Kari Lehtonen received a fevered welcome from the Chicago Wolves fans at the Allstate Arena Tuesday night in his first appearance here in Chicago colors since the Calder Cup finals during the lockout.
Assigned by the Atlanta Thrashers to the Wolves on a conditioning assignment, I’d forgotten some of the little things that Lehtonen did during a game. The way he caressed the goal posts after a dinger, the way he snapped his mask into place without touching it when returning to the crease from a timeout and the way he would acknowledge some of the fans he recognized from his days here, three years ago.
He seems home here, or at least at ease in the Chicago nets, pointing, with the ease and knowledge of a veteran NHL player where the puck is going to appear next, to the benefit of the Wolves and the visiting Quad City Flames players.
He made some exceptional saves, including a butterfly save in the end of the first period, and defended the goal from a QC assault that saw them regularly leading in shots on goal. But it looked so easy.
In contrast, Matt Keetley, the 21 year-old Alberta native in goal for the Flames, looked desperate to stop everything, and he made it look hard too.
Lehtonen was in net here last in 2005. His defense led the Chicagoans to march through the West to meet Antero Niittymaki and the Philadelphia Phantoms in the finals of the Calder Cup. Niittymaki, a player I understand was always a little older than Lehtonen in their native Finland, with a more physical team in front of him, matched Lehtonen once again that June.
Tuesday, in the Allstate, Lehtonen looked totally in control. A final call on Chicago seems staged by the referee, who explained it first to Steve Martins and then to Lehtonen. Yards away and behind the glass, I wonder what Chris Ciamaga is saying to Lehtonen. The body language seems to say, “you’re an NHL goalie. Let them have a chance at breaking the shutout…”
And after 59 minutes 51 seconds of shutout behind him, Lehtonen finally lets a goal in and allows the Flames to light the scoreboard.
It is so empty and meaningless. The night belongs to Lehtonen; the hamburgler is back.
Quad City 0 0 1 -- 1
Chicago 1 1 2 -- 4
First Period---1, Chicago, Giroux 7 (Martins, Lehtonen), 6:08 pp. Penalties---Peters, Quad City (hooking), 0:57; Maki, Quad City (interference), 4:21; Pardy, Quad City (hooking), 6:08; Sterling, Chicago (interference), 6:40; Pelech, Quad City (holding), 11:38; Sipotz, Chicago (hooking), 15:49.
Second Period---2, Chicago, Giroux 8 (Martins, LaVallee), 19:01. Penalties---Kwiatkowski, Chicago (double-minor hooking), 4:29; Martins, Chicago (high-sticking), 7:59; Prust, Quad City (hooking), 11:53; Kwiatkowski, Chicago (tripping), 16:31.
Third Period---3, Chicago, Kwiatkowski 4 (Krog, Sterling), 1:32 pp; 4, Chicago, Krog 9 (Schultz, Sterling), 4:46; 5, Quad City, Pardy 2 (Ramholt, Stevenson), 19:50 pp. Penalties---Peters, Quad City (tripping), 0:13; Prust, Quad City (hooking), 7:26; Krischuk, Quad City (holding), 13:47; Giroux, Chicago (roughing), 19:03; Cunning, Quad City (fighting), 19:59; Valabik, Chicago (fighting), 19:59.
Shots on goal---Quad City: 13-8-7--28. Chicago: 8-7-14--29. Power plays---Quad City: 1-7. Chicago: 2-8. Goalies---Quad City, Keetley (25-29). Chicago, Lehtonen (27-28). A---4,734. Referee---Chris Ciamaga. Linesmen---Justin Lyle and Bryan Pancich.