PITTSBURGH (AP) – Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz and Lee Stempniak have been playing together for less than two weeks.
Funny, they looked like longtime friends during Pittsburgh’s 5-1 demolition of Dallas on Tuesday night.
Quick to the puck and even quicker to the net, the Penguins’ top line overwhelmed the suddenly struggling Stars as Pittsburgh bounced back from a dismal weekend sweep at the hands of Philadelphia by jumping on Dallas early.
Crosby scored his 32nd goal less than 5 minutes in, added his 33rd early in the third period and dished out an assist on Stempniak’s first goal with the Penguins to push his point total to an NHL-leading 91.
More importantly, Pittsburgh hardly looked like the team humbled by the Flyers during a forgettable home-and-home sweep.
“We weren’t happy with those losses, we have to do better,” Crosby said. “We wanted to make sure we went out there and played hard. It’s a desperate team we’re playing and hopefully we can build that same emotion, same intensity we had tonight and carry it over to the rest of the season.”
Kunitz chipped in his 32nd goal after skipping two games with a leg injury and added an assist. Brandon Sutter pushed in a late short-handed goal and Jeff Zatkoff stopped 32 shots to win for the 11th time in his past 14 games.
Tyler Seguin scored his 31st goal for the Stars. Kari Lehtonen made 27 saves, but Dallas slumped again on the road. The Stars have been outscored 12-3 over their past two games to slip out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
“I think you can’t blame one guy for any of the goals,” Seguin said. “This is a team matter we’re going to deal with. It’s just about execution. We’ve been showing glimpses of it lately, but too many breakdowns.”
A no-no when playing Crosby. The Pittsburgh captain seemed energized by the return of Kunitz.
Reunited against a scuffling team trying to make a late run at the postseason, Crosby and Kunitz helped the Metropolitan Division-leading Penguins rebound by playing with the chemistry that makes them one of the most potent one-two combinations in the league.
The game was less than 5 minutes old when Crosby put Pittsburgh in front. Fourth-line forward Craig Adams — finishing out his shift — dug out a loose puck in the corner and fed it to Crosby darting through the slot.
Crosby deked past Dallas defenseman Sergei Gonchar then held the puck long enough for Lehtonen to commit before slipping the puck into an open net to give the Penguins some welcome momentum.
Seguin tied it at 12:30 into the first with a pretty deflection off a Trevor Daley shot from the point, but the game was tied less than three minutes before Kunitz pounced on a rebound off a Stempniak shot to put the Penguins in front to stay.
The Penguins acquired Stempniak from Calgary on March 5 hoping the veteran forward could patch the hole on the first line that hasn’t really been filled since Pascal Dupuis was lost for the season with a knee injury in December.
After a series of near misses in his first six games with Pittsburgh, Stempniak finally broke through 13:21 into the second period. He skated into the zone and dropped the puck to Crosby and sprinted to the net.
The puck was on Stempniak’s stick again a split second later as Kunitz hit him streaking through the slot. Stempniak knocked it in for his ninth of the season while getting tripped by Dallas’ Brenden Dillon in the process.
“It’s been a little while, it’s nice to get a goal,” Stempniak said. “Great passing play from Sid to Chris. I went to the net and it was on my tape … Sid’s so dynamic, he opens up a lot. Chris has a great shot. I just try to fit in and skate and keep up.”
That was more than enough for Zatkoff, who made two glove saves in the second period during Dallas’ best sustained pressure. Crosby banged in a rebound 1:56 into the third to push Pittsburgh’s lead to three and the pressure that had built after dispiriting performances against the Flyers — games in which the Penguins said they were more concerned with the way they played than the actual score — lifted.
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