DALLAS – The Dallas Stars’ playoff pulse is a little stronger thanks to the goaltending of Kari Lehtonen and a strong defensive effort.
Lehtonen made 23 saves for his 17th career shutout, Steve Ott scored his second goal in 25 games on the power play, and the Stars pulled closer to the final Western Conference playoff spot with a 3-0 victory over the short-handed Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday night.
“It’s always nice when you don’t let any goals in, especially in a situation like this one where you have to win,” Lehtonen said. “That was good that I was able to do my part and the guys did their part and that usually equals two points.”
Loui Eriksson and Brenden Morrow had empty-netters in the final 53 seconds to secure the win for Dallas, which improved to 91 points.
The Stars and idle Calgary have the same number of points, but Dallas holds the No. 9 seed in the conference based on more regulation wins.
Dallas and Calgary are two points behind Chicago and Anaheim for the last playoff spot. Anaheim is No. 7, owning the tiebreaker over Chicago.
The Blackhawks got a point when they lost 2-1 in overtime at Montreal earlier Tuesday night. Anaheim and Calgary did not play. Dallas, Chicago and Anaheim all have three games left, and Calgary has two remaining.
The Stars have a home-and-home against Colorado on Thursday and Friday, and Sunday’s season finale at Minnesota.
“Very crucial, for sure,” Stars coach Marc Crawford said of the victory. “It almost goes without saying. It was a huge win for our team. It keeps us alive, it keeps our momentum moving forward. We’ve now got two wins in a row and obviously start our preparation for our next game against Colorado almost immediately. You can savour these victories, but not for very long.”
Ott’s deflection of Brad Richards’ shot from centre point gave the Stars the lead at 5:00 of the opening period.
The Blue Jackets are 3-10-7 over their last 20 games to fall out of playoff contention.
Columbus was coming off Sunday’s 6-1 home loss to St. Louis, but the Jackets turned in a more determined effort against the Stars.
The Blue Jackets are without their captain and top scorer, right wing Rick Nash (lower body injury), as well as goaltender Steve Mason (lower body injury), defenceman Jan Hejda (suspension), left wing Ethan Moreau (foot) and right wing Chris Clark (lower body).
“It would have been easy for us to quit, but we battled to the end,” said Columbus goaltender Mathieu Garon, who finished with 27 saves. “It’s frustrating. We’re pretty banged up right now, but it’s not an excuse.”
Garon came up with his best stop of the night when he denied Morrow from close range with 16:52 remaining.
The Blue Jackets thought they’d tied it at 1-1 with 4:43 left on a shot out of the corner that went into the net off Eriksson. But the goal was immediately waved off when Derek Dorsett was penalized for goalie interference after crashing into Lehtonen in the crease.
“At the time I didn’t (agree with the call),” Columbus coach Scott Arniel said. “I thought Eriksson had it in his hand, but (Dorsett) did drive him into the goaltender and the goaltender didn’t have an opportunity to make the save.”
Notes: Columbus D Kris Russell left early in the first period after sustaining a season-ending broken ankle. … Lehtonen had his third shutout of the season. … Stars forward Adam Burish (lower body) missed his 11th straight game. Burish is practising and might be available for the final three games. …D Nicklas Grossman (knee) and LW Brian Sutherby (back) are also out for Dallas. …The Stars have always had a problem defending Nash, who has 15 goals in 29 career games against Dallas. …Dallas returned home from a 1-3-1 trip.