It’s fun when you get two teams that are on a tear to meet up and that’s just what’s going on in Dallas tonight when the Stars take on the Pittsburgh Penguins (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).
The Stars are on a roll having won four in a row and they’re back in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race. With 70 points they’re sitting eighth in the West, just five points back of the Pacific Division leading Coyotes. Loui Eriksson continues to be the guy leading the way. He just cracked the 20-goal barrier for the fourth straight season and is coming off a game where he scored the overtime winner against Vancouver. He’s not too bad.
Making it all stand up is Kari Lehtonen who’s playing some inspired hockey of late in goal. In his last three starts, Lehtonen has given up just three goals and has a shutout while going 3-0-0 in that span. With Eriksson leading the way up front and Lehtonen holding it down in goal the way he is, it’s no wonder the Stars are playing as well as they are. Jamie Benn’s return to action will help make Eriksson’s life a little easier as well.
Of course, they’re running headlong into a Penguins team that’s getting a MVP-like season out of Evgeni Malkin as well as a monster year out of former Stars forward James Neal.
After acquiring Neal (and Matt Niskanen) from Dallas for Alex Goligoski, Neal had his struggles adjusting. Now that he’s got Malkin for a linemate, the two are running roughshod over opponents combining for 67 goals and 139 points. While Sidney Crosby is still not ready to come back, Neal and Malkin are making it work out just fine in the meantime.
Seeing Marc-Andre Fleury play strong in goal helps to keep the wolves at bay as well. Fleury’s had a strong season for Pittsburgh and while Penguins fans could easily get lost in not having Crosby and going through the motions with all sorts of injuries, Fleury has been a rock. He’ll need to be at his best to handle the plucky Stars who never seem to go away.
“Costly victories” may have been one of the themes of Saturday night, as some teams paired impressive wins with worrisome injuries.
The good news is that, in each case, it appears that the early word is optimistic about those players (Tyler Seguin got stitched up in the Stars’ win, for example).
The Anaheim Ducks are reportedly readying to recall Anton Khudobin on Sunday after John Gibson suffered an upper-body injury during a collision with Chicago Blackhawks forward Richard Panik.
Again, so far the hope/expectation is that this might not be a major issue:
The pessimistic take would be to wonder “Uh oh, is the Ducks goalie carousel starting again?”
Frederik Andersen has seen some runs as Anaheim’s No. 1 guy, so maybe this issue is a reminder that the Ducks may be better off keeping both Gibson and Andersen around … at least while they can.
For two periods, the Dallas Stars seemed to say, “Are you sure the Washington Capitals are the best team in the NHL?”
They chased Braden Holtby and built a 4-0 lead through those first 40 minutes, and that was enough … but barely. The Stars beat the Capitals 4-3 on Saturday, which accomplished the following:
- Dallas ended Washington’s winning streak at five games. The Stars have now won three straight.
- This win slides the Stars ahead of the Chicago Blackhawks for first place in the highly competitive Central Division. While both teams sit at 77 standings points, Dallas holds three games in hand.
- By passing Chicago, the Stars now lead the Western Conference as a whole.
Impressive stuff. Some might even call it a statement game, although others may hold that nail-biting ending against them (possibly arguing that the Stars’ flaws may come back to haunt them in the playoffs).
Dallas’ biggest concern likely has little to do with doubters. Instead, they must monitor the statuses of forwards Tyler Seguin and Cody Eakin.
Long story short, the Stars are red-hot, yet bigger challenges likely lie ahead.
The Chicago Blackhawks are on edge on Saturday, and it’s not because of what’s currently a close game against the Anaheim Ducks.
(Not that they’re indifferent toward a match against their opponents from last year’s conference final match, mind you.)
Instead, the Blackhawks are quite concerned about the health of Marian Hossa, who needed help off of the ice following an awkward, scary-looking crash into the boards. (Hampus Lindholm delivered the hip check that sent Hossa sprawling, in case you’re wondering.)
You can see that moment in the video above, while My Regular Face’s GIF also captures that troubling moment:
It’s too early to tell if Hossa will bounce back or miss some time from this. Stay tuned for potential updates.
Update: Joel Quenneville seems optimistic about Hossa, broadly speaking:
Ryan Getzlaf scored the overtime game-winner as the Ducks won 3-2 (OT).
If it weren’t for Mike Yeo and the Minnesota Wild, you could argue that the Florida Panthers suffered from the worst night so far.
You can see that Saturday was unpleasant merely from looking at the scoreboard: the Nashville Predators pummeled the Panthers by an unkind score of 5-0.
The pain goes beyond that … literally so.
For one thing, Quinton Howden suffered an upper-body injury and did not return. That’s no good, but if you want to feel sick to your stomach, footage of Brandon Pirri‘s likely lower-body injury (ankle maybe?) may do the trick.
(Seriously, you may be happier if you don’t look.)
The Panthers didn’t make an announcement about Pirri one way or another, so we’ll see if he somehow avoided anything significant.
Either way, it was a night this team would like to forget.