NHLN Playoff Notebook: Blues advance to Conference Finals, Stars undone by goaltending

Updated: May 12, 2016 at 12:04 pm by Cam Lewis

You need good goaltending to win in the playoffs. What a boring, predictable, overused cliche. But it’s true. You can’t navigate your way through the NHL playoffs with anything less than excellent goaltending, and the Dallas Stars proved that point again last night, just in case anybody decided to go against the grain and reject it. 

After going back and forth in this series with the Blues, winning a difficult Game 6 on the road in St. Louis, Kari Lehtonen reminded everyone exactly why it was difficult to pick the Dallas Stars are a true Stanley Cup contender. 

I don’t mean that to insult the rest of the team, of course, because they were largely excellent throughout the playoffs. Even in this series, they had a Corsi For percentage of 52.2, and they dominated the Blues in shots, scoring chances, high danger chances, and pretty much every offensive metric. It was the same story during the regular season, as nobody else in the NHL produced offence like the Stars did. 

Last night, in the deciding game of the series, in front of his home crowd, Kari Lehtonen completely imploded, allowing three goals on just eight shots in the first period. Antti Niemi came in and wasn’t much better, allowing two goals of his own on 10 shots, and by then, it was too late anyway. Game 7 is obviously going to be the one everybody remembers as the time Dallas’ goaltending really let them down, but to be honest, it wasn’t just that one game. 

In Game 2, Lehtonen allowed three goals on five shots, which is, uh, yeah, even worse than what he did yesterday. Niemi came into the game in the second period and was solid, allowing the Stars to come back and force overtime, which they eventually lost, but Dallas was the better team in this game, and with a better goaltending performance from start to finish, they likely would have come out on top. In Game 5, Lehtonen was pretty terrible again, but you can also give some credit to Brian Elliott for this one, as he only allowed one goal on 28 shots. 

So really, this series ultimately does boil down to goaltending. You can look at Lehtonen and say that his poor performances let the team down, or you can also look at Brian Elliot and say that he helped steal a couple for the Blues. Either or, this was a perfect example of what goaltending, either good or bad, can do for a team in the playoffs. 

Oh, and yeah, the Flames don’t get Dallas’ first round pick this year since they didn’t advance to the Conference Finals. Instead, they get the Stars’ second round pick instead, which, to be honest, is still a pretty good return for Kris Russell, who was eaten alive this series. Against the Blues, Russell posted a 44.7 Corsi For percentage and a 36.3 Goals For percentage, which is something that we all expected before the Stars decided to pay a ransom to acquire him at the deadline.