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Kari Lehtonen’s big night gives Stars hope

Before I came to Pro Hockey Talk, I covered the Dallas Stars on a daily basis for Defending Big D. When the Stars traded for Kari Lehtonen, I sat down to watch nearly every game Lehtonen played in last spring, before his back injury knocked him out of the NHL for nearly a year. It was obvious that it was going to take some time for him to get back to full form and when he did, there’s a chance he could be an elite goaltender. All of the tools are there; he just needs the work ethic and desire to go along with his talent.

Last night against the San Jose Sharks, Lehtonen proved that he still has the ability to be a great goaltender. Stopping 45-of-47 shots, most of them of the outstanding and incredible variety, he gave his team the opportunity to get off to better starts than the Stars have seen in the past few weeks.

Has he answered the Stars’ goaltending prayers with just one game? Doubtful. But he’s certainly given Joe Nieuwendyk a much better feeling than I’m sure he had after Lehtonen’s shaky performance against Pittsburgh. Says Lehtonen (per Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News) -

(On how his back feels)

“It’s the best it’s been. I don’t know if it’s 100-percent. I think it needs a few more games, but it was a huge step in the right direction, and it was nice to see that I’m able to play at this level again.”

(On knowing he was going to get the start)

“The whole day is totally different when you know you’re going to play. I think the first game in PittsburghI was a little bit too excited, and it ended up going pretty badly. I was able to be more calm in net, and that really works for me best. I think I gave some rebounds that I wasn’t happy about, but it was great to see our guys battling for those and [San Jose] didn’t have a lot of second chances.”

The Stars are back in the playoff hunt -- sort of -- after their shocking 8-2 win over San Jose. Should they continue to ride Lehtonen, especially after such a confidence-building game?