Blackhawks

Kari Lehtonen seizing the reins in goal for Stars

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Kari Lehtonen seizing the reins in goal for Stars

Kari Lehtonen or Antti Niemi?

That was the question heading into the 2015-16 season for the Stars. The early answer was both.

It was supposed to be a rotation, but Lehtonen has taken the reins and has earned the bulk of the starts as the Stars enter the stretch run.

Coming off a 27-save shutout against the New York Islanders over the weekend, Lehtonen followed that up by coming up big in a 6-2 win over the Blackhawks on Tuesday night at the United Center.

He stopped 30 of 32 shots in the win and has now won three games in a row, as well as four of his last five outings, helping the Stars become the second team in the Western Conference to clinch a playoff berth. The Los Angeles Kings clinched over the weekend.

"I think everybody realizes that your goaltender has to make some important saves for you in a game. I think our guy did that for us,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said after the game. “We had their guy get off to a little bit of a rough start which we got some momentum off of that."

[MORE: Stars secure playoff berth, but it's only Step 1]

Until the Blackhawks potted their first goal of the game at the 16:23 mark in the second period, Lehtonen hadn’t been scored on in 100:04 minutes.

That’s a big confidence boost for a team without its second leading scorer, Tyler Seguin — who’s out three-to-four weeks after suffering an Achilles injury last Thursday.

The play of his team in front of him, however, is the reason Lehtonen’s confidence level is high right now.

"It's good. I think we're playing well as a team,” said Lehtonen. “Couple big wins here the last two games, so it's exciting right now this time of year. We just need to keep it up."

Statistically, Lehtonen had one of the worst seasons of his career last year.

It reached a point that the Stars acquired the rights of Niemi in the offseason and signed him to a three-year, $13.5 million deal, committing almost 15 percent of their salary to goaltending.

Lehtonen ($5.9 million) and Niemi ($4.5 million) have a combined cap hit of $10.4 million. That’s a lot for two goaltenders, but it’s also no secret how important goaltending can be in the playoffs.

"It's huge,” Stars captain Jamie Benn said. “Both our goalies have been playing great this year, and it's nice to see that (Lehtonen) is stepping up right now and playing some pretty good hockey back there. He made some big saves at some key times in this game; he looked sharp."

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The Blackhawks have certainly gotten a taste of that. This season against Chicago, the Dallas netminder is 3-0.

In those games, the Stars have outscored the Blackhawks, 15-6.

While it hasn’t quite been that case all season long, Lehtonen is stepping up during important games, against Central Division opponents.

And they’re going to need him for the final eight games of the regular season and the playoffs if they’re serious about winning the Stanley Cup.

“I know we have a great team and we can beat anybody, so that makes me more comfortable (in net),” said Lehtonen. “It doesn't change my job. I need to make the saves and go from there."

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Blackhawks scratch out a win and Kirby Dach recalled

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USA Today

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Blackhawks scratch out a win and Kirby Dach recalled

Pat Boyle and Charlie Roumeliotis welcome Nick Gismondi into the fold before discussing Friday's win over Columbus. Robin Lehner played stellar and is forming quite a tandem in net with Corey Crawford (4:10), while the DeBrincat/Kane connection is alive and well (6:10), and the Blackhawks' struggles at even strength continued (12:10). Then, the guys react to the breaking news of Kirby Dach's recall from Rockford and discuss where he might fit into this lineup (15:10).

Listen to the entire episode here or in the embedded player below.

Blackhawks Talk Podcast

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October 19, 2007: An important Blackhawks milestone

October 19, 2007: An important Blackhawks milestone

October 19, 2007 — The Blackhawks beat the Avalanche 5-3 at the United Center. Pulling up the webpage shows an ordinary early-season NHL game, but it’s quite significant for a few reasons — and not only because of Jonathan Toews’ incredible highlight-reel goal at 06:59 of the first period to give the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead (please take a minute to find that highlight if you can. It’s a great goal).

Patrick Sharp added a goal at 08:29, and at 14:36, Patrick Kane scored a goal of his own. It was the first goal of Kane’s NHL career.

AND the first time that both Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane scored a goal in the same game.

About five years ago, I started keeping track of when they both scored a goal in the same game. It became a thing. I’d post it on Twitter whenever it happened. And people started asking what their record was when it happened, so I’d have that too. It was, and still is, one of my favorite things to follow when the Blackhawks take the ice.

As of this writing, Toews and Kane have scored a goal in the same game 96 times (102 including postseason). And the Blackhawks are 84-7-5 when they do so (with an additional 6-0 in playoffs), which is to be expected when your best players combine to do good things.

I was curious, so I enlisted the help of the Elias Sports Bureau to take things a bit further.

Believe it or not, Toews & Kane do NOT have the lead among current teammates in instances with a goal in the same game. Here’s that list (regular season only):

101 — Nicklas Backstrom & Alex Ovechkin (Capitals)

96  Jonathan Toews & Patrick Kane (Blackhawks)

94 — Sidney Crosby & Evgeni Malkin (Penguins)

64 — Patrick Marleau & Joe Thornton (Sharks)

63 — Dustin Brown & Anze Kopitar (Kings)

What is probably NOT as surprising is that they don’t have the Blackhawks record in instances with a goal in the same game. Because the Blackhawks have two all-time greats who played a long time together. Here’s that list (regular season only):

139 — Bobby Hull & Stan Mikita

96 — Jonathan Toews & Patrick Kane

88 — Steve Larmer & Denis Savard

77 — Bobby Hull & Kenny Wharram

75 — Dennis Hull & Stan Mikita

Toews & Kane may not top the list of current teammates, but the duo from the Nation’s Capitol have but one Stanley Cup together whereas the Chicago tandem has three (though Crosby & Malkin are right there with them). As for trailing Hull & Mikita… well, there’s no shame in that. Plus there’s time to add to that total. There’s a good chance they break triple digits this season, and that will be fun to track. Where will they end up when they hang up the skates? That remains to be seen, as they both seemingly have plenty of good hockey left to be played.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Blackhawks easily on your device.