DALLAS – Despite having been outplayed during lengthy stretches, the Dallas Stars are getting bailed out by goalie Kari Lehtonen.
Lehtonen made 36 saves, Loui Eriksson scored short-handed, and the Stars hung on to beat the St. Louis Blues 3-2 on Thursday night. The crowd was announced at 7,949, but there were only about half that many in the seats.
Lehtonen has stopped 113 of 117 shots he’s faced (a .966 save percentage) and has a 1.30 goals-against average in his first three starts this season, all victories.
“He’s been spectacular, he’s been real good,” Stars rookie coach Glen Gulutzan said. “We can’t ask for anything more than he’s given us. He’s won two games single-handedly for us here, for sure. These last two were certainly Kari.”
Stars teammates blocked 20 shots to take some of the heat off Lehtonen.
“Guys are really digging in and blocking shots, and Kari is so good right now and making saves, so it’s nice to have confidence in that,” Eriksson said.
Brenden Morrow added a power-play goal and Adam Burish connected at even strength for Dallas (3-1).
Matt D’Agostini and Chris Stewart scored to rally St. Louis from a three-goal deficit, and Jaroslav Halak made 21 saves for the Blues (1-2) in their first road game of the season.
Lehtonen came up with a key stop with 2:51 left on Alex Pietrangelo’s short-handed attempt from the right circle.
The Blues pulled Halak and had a 6-on-4 advantage with 1:04 left when Eriksson went to the penalty box for tripping.
But St. Louis’ Andy McDonald was called for holding with 8.9 seconds remaining, forcing a faceoff in the Blues’ zone to all but end the game.
“I think we played great for the first half of the game,” Lehtonen said. “They got some shots, but no crazy scoring chances. Then we got the big lead and after that, we just have to learn how to play with that. We just stopped playing a little bit. It got difficult. We still got the two points, so that’s good, but we have to do better.”
Only 37 seconds had elapsed on a holding penalty to teammate Nicklas Grossman when Eriksson collected a loose puck in the neutral zone, skated in alone and beat Halak on a backhander for the first period’s lone goal at 18:50.
Trevor Daley set up Burish for a one-timer from the left circle at 7:06 of the second period to stretch Dallas’ lead to 2-0, and Morrow’s redirect of Stephane Robidas’ setup gave Dallas a three-goal pad at 14:21 of the second.
“They had the jump on us at the start,” Blues centre Alexander Steen said. “By the second period, I thought we got back to our game and started taking over little by little. I thought the way we were playing, we were going to equalize.”
D’Agostini’s rebound got the Blues on the board 20 seconds after Morrow’s goal, and Stewart scored from the right point at 3:58 of the third period to make it a one-goal game.
The Blues’ failure to beat Lehtonen on any of their five power-play chances proved their undoing.
“It’s going to continue to be a work in progress,” Blues coach Davis Payne said of his team’s power play. “I thought it got better. Now we have to take that next step where the execution leads to a chance to be buried.”
NOTES: Lehtonen is 7-1 against St. Louis. … RW David Perron (concussion), RW B.J. Crombeen (shoulder) and D Carlo Colaiacovo (upper body) were out for the Blues. … Grossman (hip) was back in the lineup after missing the first three games. … Earlier Thursday, the Stars activated rookie F Scott Glennie from IR and assigned him to the Texas Stars, their AHL affiliate. Glennie, Dallas’ first-round pick in the 2009 draft, went on IR on Oct. 3 with an upper body injury. … The Stars have won the last five meetings with the Blues. … LW Eric Nystrom, acquired by Dallas in a trade with Minnesota on Wednesday, was among the Stars’ scratches.