Throughout Dan Bylsma’s tenure as coach the Penguins have displayed unflinching character in the face of overwhelming adversity. As so it was Wednesday night before a packed house at the in American Airlines Center in Dallas. After losing top point men Kris Letang and Steve Sullivan to injuries, the Pens responded with a gutsy, courageous effort to down the Stars 4-3 in a shootout.
The Pens knew coming in that defeating Dallas would be no easy task. Stocked with talented youngsters like Jamie Benn, Loui Eriksson, and former teammate Alex Goligoski, coach Glen Gulutzan’s crew was scrapping to keep a grip on a playoff spot.
It showed during the early stages of the contest as the physical Stars drew a bead on the Penguins. Midway through the opening frame Eric Nystrom crushed Letang with a brutal shoulder-to-head hit as the Pens’ defender reached for a loose puck. Although Deryk Engelland returned the favor minutes later, leveling the Stars’ winger with a thunderous check in the slot, the damage was done. “Tanger” was finished for the evening.
Adding insult to injury, Dallas snatched the lead at 15:25 on Benn’s 18th goal of the season. But as the clock ticked down to the final minute of the period Pascal Dupuis found Sullivan with a beautiful cross-rink pass from the sideboards. “Sully” streaked around Goligoski and beat Kari Lehtonen with a backhander to even the score at 1-1.
Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury swapped saves with Lehtonen through a briskly played second period. However, 12.2 seconds before the buzzer Sheldon Souray cruised down the slot and overpowered “Flower” with a bomb off the right post.
Opening the final period minus Letang and Sullivan, who exited with a lower-body injury, the visitors appeared to be on the ropes. Yet once more the Penguins displayed their enormous collective heart. At 3:33 gritty Craig Adams pounced on a Jordan Staal rebound and lashed a 10-footer past Lehtonen. Less than a minute later the black and gold struck again, as Chris Kunitz deflected a shot-pass from Paul Martin into a wide-open net.
“I liked the response from our team,” Bylsma said. “We came out hard and played well in the third period.”
Michael Ryder knotted the score for Dallas at 7:23, sending the game to overtime. After killing off a hooking penalty to Brooks Orpik early in the extra stanza, the Pens survived a huge scare with 45 seconds to go when Souray hammered a shot off the iron. Given a chance for redemption (and two points), the boys from the ‘Burgh prevailed on Dupuis’ shootout winner.
“It felt a lot like playoff hockey,” Staal noted afterward. “Very tough, lots of hitting.”
Evgeni Malkin (an assist and a game-high six shots) was voted No. 1 star … “Geno” tangled with Nystrom in the third period … Fleury (30 saves) earned the No. 3 star … Sullivan extended his points streak to six games … James Neal and Kunitz also scored in the shootout … Dallas out-shot Pittsburgh (33-29) … The Stars out-hit the Pens (39-30) … The Pens (79 points) maintain a hold on second place in the Atlantic Division (fourth in the Eastern Conference) … Arron Asham returned to action after missing Sunday’s game … Sidney Crosby, Dustin Jeffrey, Brent Johnson, Tyler Kennedy, and Ben Lovejoy were scratches.
The Penguins (37-21-5) conclude their western swing with a trip to Colorado (33-27-4) on Saturday. The Pens beat the Avalanche 6-3 in Pittsburgh on November 15.
*Be sure to check out Rick’s new book, “100 Things Penguins Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die” at TriumphBooks.com. It features 296 pages of bios, stories, anecdotes and photos from the team’s colorful past in a compelling, easy-to-read style. Whether you’re a die-hard booster from the days of Jean Pronovost or a big fan of Sid and Geno, this book is a must have for any true Penguins fan.
Don’t forget to check out Rick’s first book, “Total Penguins,” at TriumphBooks.com. A complete and comprehensive book on the team’s rich and storied history, it’s filled with season-by-season summaries, player profiles and stats, bios on coaches, general managers and owners, photos from the “Post-Gazette” archives, and much, much more.