By Harvey Valentine, The Sports Xchange
WASHINGTON — Dallas Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen didn’t know the specifics of the Washington Capitals’ 15-game home winning streak prior to Monday night’s game.
When it was over, he had played a big part in stopping it.
Lehtonen made a season-high 42 saves, Patrick Sharp had a goal and an assist, and the Stars held on to defeat the Capitals 4-2.
“I heard some rumors but I wasn’t really focused on that,” Lehtonen said of the streak. “Some guys were talking about it before the game, but I was more worried how to stop (Alex) Ovechkin.”
Lehtonen has stopped 83 of 86 shots in his past two games, both wins.
“He’s been really solid as of late for us. That’s what we need sometimes,” Sharp said. “Give up a few chances there as the game went on and our goalie bailed us out.”
Dallas’ Devin Shore scored in the game’s second minute, and Radek Faksa and Jason Spezza added goals early in the second period to make it 3-0.
Washington closed within 3-2 before Sharp’s length-of-the-ice empty-netter with 1:18 left sealed it.
The Stars don’t play the Capitals often, but have fashioned a 10-0-2 record in their last 12 games against them.
“I’ve never been able to explain them,” Stars head coach Lindy Ruff said. “I’ve had runs against different teams. You know eventually it ends at some point, but for whatever reason, you can get going against a team and it seems to be there game after game.”
One of the league’s worst road teams, Dallas (27-29-10) has won two straight away from home after losing six road contests in a row and remains on the fringes of the playoff race, five points behind St. Louis with two teams in between.
Nicklas Backstrom had a goal and an assist for Washington (44-14-7), and T.J. Oshie also scored.
“Little bit of a slow start today,” Capitals head coach Barry Trotz said. “They were faster on pucks. There were more determined than we were early.”
Braden Holtby fell to 0-4 in his career against Dallas, the only team he has never beaten. He was lifted in favor of Philipp Grubauer after Spezza’s goal, having stopped just eight of the 11 shots he faced. Grubauer finished with 10 saves.
“I was just trying to change the momentum a little bit, taking Holtz out,” Trotz said. “I didn’t think we were playing that hard in front of him.”
Backstrom broke up Lehtonen’s shutout bid at 15:52 of the second period off assists from Kevin Shattenkirk and Brooks Orpik.
Oshie pulled Washington to within 3-2 on the Capitals’ 40th shot of the night when he took a pass from Karl Alzner and lifted a backhander over Lehtonen’s glove with 7:34 left in the third period.
After playing 0-0 hockey for the first 40 minutes of their previous two games, the Capitals fell behind 1-0 just 1:48 into Monday’s game.
In a sequence that began with Holtby going full split to stop a bouncing puck from Sharp, Sharp got the rebound, skated behind the net and attempted a wraparound. The loose puck was eventually banged home by Shore for his 11th of the season.
The Capitals claimed goaltender interference on Shore, but the goal was upheld after a review.
Washington had two first-period power plays in the period against the league’s 30th-ranked penalty killing unit, but failed to convert.
“We’ve got to just be a little bit grittier, a little bit greasier, and if we’re not coming with the nice tic-tac-toe plays like we had, we’re just going to have to bang a few in there,” Washington’s Karl Alzner said. “That’ll help the starts.”