Lehtonen, Stars cruise past Canucks

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

DALLAS -- For much of the season, the Dallas Stars leaned on goaltender Kari Lehtonen.
On Thursday, the Stars gave their netminder some much-needed breathing room, scoring twice early in the first period during a 4-1 win over the Vancouver Canucks at American Airlines Center.
Despite struggling in his previous eight starts, Lehtonen looked like his old self against the Canucks, stopping 27 of 28 shots to earn his 13th win of the season. His biggest save came 1:17 into the second period when he robbed right winger Jannik Hansen with a glove save at the left post that would have tied the game with Vancouver on the power play.
"After some tough going, he got some big, timely saves," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. "Kari was real good. He made a couple of short-handed saves that could have turned the momentum. And the one glove save in the second, he got a save at the right time, and it was a big one."
Lehtonen was 2-3-3 with a 3.40 goals-against-average and a .903 save percentage in his previous eight starts.
"I've had a rough go the last couple of weeks, so it's nice to have a good game," Lehtonen said. "That made me more relaxed."
Dallas (17-12-5) got a three-point night from left winger Erik Cole and two assists each from centers Rich Peverley and Tyler Seguin.
It was a game the Stars never trailed, taking the lead when center Jamie Benn scored 4:34 in with a wrist shot from the left faceoff circle that beat Vancouver goaltender Roberto Luongo top shelf. The goal was Benn's 10th of the season.
Fifteen seconds later, Dallas rookie center Colton Sceviour scored his third in four games, knocking in a pass from Peverley at the far post to make it 2-0.
"Yeah, we got caught on a bad change, causes one (goal)," Canucks coach John Tortorella said of trailing 2-0 early. "And (left winger) Tommy Sestito thinks it's a three-on-two, really he should have stayed with his guy, the one (Sceviour) who taps it in."
Three minutes after Sceviour's goal, Vancouver (20-11-6) got on the board, making it a 2-1 game at 7:38 when left winger Chris Higgins took Lehtonen top shelf on the short side with a wrister from the left circle.
Peverley also had a near-miss at 5:31 of the second when his wrister from the left circle rang off the far post.
Dallas made it 3-1 when Cole scored his sixth of the year from the left faceoff circle on a shot that seemed to go through Luongo. Cole's shot struck Luongo in the midsection before trickling between his legs and over the line.
"I'm not sure (what happened)," Luongo said. "I think it might have fallen between my legs or something and just trickled in, something along those lines. But whatever it is, it's inexcusable at that point in the game."
The Stars also looked as if they had a fourth goal from center Cody Eakin 22 seconds before the second intermission. However, Eakin's tally was waved off when Dallas left winger Ryan Garbutt was called for interference on Canucks defenseman Dam Hamhuis in the high slot.
Dallas went ahead 4-1 early in the third when rookie right winger Valeri Nichushkin scored his sixth 2:23 into the final frame after a great no-look pass from Cole. That goal chased Luongo from the game, and backup Eddie Lack entered.
Luongo stopped 15 of 19 shots before exiting. Lack stopped all seven shots he faced.
The Stars won consecutive games for the first time since winning three in a row between Nov. 13 and 17.
"We're trying to treat our home fans to a merry Christmas," Ruff said. "The energy in the building has been getting better and better."
NOTES: C Jeremy Welsh was the lone scratch for the Canucks. D Ryan Stanton returned to Vancouver on Wednesday after suffering a lower-body injury in Tuesday night's shootout loss at the Minnesota Wild. ... Stars D Maxime Fortunus, who cleared waivers earlier in the day, C Dustin Jeffrey and D Aaron Rome were scratched by Dallas. ... The goal by Dallas C Jamie Benn early in the first period was his third in four games. ... Canucks assistant coach Glen Gulutzan, who coached the Stars the last two seasons before being fired in May, returned to Dallas for the first time since his dismissal. ... Stars C Rich Peverley assisted on Dallas' second and third goals of the game for his third two-assist game of the season. ... Canucks G Roberto Luongo started his fourth consecutive game. ... The announced attendance was 15,644.

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