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Blown Two-Goal Lead Not Fatal as Penguins Manage Point at Stars

Two of the NHL’s most talent-heavy teams traded a few blows Friday night in Dallas.

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By Michael Miller (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0]

Two of the NHL’s most talent-heavy teams traded a few blows Friday night in Dallas, with the Stars taking the extra standings point via a 4-3 shootout win over the Penguins at American Airlines Arena.

Tyler Seguin scored the lone goal in the tiebreaker, sneaking a snapper under Matt Murray‘s arm, adding to a first-period strike that got the Stars on the board. But the real work for Dallas was done in the opening seven minutes of the third, when defensemen John Klingberg and Dam Hamhuis scored in succession to overturn a 2-1 Pittsburgh lead.

Justin Schultz‘s extra-attacker dart past Kari Lehtonen with 1:13 remaining in regulation ensured the Penguins (30-22-4) wouldn’t leave Texas empty handed, although Friday still marked just the third time in their past 97 tries that a lead after two periods didn’t produce a win.

“I think it’s a good point,” Murray assessed afterward. “(The Stars) were coming hard at us all night.”

Overall, the young goalie has a point — get it? — since the Penguins out-attempted the Stars (33-19-4) at even strength. The visitors’ top-ranked power play only got two chances, both in the first period, but generated a handful of scoring opportunities.

The fly in the ointment was the third period. Both Klingberg and Hamhuis hammering one-timers through traffic and past Murray to turn the game for Dallas, which has won five in a row to climb within a point of St. Louis for third place in the Central Division.

“Obviously we’re disappointed that we gave up two in the third there,” Mike Sullivan told reporters. “We lost a couple of footraces to pucks. We had guys in the lanes, but they just found their way to the back of the net. I thought our intent was in the right place.”

On the equalizer by Klingberg, his 52nd point of the season to lead all league defensemen, Carter Rowney provided an inadvertent screen after Alex Radulov spun a blind pass to the top of the right circle. Hamhuis’ goal was the product of a loud rebound off Murray’s right leg, although both Sidney Crosby and Rowney missed on attempts to block the long shot. With Murray missing his stick, the Hamhuis shot sailed into the top-left corner.

“I think it came off too hot for our guy to handle,” Murray said of his rebound control. “It was a moving screen. I was a bit late picking it up, too. One I want back for sure.”

At least the Penguins can hang their hats on their response to the defensive lapses, a frequent characteristic of their games this season. Conor Sheary just missed scoring after a highlight-caliber deke past the Dallas ‘D’ with a few minutes left, then Schultz buried the carom of Evgeni Malkin‘s blocked shot under the crossbar to force overtime.

“Just a lucky bounce,” Schultz said. “Happened to get a lot on it. A big goal for us. It was a good point. We would’ve liked two but we’ll get back at it on Sunday.”

Doubtful that the conclusion to this two-game trip in St. Louis will match the entertainment value of Friday night. Sudden death alone was a treat, with Murray stopping Jamie Benn‘s breakaway on the best opportunity of the three-on-three session.

Add that save to a handful of scrambling stops late in the third to keep the Penguins alive, and Murray (33 saves) matched Lehtonen (34) in not only quantity, but also quality.

“He was lights out,” Ian Cole said of Murray. “We probably gave up too many chances off the rush.”

The Stars are predictably playing tighter hockey this season under new coach Ken Hitchcock. Dallas ranks in the league’s top 10 in both shot attempts allowed and goals allowed at even strength, a far cry from the old wheel-and-deal squad headed by Lindy Ruff.

The home side also added an element of over-the-top physicality in the opening minutes of this one, leading to seven penalties called in the first. The most notable confrontation led to Antoine Roussel and Malkin getting coincidental cross-checking minors. Schultz also had to get checked out in the dressing room after taking a hard hit in the first.

“A lot of teams try that,” Sullivan said. “We’ve faced that over the past two seasons here. I tell our guys that let’s make sure we play our game, not theirs.”

The Penguins have racked up quite a few actual victories since the new year — 11 in 15 games, to be exact — but the result Friday seemed to fall in the category of moral victory, at least. Earning a point in Dallas put the defending champs two ahead of New Jersey for second place in the Metropolitan.

That penalty-laden first period concluded with the Penguins ahead, 2-1, although unlikely finishers picked up the goals. (Dan Kingerski broke down all the scores in his regular Film Study session.)

Riley Sheahan tucked a backhand through Lehtonen’s legs at 9:07 after cruising down the left boards. Zach Aston-Reese‘s relay pass at center ice triggered Sheahan’s fifth and earned the rookie his first NHL point in his third game.

Less than two minutes later, Carl Hagelin struck for a short-handed breakaway goal after picking off Norris Trophy candidate Klingberg’s pass during a four-on-three Stars power play. Hagelin cut in on Lehtonen and snapped his sixth goal high to the blocker side.

But the Stars, playing less than 24 hours after beating the Blackhawks in Chicago the previous night, had plenty of energy left to burn. Dallas’ hazardous top line connected for a goal with 2:03 left before the first intermission, with Seguin burying a one-timer off Benn’s cross-crease feed. Radulov’s testy forecheck afforded Benn the opportunity to play set-up man.

The second period maintained the same plus pace as the first, albeit with none of the evidence on the scoresheet. The top guns for both sides generated quality looks at the net, even though they didn’t come easily.

“It had a playoff feel out there,” Sullivan said. “There wasn’t a lot of ice available.”

Crosby had two of those opportunities, although both occurred off loose pucks to Lehtonen’s left. On the first, Crosby’s stuff attempt hit a body in front; on the second, he tried to shoot between his own legs, but his bid for NHL goal No. 400 sailed into the screen.

Meanwhile, Seguin had a few near-misses, too, with Murray getting a shoulder on his redirect midway through the second on the best of those. However, when Lehtonen robbed Malkin on a deflected slapper with three minutes left in the third, it looked like the Penguins’ offensive efforts would be for naught.

“We had a lot of chances tonight,” Schultz said. “Their goalie played pretty well.”

Indeed, Lehtonen’s rebound season (.919 save percentage) continued with stops on Malkin and Phil Kessel in the shootout. Crosby, who went scoreless for the second time in three games, dinged the crossbar on his attempt in his usual No. 2 spot.

Murray went 2 for 3 himself, denying Radulov and Jason Spezza with his long leg pads. Between those stops, Seguin’s squeaker decided matters.

“It’s unfortunate a game like that has to go to a shootout,” Murray said, “but we played really well all night.”

In his return to Dallas after a December trade sent him to Pittsburgh, Jamie Oleksiak put one shot on net and was credited with eight hits.

Also, while Aston-Reese notched a rookie milestone, Teddy Blueger had to wait for his first NHL game. Rowney suited up after missing Thursday’s practice due to a lower-body injury in Tuesday’s win over Vegas. Here’s my column on Blueger deserving a shot on this road trip.

The Penguins face the Blues at noon Sunday in St. Louis. It’ll be their final road game of the season against a Western Conference team.

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A lifelong hockey lover, Matt has made his career in his sport of choice, working in high school, juniors, college and the pros in various multimedia roles. Previous to joining PHN, Matt was a credentialed Penguins/NHL beat reporter for the past two seasons, including coverage of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. He signed on with PHN in Feb. 2018 as co-owner, contributing commentary and analysis in various forms.

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