(photo: Annie Devine)

Dallas Stars Head Coach, Lindy Ruff, faces a tough goaltending decision for Game 3 in St. Louis against the Blues. Does he start Kari Lehtonen or Antti Niemi?

Lehtonen struggled in Game 2 against the Blues, allowing three goals on five shots in the first period. The Stars weren’t playing the best defense in front of Lehtonen so Ruff decided to make the goalie switch to start the second period. Niemi stopped all 19 shots he faced the rest of regulation, and the Stars mounted a comeback to force overtime. On the 20th shot Niemi faced, Blues captain, David Backes found the back of the net for the overtime winner.

In six starts this postseason, Lehtonen is 4-1 with a 2.45 goals against average and a .906 save percentage. He has only allowed 13 goals against including one shutout. Lehtonen has allowed three or more goals three times this postseason — once in the series against St. Louis and twice in the first round series against the Minnesota Wild. Conversely, he has allowed one goal or less three times — once against the Blues and twice against the Wild.

In three postseason games, Niemi is 1-2 with a 2.73 goals against average and a .892 save percentage. He has allowed eight goals against and has no shutouts. Niemi allowed five goals in a first round game against the Wild, which went into overtime. The only goal he allowed while in relief for Lehtonen in Game 2 against the Blues just happened to be the overtime game-winning goal. He allowed two goals in Game 4 against the Wild in round one.

Lehtonen has gotten most of the playing time this season, but Ruff has been treating his goaltending situation like most coaches do in the regular season. Both goalies have had playing time so both are ready to go at a moment’s notice, if needed. Ruff started Lehtonen in the series against the Wild, but when he struggled in Game 3, Niemi was put in for the next two games. Then Niemi struggled in Game 5 so Lehtonen was put back into the lineup for Game 6, which was the clinching game.

The goalies pretty much split the play during the regular season and ended up with similar numbers. In 43 games played, Lehtonen was 25-10-2 with a 2.76 goals against average and a .906 save percentage to go with two shutouts. Niemi was 25-13-7 in 48 regular season games with a 2.67 goals against average and a .905 save percentage. He also had three shutouts.

Will Ruff and the Stars decide to stick with Lehtonen and hope that he and the team can bounce back, or does he goes with Niemi, who played solid after coming off the bench in Game 2?

The Stars and Blues will play Game 3 on Tuesday night at 9:30 p.m. on NBCSN.

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