While playing four games in six days, the Pittsburgh Penguins sure produced a wide variety of results.
There was the Monday stinkbomb against Florida, the Wednesday domination of Montreal and the thrilling Thursday win on Long Island – all leading into a well-earned defeat Saturday night at Dallas.
Perhaps boosted by their desperation to get into playoff position and a spirited sellout crowd at American Airlines Arena, the Dallas Stars downed the visiting Penguins 3-0 for their third straight win.
Although the prelude to the game centered on the return of Stars draft picks James Neal and Matt Niskanen to Dallas, it was former Penguins defensemen Sergei Gonchar (goal) and Alex Goligoski (assist) contributing to the home team’s impressive effort. Kari Lehtonen expertly backstopped the Stars’ performance, making 24 saves for the shutout.
Lehtonen didn’t have a particular busy night, but the Finnish Olympian helped himself by controlling rebounds and snatching several shots with an astute glove hand. He also earned an assists on Gonchar’s power play goal late in the first period that held up as the game-winner.
Jamie Benn (3:11) and Rich Peverley (10:20) added second-period goals to put the Penguins (36-14-2, 74 points) in a deep hole halfway through the game. The final margin could’ve been larger, but the Stars (24-20-8, 56 points) hit the goal frame behind the besieged Marc-Andre Fleury at least three times.
Fleury (25 saves) held his own, making a few acrobatic stops to give Pittsburgh a chance at a late rally, but neutral-zone turnovers doomed the first-place Pens to their second loss in four games. Winger Tanner Glass was credited with an incredible 13 hits in a physical, energetic game that was the first between the two teams since 2012.
Although Pittsburgh entered the night with the NHL’s best power play and penalty killing units, Dallas won the special-teams battle decisively. The Stars killed all four Penguins advantages while scoring on 2 of 3 themselves.
Not only did the Stars hand the Pens their third shutout loss of the season, they also kept league-leading scorer Sidney Crosby off the board for the third time in his past seven games.
Dallas lost eight of 10 at one point earlier this month, but its three-game run this week has tightened the wild-card chase in the Western Conference. The Stars are five points back of Vancouver and Minnesota for the West’s final playoff spot.
The Penguins host the last-place Buffalo Sabres on Monday night. It’s a 7:30 p.m. faceoff from Consol Energy Center.