Stars thankful to have Kari Lehtonen back

DALLAS -- No, Kari Lehtonen wasn't the top star of Thursday's 5-1 win over the Calgary Flames. That was Alex Chiasson, whose two goals helped the Stars jump out in front.

But Thursday was a reminder of how much better a team can feel about a lead when its No. 1 goalie is back there as the final line of defense. That's especially true for the Stars, whose defensive corps has already coughed up a 3-1 lead this season.

Dallas took firm control of this game in the span of 61 seconds in the middle of the second period, scoring three goals in quick succession. Lehtonen made sure that it was all that was needed.

"It makes a difference having him in [goal]," said captain Jamie Benn, who found the net on Thursday. "If you make a mistake, more times than not, he makes the stop. We don't want to give up those Grade-A chances in the slot, and we're trying to keep things outside. We feel like if we don't give up those great chances, Kari will stop everything else."

Calgary, at the end of a disappointing road trip, did what it could to put pressure on Lehtonen. But he turned all but one shot back. And by simply having him in net again, the defensive pairs seemed more comfortable.

Lehtonen had missed the previous five games with a lower-body injury; Dan Ellis and Jack Campbell handled goaltending duties in his absence. The Stars struggled in that span, losing four of those games and surrendering 22 goals (one was an empty-netter).

"I felt a little bit rusty," Lehtonen said. "I hadn't played in two weeks and the speed of the game is different. We kept it simple. I felt good. It was nice to be out there."

If this young Stars team is to claw its way to the playoffs, it's clear that Lehtonen can't be missing five-game stretches. He was a difference-maker Thursday. Dallas needs that for the rest of this season.