemore and easily smacked it into the net.

It was the 10th goal and 24th point of the season for the 22-year old Rask. He earned his spot early in the season, and has been consistently improving as a center for the Hurricanes.

The Stars bounced back quickly, on a very nice play in front of Anton Khudobin. At 7:37, Curtis McKenzie notched his 4th goal of the season as Khudobin slid far to his left and the puck slid past him on a pass from Shawn Horcoff where McKenzie pushed it into the wide open space.

Moments later, Alex Goligoski slapped the puck right past Khudobin. It was not a good look for Doby, but was a fabulous shot by Goligoski.

The back and forth for the next 5 or so minutes was interrupted by yet another Dallas goal. An unassisted Jason Demers took advantage of traffic in front of the Hurricanes goal and zinged it past Khudobin.

Frankly, Doby’s response after the goal seemed to indicate that he just plain didn’t see the puck. This had fast became a period that Doby wished he could have restarted.

Oddly enough, each Stars goal in the first period was the fourth goal of the season for each player who scored.

With a comfortable lead, Kari Lehtonen was able to settle into a rhythm and enjoy his 500th game. He made this great save against Alexander Semin:

Urgency

The Hurricanes had two power play opportunities in the second period that went for naught. Their total of 11 shots on goal compared with 24 by Dallas was a glaring statistic that summarized the game perfectly.

The ‘Canes were just not generating offense against this much faster, more determined Stars team. Starting the game 8 points in back of the Winnipeg Jets for the second wild card spot in the west, the Stars had much more at stake in this contest than did the Hurricanes.

At 11:37 in the third period, (the ‘Canes still with only 11 shots on goal), Dallas lit the lamp again. Cody Eakin put what appeared was the final nail in the game’s coffin. The sparse home crowd had thinned out considerably, knowing it was another lackluster performance by their team.

I asked Coach Peters after the game about the very low 11 shots on goal into the third period. Peters replied,

“We never executed. It’s hard to come through the neutral zone with any tempo or any speed when it’s in your feet, it’s on the wall or you don’t even get to the red line We didn’t execute with the puck.”

He was sort of stating the obvious. Fans want to know why the team did not execute. In particular, the veteran line of Eric Staal, Jordan Staal, and Alexander Semin seemed to have nothing in the tank. Where is the veteran leadership?

Did they leave too soon?

Some fans who headed to their cars before the game was over missed some action by the Hurricanes. In what was finally a surge of offense, Chris Terry stayed with a scrum that woke Lehtonen from his prolonged slumber and made it a 4-2 game. It was Terry’s 8th goal of the season.

Andrej Nestrasil made the game interesting a couple of minutes later, bringing the Hurricanes within one of the Stars.

What woke the ‘Canes up so close to the end of the game is unknown, and one can only wonder if they had played the entire game with the burst of intensity they had in the final few minutes, the outcome might have been very different.

An empty net goal by Patrick Eaves with 1:10 to go was the nail that the Stars needed to close this one out. They left Raleigh with a 5-3 win and a much-needed two points.

The Dallas Stars did not show me to be a team with exceptionally greater talent than the Hurricanes, they simply played with urgency. As has been the case all too often this season, the ‘Canes did not.