The Dallas Stars made it four wins in their past five games, defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins, 2-1, at American Airlines Center Thursday night.
Kari Lehtonen stopped 31 of 32 shots and Jamie Benn and Brett Ritchie scored for the Stars, who improved to 6-2-0 over their past eight games.
“I thought it was a good win by our club,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. “I thought we really came out well, a real strong 40 (minutes). That third period was a pretty hard push by them. We have to get by that, which I thought we did tonight.”
After a scoreless first period, Ritchie and Benn scored two goals early in the second to stake the Stars to a lead that they would never relinquish. Lehtonen played a big part of that, making some key saves late in the second and then stopping all 15 shots he faced in the third period.
“He was on top of his game tonight,” Benn said of Lehtonen. “He made big saves at key times and really won the game for us.”
The Stars did a nice job of limiting the chances for Pittsburgh’s top line of Chris Kunitz, Sidney Crosby and Blake Comeau. Crosby had no shots on goal and a total of three shot attempts.
“We talked about the fact that you can’t give that line easy opportunities,” said Ruff. “I thought a couple of our young defensemen – Jyrki (Jokipakka) was one – it was the first time they faced them, and I thought maybe gave them a little too much respect. But I thought on an overall basis we didn’t give them the easy rush chances which they can eat you up with that.”
Although the Stars have won six of their past eight games, they are finding it hard to make up ground on the final playoff spot in the West. They remain eight points out with eleven games remaining.
“We are just taking it one game at a time. We know we have to pretty well run the table here,” Ritchie said. “We’re not thinking about the next eleven games; we’re just thinking about the next one against Chicago.”
The Penguins lost their fourth straight game. They’ve scored just two goals during the slide. Over their past nine games, they have scored one goal or fewer in seven of them.
“Obviously, we’re not scoring a ton,” said Penguins captain Sidney Crosby. “Regardless of who it is, whether it’s any of the forwards lines and the D, we’ve got to collectively find a way to produce more goals. This time of year, you expect to be tight. You look around the league, all the games are 3-2, 2-1 type of games. But that being said, we still have to find a way to generate more offense.”
The Stars played a solid first period, outshooting the Penguins 11-7 and killing off two Pittsburgh power plays. The Stars had one power play chance but were unable to take advantage. The period ended with a scrap between Stars rookie Curtis McKenzie and Penguins defenseman Kris Letang, who both picked up double minors for roughing.
The Stars scored twice in a 1:23 span early in the second period to take a 2-0 lead. Benn set up Ritchie at the side of the net and Ritchie’s attempted pass to Shawn Horcoff went in the net off the stick of Pittsburgh forward Beau Bennett at the 2:14 mark to put the Stars up 1-0. The Stars extended the lead when Benn scored from close range at the 3:37 mark to make it a 2-0 game.
“We were trying to get pucks deep, and keep the puck out of their forwards hands, and the best way to do that is just to grind them down low,” said Benn. “I made a couple of good plays and was fortunate to score.”
The Stars had two power play chances in the second but couldn’t extend the lead. The Penguins went on their third power play later in the second and struck quickly to make it a 2-1 game. Crosby backhanded the puck to Letang, who beat a screened Lehtonen at the 13:26 mark. Lehtonen came up with a couple big saves late in the second, including a quality chance from Comeau.
The Penguins put the pressure on in the third, outshooting the Stars 15-4. But Lehtonen stood tall and kept the Stars up 2-1 until the final horn.
“They’re a good team, and we knew that they were going to get their chances,” Benn said. “I think Kari did a great job stepping up and making big saves when we needed him.”
*The Stars are 9-1-1 in their past eleven games vs. the Eastern Conference.
*The Stars are 18-11-2 vs. the East this season.
*The Penguins did not score an even-strength goal against the Stars in two games this season. The three goals they scored in the two contests came on the power play.
*The Stars were 0-4 on the power play and 3-4 on the penalty kill.
*Dallas won 41 of 64 faceoffs (63 percent). Jason Spezza won 14 of 18 (78 percent). Cody Eakin won 12 of 21 (57 percent). Vernon Fiddler won 7 of 14 (50 percent).
*Alex Goligoski led the Stars with 24:29 of ice time.
Jamie Benn – Cody Eakin – Tyler Seguin
Antoine Roussel – Jason Spezza – Ales Hemsky
Curtis McKenzie – Shawn Horcoff – Brett Ritchie
Ryan Garbutt – Vernon Fiddler – Colton Sceviour
Jyrki Jokipakka – Alex Goligoski
Patrik Nemeth – John Klingberg
Jordie Benn – Jason Demers
Scratched: Patrick Eaves
Injured: Trevor Daley (lower body), Travis Moen (upper body), Valeri Nichushkin (hip)
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.