The Pittsburgh Penguins cruised to a 5-1 win over the Dallas Stars Tuesday night in the last meeting of the the season between these two clubs.
Sidney Crosby found the back of the mesh, as did Chris Kunitz, Lee Stempniak and Brandon Sutter for Pittsburgh, while Dallas’ Tyler Seguin was the lone goal scorer on the night for his team. The Pens’ win tied the regular-season series at one apiece.
As of right now, both teams find themselves at different ends of the postseason spectrum. Dallas is on the verge of missing the playoffs for a sixth straight season. In Pittsburgh, the only thing on the Penguins’ minds is not leaving fans with another disappointing playoff exit.
Let’s take a look at five key takeaways from Tuesday night’s matchup.
Pittsburgh showed it could still dominate even when banged up
The Penguins unfortunately caught the injury bug this season and have seen the likes of Pascal Dupuis (ACL), Paul Martin (hand), Beau Bennett (wrist) and Kris Letang (stroke) go down.
It was apparent last weekend that all these problems for the Pens were starting to catch up with them after they dropped both games of a home-and-home series with the Metropolitan Division rival Philadelphia Flyers.
The bulk of the weight was put on veteran leaders like Crosby and Kunitz, who helped power the Pens through a desperate Dallas team.
However, the Stanley Cup playoffs is one of the most grueling postseasons in all of sports, and the Pens cannot afford to lose another skater. The team cleared Letang for Tuesday practice, so that is obviously a good sign for Pittsburgh, which is in dire need of stronger defensive play if it plans to be playing hockey in June.
Dallas missed out on another crucial two points
Tuesday night’s loss means Dallas now has to worry about two key things: making the playoffs and finding a way to emerge victorious against powerhouse squads like the Penguins.
The Stars have 14 games left in the regular season and now sit two points behind the Phoenix Coyotes, who are hanging on to the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference. If they want to forget about missing the playoffs for another year, they cannot be taking days off.
Dallas looked sluggish and tired on both sides of the puck. Teams like the Penguins will feast on the Stars in the playoffs if they continue to play mediocre hockey. If they don’t want to be out hitting golf balls this summer, then they need realize that the competition will only be getting more difficult down the line.
Stempniak had his first big game in a new sweater
Since being moved to the Pens for a third-round draft pick, Stempniak has had five assists and one goal in seven games. Tuesday night saw him score that first goal in a black and gold sweater along with two assists. Even team chairman and former legend Mario Lemieux was happy for Stempniak.
Shero has a knack for making things work for this team. He acquired left wing Jussi Jokinen at last year’s trade deadline, and the league saw him turn into a quality second-line winger. Stempniak is already playing on the top line along with Kunitz and Crosby, so it will be interesting down the road to see how that relationship develops.
Kari Lehtonen’s return from injury was disappointing
Stars netminder Kari Lehtonen returned Tuesday night after missing four games with a concussion he sustained on March 8. The Finnish goalie’s return was expected to help give his squad the extra oomph it needed to make it to the postseason.
Those expectations fell short after he could only muster a .844 save percentage after stopping 27 of 32 shots.
It could, however, just be a rough transition for Lehtonen. He was on fire in his last 13 games prior to his injury by earning a 1.80 goals-against average along with an outstanding save percentage of .929.
Hopefully for Stars fans, this was only a stumbling block for the 30-year-old goaltender. If not, then the Central Division club must resort to veteran Tim Thomas, who was acquired at deadline.
Flashback to Penguins trade with Dallas in 2011
Remember one February a few years ago when Shero pulled off a dynamic trade with the Stars that sent James Neal and Matt Niskanen to Pittsburgh?
Dallas sure does. Neal panned out to be a quality goal scorer who already has one 40-goal season with the Pens. Niskanen is now one of the Penguins' most reliable defensemen and is third in the NHL in the plus/minus category.
In return for the two, the Stars got defenseman Alex Goligoski. The now 28-year-old leads his team’s defensemen in goals (five) and points (32).
From what we’ve seen, you could say both teams won in that trade. The trade was really Goligoski for Neal. Niskanen is a good defenseman, but he would not be one of the leaders in the plus/minus column if he were on another team. He plays with some of the best forwards and goal scorers in the game, such as Malkin, Crosby and Neal.
Despite the Stars losing two quality skaters, they now have a talented, gritty defenseman who builds on the hard-working, blue-collar ethic that mirrors the city he plays for.
All stats provided by NHL.com.