The Dallas Stars currently own the final wild card spot in the Western Conference, up three points on the Phoenix Coyotes.
It’s not going to be an easy stretch run for them, with 11 games on the road to seven at home, where the Stars have been excellent (18-10-6) this season. And it may have gotten tougher on Saturday night, when starting goalie Kari Lehtonen went down on this play against the Minnesota Wild, when Erik Haula was given a 5-minute major for running him in the third period:
(Please do enjoy your suspension, Mr. Haula.)
“He hit the crossbar hard and all likelihood is, it’s a concussion on just a dirty play. He should be suspended. A fourth-liner kicks out our goaltender,” said Coach Lindy Ruff after the Stars’ 4-3 win.
If it is a concussion … well, who knows what that means for Lehtonen this season.
Luckily, the one deadline acquisition that GM Jim Nill made was in goal. It’s entirely possible that Dallas will have to cash in that Tim Thomas insurance policy to make the postseason.
Thomas saw his first action with Dallas last night, wearing his old Florida Panthers pads and mask and stopping all six shots he faced. Depending on his creasemate’s health, the 39 year old might be the key to the Stars’ playoff hopes.
“When it (Kari Lehtonen injury) happened I started thinking real fast right away, how hurt is he? Am I going in?” said Thomas after the game. “It was in a certain way one of the easiest wins I’ve ever gotten in my career, but it was great to see the team comeback. They deserved it. When the going got tough, we found a way to win.”
Kari Lehtonen has appeared in 53 games this season. Dan Ellis, the backup traded to the Panthers for Thomas, started 11 games.
Ruff was pleased with what he saw in Thomas’ debut.
“He made some plays that perhaps younger goaltenders wouldn’t make. Even the play to keep the puck alive so we could get out of the zone without a faceoff and letting them get organized. He challenged one play that was a great challenge right in front of the net that was vintage Tim Thomas. You can’t buy that experience and you can’t teach it,” he said.
Lehtonen is due to be evaluated further on Sunday. That’s when we’ll find out if Thomas was simply a pinch hitter or the most important player in the lineup for Dallas. If it’s the latter, what a long, strange trip it’s been for the former Conn Smythe winner this season …