DALLAS – This is not the time of year for moral victories, especially not with such a slim margin for error. But the Penguins can feel pretty good about their effort in Thursday’s 3-2 loss to the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center.
The Penguins admirably put up a fight on short rest Thursday. But the Stars took over midway through the third period, when they got goals 1:34 apart.
The Penguins killed a Pierre-Oliver Joseph penalty but the Stars made it 2-1 when Chad Ruhwedel went to the penalty box moments later. Joe Pavelski, one of the NHL’s best in the bumper spot, redirected a shot past Casey DeSmith.
Pittsburgh has now allowed a power-play tally in four consecutive games.
The building was still abuzz when Jamie Benn pushed the Dallas lead to two goals. DeSmith stopped Max Domi on an odd-man rush but Benn slammed the rebound between the legs of DeSmith for what turned out to be the winner.
Joseph got the Penguins within 3-2 by beating Jake Oettinger with 6:17 left in the game. But despite getting a power play with 1:08 remaining, they couldn’t get the equalizer at 6-on-4 and ended up leaving Dallas empty-handed.
The Florida Panthers lost Thursday, ensuring the Penguins remained in a playoff position. The Penguins are one point ahead in the wild-card standings.
DeSmith got the start in Dallas after Tristan Jarry went down yet again. Jarry was scratched after apparently suffering an injury Wednesday in Colorado.
The Penguins losing their No. 1 netminder is not ideal. But one can make the case that DeSmith has been their best goalie over the last month anyway. He won two of his previous three starts and also played well in relief of Jarry three times. He had a .922 save percentage over his last seven appearances.
Thursday night, DeSmith kept the Penguins in position to win entering the third period after he gloved down a dangerous Benn shot, shut down a nifty try by Jani Hakanpaa and got the shaft of his stick on a rising rocket by Benn.
DeSmith had 24 saves through two periods and added two more to that total early in the third, squaring up to Benn’s redirect then kicking out the rebound attempt by Wyatt Johnston. But Dallas would break the dam a few minutes later.
The Penguins faced a tall task down here in Texas. One night earlier, they earned one of their biggest wins of the season, beating the defending champion Colorado Avalanche, 5-2. That mile-high victory in Denver took a toll physically, making two of their top wingers questionable to play about 25 hours later.
Despite that tough turnaround, the Penguins got off to a decent start. Jeff Carter and Evgeni Malkin couldn’t convert quality good looks on Oettinger. The Stars took over in the second half of the period. Roope Hintz put them up, 1-0.
Hintz built up speed in the neutral zone, split Josh Archibald and Chad Ruhwedel then scored on a breakaway, whipping a shot between DeSmith’s pads.
DeSmith was otherwise sharp early to keep the Penguins within striking distance. And strike they did in the second, with another goal by Sidney Crosby.
Mark Friedman, in the lineup due to myriad injuries on the blue line, joined the rush and fanned on a shot attempt, but the puck trickled right to Crosby on the doorstep. He flicked it into the open net for his second goal in as many games.
Pittsburgh continued to pepper Oettinger in that period. But the young goalie, who played high school hockey with Ryan Poehling, kept it tied at 1-1. One of his dozen saves in the second came when a streaking Crosby cut in on goal.
With the score tied in the third, Oettinger stretched out his right leg to stuff Bryan Rust after a sweet setup by Sidney Crosby. Crosby got a second crack at it but he couldn’t elevate his shot over Oettinger before he tumbled to the ice.
Those two saves loomed large as Pittsburgh lost for the fifth time in six games.
— Jarry, who got the win Wednesday in Colorado, was not in uniform as he is out with a lower-body injury. Coach Mike Sullivan said before the game that Jarry was still being evaluated, so he couldn’t share a timetable for his return.
— With Jarry unavailable, the Penguins recalled Dustin Tokarski from the American Hockey League. He was unable to make it to American Airlines Center in time for the opening puck-drop. He emerged after the second intermission.
— Jake Guentzel and Jason Zucker, who were both hobbled after blocking shots Wednesday, were able to go against the Stars. Just in case, the Penguins recalled Filip Hallander on an emergency basis from the AHL. Hallander and Alex Nylander were healthy scratches. Jeff Petry remained out due to injury.
— Drew O’Connor limped to the bench in pain after getting caught in friendly fire from Brian Dumoulin in the second period. But he stayed in the game.
32 – Finally getting a goal in Dallas, Crosby has now scored in all 32 arenas.
The Penguins have a scheduled day off Friday. They are back on the ice Saturday night, when they host the Washington Capitals at PPG Paints Arena.