Stars, Penguins put winning streaks on the line
Tuesday, 02.28.2012 / 11:08 AMPENGUINS (36-21-5) at STARS (33-26-4)
TV: NBCSN (HD), TSN2
Pittsburgh 6-3-1; Dallas 5-3-2
Second and final meeting of the season. Ex-Stars forward James Neal
scored twice and Matt Cooke
converted a penalty shot as the Penguins won 3-1 on Nov. 11 at Consol Energy Center.
Neither team made a move Monday prior to the 3 p.m. trade deadline, and at first glance it's easy to understand why. The Penguins, who are battling for a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference, enter on a three-game winning streak. The Stars, meanwhile, have won four in a row to move into the eighth spot in the West and put themselves in the discussion as far as the Pacific Division title and a top-three seed are concerned.
While it's starting to seem the Rangers won't be caught in the Atlantic, there's a three-team race going on for second in the division and the No. 4 seed, which carries home ice for the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, between Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and New Jersey. With Marc-Andre Fleury
in need of a day off and veteran backup Brent Johnson
ailing, prospect Brad Thiessen
got his first NHL start Sunday against Columbus and stopped 21 shots in a 4-2 victory. Evgeni Malkin
paced the Penguins' attack with his 37th goal of the season.
"As the game went along you could see he was comfortable, dealing with traffic and shots," coach Dan Bylsma said. "Three, four, five times he had to come out and make a save. It was a great win for Brad in his first NHL game."
With a handful of playoff hopefuls in hot pursuit, Dallas is in the position of needing to secure two points almost every time out in order to avoid slipping back outside the top eight. But the Stars are a confident team right now and it showed Sunday when they pulled out a thrilling 3-2 overtime win over the League-leading Canucks. After falling behind 2-0, Michael Ryder
scored on the power play late in the second, then Mike Ribeiro
tipped in an Alex Goligoski
shot with 53 seconds left in the third. Loui Eriksson
's goal 3:52 into the extra period set off the home team's celebration.
"There's a lot of games left, so you cannot get satisfied with a few wins there," Ribeiro said. "It's focus on the next one. We have another big team coming in (Pittsburgh) and after that, it's a big road trip. You enjoy it and then re-focus for Wednesday."
Malkin has 5 goals in his last three games and 20 goals in as many games for the Penguins. Malkin (5-4-9) and Steve Sullivan
(1-7-8) have five-game points streaks active. Cooke has 3 goals and 4 assists over his last five games. … Ribeiro has 3 goals and 7 assists during a seven-game points streak for the Stars. Trevor Daley
has an assist in four straight games. Eriksson (3-2-5), Ryder (2-2-4) and Steve Ott
(1-2-3) have three-game points streaks active. Kari Lehtonen
has won four consecutive starts and given up just six goals in the process.
Johnson is day-to-day for Pittsburgh along with forward Arron Asham
(upper body). Forwards Sidney Crosby
(concussion/neck) and Tyler Kennedy
(ankle) are on injured reserve. … Dallas forward Jamie Benn
(leg) is day-to-day, while forwards Brenden Morrow
(neck/back) and Jake Dowell
(finger) are on injured reserve.
Malkin led all skaters with six shots and former Stars defenseman Matt Niskanen
had five for the Penguins the last time these teams played. … Current Stars defenseman Sheldon Souray
played in his 700th NHL game Sunday and assisted on Ribeiro's game-tying goal.
Dallas general manager Joe Nieuwendyk was in a tough spot at the trade deadline, because it's no guarantee his team will make the playoffs -- and yet, with a strong finish, it's also feasible they could win the Pacific and have home ice for at least the opening round of the playoffs. It's clear the players believe they're capable.
"We're battling for that last playoff spot, and hopefully we can get maybe a little bit higher," forward Vernon Fiddler
said. "Momentum at this time of the year is very important, and it seems like over the last four games we've been building that, and we have to roll with it."