Lehtonen, Spezza lead Dallas past Carolina 3-0
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — With no playoffs to look forward to, the Dallas Stars are stuck being spoilers. They just wish they didn’t have so much experience in that role.
Jason Spezza scored, Kari Lehtonen earned his third shutout of the season and Dallas beat the Carolina Hurricanes 3-0 on Saturday night.
John Klingberg and Devin Shore added empty-netters and Lehtonen stopped 25 shots in his second shutout in six starts to help the Stars snap a two-game losing streak and deal a serious blow to the Hurricanes’ already slim playoff chances.
“We knew how hungry they were,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. “The only thing we can do is be spoilers, take some pride in how we play.”
Cam Ward stopped 21 shots for Carolina, which fell six points behind Boston for the East’s final playoff spot with six games left. Both the Hurricanes and Islanders also are two points behind Tampa Bay.
The Stars, who earned a Western Conference-best 109 points last year, will miss the postseason for the seventh time in nine years. After putting Carolina in an even tougher spot, they’ll now try to make things difficult for the Lightning on Sunday night.
The Hurricanes failed to earn a point for the first time since losing at Colorado on March 7 — a club-record stretch of 13 straight games with either a win or an overtime loss. They fell to 2-4-2 against the bottom four teams in the Western Conference: Dallas, Vancouver, Arizona and Colorado.
“It wasn’t easy to take, obviously,” forward Jordan Staal said. “We’ve played some great hockey and given ourselves a chance. ... We thought we could stick with it and kind of find a way. We had a few chances. Tonight, it didn’t go in, and it hurts. It’s been a fun ride.”
Dallas scored more than two goals for just the third time since March 6 in earning just its 12th road win of the season. Only Arizona (11) and Colorado (nine) have fewer among teams in the West — though both of them, like the Stars, earned victories in Raleigh.
“You just try to win games, and obviously, if we win two games on the road now, it doesn’t make up for the losses we had earlier in the year,” Spezza said. “All you can do is play the ones ahead of you.”
Carolina, which scored an NHL-best 54 goals in March, was shut out for the first time since a 4-0 loss to Toronto on Feb. 19.
“I thought everything was a grind,” coach Bill Peters said. “Everything seemed hard. Everything was a split-second late or in the feet offensively. I didn’t think we executed as well as we have here recently, but a lot of (that) was due to the fact that they were above us and they had puck pressure.”
Spezza scored the game’s first goal 4:46 into the second with a wrist shot from the circle that beat Ward high to his glove side — a score that was nearly identical to Jack Johnson’s goal two nights earlier. That gave Spezza 19 career goals against the Hurricanes.
Meanwhile, the Hurricanes missed a prime chance earlier in the game and it might have set the tone for the rest of the game.
Dallas — and its league-worst penalty-kill unit — drew a minor midway through the first, but the Hurricanes came up empty on a 3-on-nobody rush after a pass misfired near Lehtonen after they caught the Stars on a line change.
“I think we might have gone to the bench a little slowly there,” Lehtonen said. “I was expecting him to pass, and it’s good that he did. ... I thought 2-and-0, 3-and-0, there was going to be some passing, and they did, so I was just getting ready for that. I think it just bounced a little bit, and that was that.”
The Hurricanes reassigned G Alex Nedeljkovic to their ECHL affiliate in Florida. Nedeljkovic was brought up Tuesday, one day after Lack was hurt at the end of an overtime loss to Detroit. ... Dallas LW Curtis McKenzie was back in Texas after a high stick he took near his eye two nights earlier at Boston caused him to bleed profusely on the ice.
Stars: Wrap up a five-game Eastern road trip on Sunday night when they visit Tampa Bay in their final road game of the season.
Hurricanes: Travel to Pittsburgh on Sunday for the start of a two-game road trip against playoff-bound opponents. They visit Minnesota on Tuesday night.