Dallas right wing Jere Lehtinen missed a significant part of the season because of an abdominal injury, but that setback hasn’t affected his impact on the Stars’ playoff run.
Lehtinen looks to continue his strong play as the Pacific Division-leading Stars seek their 11th win in 13 games Saturday night against the Nashville Predators.
Lehtinen, one of the league’s best two-way players, was sidelined in late November with an abdominal injury that eventually led to sports hernia surgery and forced him to miss 33 games. He has had an immediate impact on the Stars since returning on Feb. 1, collecting four goals and six assists in 11 games.
On Friday, Lehtinen scored two goals for the host Stars (38-22-5) in their 5-2 victory over Edmonton.
“I’m getting there,” said Lehtinen, who led the Stars with 26 goals in 73 games last season. “Spring is the best time for a hockey player. Every game is bigger and bigger.”
The Stars, 10-2-0 in 12 games since Jan. 29, remained four points ahead of Anaheim, which beat St. Louis 2-1 in overtime. With a healthy Lehtinen back, the Stars are in position to win their second Pacific Division title in three seasons.
“He does so many things that are overlooked,” said Stars captain Brenden Morrow, who had a goal and an assist in Friday’s victory. “We missed the little things he does, his positioning. Now he’s back up to speed. He’s got his legs back under him. We really depend on him.”
Dallas, though, wouldn’t be at the top of the division without red-hot Marty Turco, who turned aside 20 shots on Friday, and improved to 8-2-0 with a 1.89 goals-against average in his last 10 starts.
The Stars, who won two of three games on their homestand, return to Dallas next Wednesday after two straight road contests.
Dallas is 18-12-3 away from home this season, winning six of its last seven contests as visitors. The Stars, though, have struggled at Nashville, going 7-9-0 with one tie all-time there.
The Predators (32-23-8) have won both meetings this season after losing six of the previous seven contests in the series.
Lehtinen, who has five goals and 12 points in 25 career games against the Predators, missed the Stars’ 1-0 home loss on Dec. 31. Turco took the loss in that game, dropping to 9-4-0 with a tie and a 1.79 GAA in 15 contests versus Nashville.
The Predators have alternated wins and losses in their last six games with each of the last four contests decided by one goal, including a 3-2 home shootout loss Thursday to Vancouver.
“The thing I like about this game is no one is satisfied with just one point,” said forward J.P. Dumont, who has three goals and seven assists during a five-game point streak. “There is a lot of frustration right now.”
Nashville is second in the Central with 72 points, trailing NHL-leading Detroit (89). The Predators are also nine points behind Dallas in the Western Conference.
“It is a matter of resiliency,” Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. “We are going to have playoff games the rest of the way through. Games like (Thursday’s) will prepare us for the playoffs if we get in.”