Friday night’s game in Pittsburgh was another measuring stick for the Dallas Stars, and this time they came up short. Former Star James Neal scored two power play goals to lead the Penguins past the Stars 3-1, snapping Dallas’ winning streak at four games.
“We were stale in the first ten minutes. We weren’t skating, we weren’t moving our feet. I thought our D were stagnant. It took us a while to get going,” said Stars coach Glen Gulutzan. “I think that was the key, we just didn’t come out and establish our game. Give them credit, they came out and played the way they wanted to play.”
Although the Stars came out slow, they were able to grab a lead 16 minutes into the game and held that lead until about the 38 minute mark, but three penalties over a 12 minute span led to two power play goals by Neal and a penalty shot goal by Matt Cooke that turned a 1-0 Dallas lead into a 3-1 edge for the Penguins that they would make stand for the rest of the night.
“We knew we had to stay away from that penalty kill tonight, but every time we turned around we were in the box,” said Gulutzan. “If you are going against a 22 or 23 percent power play, our plan was to keep our penalties to under three or four. We didn’t.”
It was a rough night on the blue line for the Stars, who lost Alex Goligoski after the first period and then Mark Fistric late in the second. Goligoski did not return after taking a puck off the hand. He is returning to Dallas for X-rays and could be out “a bit,” according to Gulutzan. Fistric was hit in the throat by a puck, but did return for the third period.
Pittsburgh had the territorial advantage and a 13-5 edge in shots over the first period, but the Stars scored the only goal. Off the rush, Radek Dvorak made a slick backhand center pass from the left wing that Eric Nystrom chipped over Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury at the 16:02 mark.
The Penguins tied the game in the second period with their first power play tally of the night. Seconds after a goal was waved off for Chris Kunitz tipping it in with a high stick, Neal scored off a blast from the left circle to make it a 1-1 game with 2:04 left in the second.
Pittsburgh took the lead with a power play goal at 7:19 of the third. Again, it happened a short time after an apparently power play goal by Kunitz was waved off, this one for goalie interference. The Penguins scored the actual goal when Neal’s pass for Kunitz deflected off the stick of Fistric and into the net. The goal was credited to Neal, his second of the night and 11th of the season.
“It’s always nice to get it against your former team,” Neal said. “The main thing is us playing a top team and beating them. They came in here to play us hard and we came back and played a great game ourselves.”
“He (Lehtonen) has never seen me. Neither has any other goalie, except for our two,” Cooke joked.
The Stars pulled Lehtonen late in the game for the extra attacker, but couldn’t cut into the Pittsburgh lead and suffered just their second loss in the last seven games and just their fourth in 15 to start the season.
“We just had a tough time getting our legs going tonight,” said Nystrom. “Those nights happen and it’s disappointing because you’re on a stage like that with a chance to show your best and play your best. That’s the most disappointing thing because we know we are a lot better team than that. It’s just one of those nights.”
And now it's on to Detroit, where they'll play the Red Wings Saturday night.
"Tonight, I thought we got outworked,"Gulutzan said. "I don't want to see that happen tomorrow night."
*Stars forward Steve Ott missed his fourth straight game with a hip pointer.