Nothing good happened on the ice for the Dallas Stars and Pittsburgh Penguins over the weekend, with various breakdowns plaguing each team in a pair of losses.
After hearing who might be returning in the final 15 games, both should be feeling a bit better.
Kari Lehtonen could be back between the pipes as the Stars continue a road-heavy stretch Tuesday night in Pittsburgh, where the Penguins hope to have at least one of their star wingers back on the ice.
Lehtonen has missed Dallas’ past three games with a concussion, and the Stars (32-24-11) missed him greatly in the past two. They blew a 3-1 lead in the third period in Friday’s 4-3 shootout loss to Calgary, then allowed the final six goals in a 7-2 defeat at Winnipeg on Sunday.
Dallas is in a tight battle with Phoenix for the Western Conference’s final wild-card spot.
"We’re not playing the right way," captain Jamie Benn told the league’s official website after Sunday’s loss. "These games are hard to win late in the (season). We just got outworked.
"We probably don’t want to watch too much video of this game, because it’s mostly bad, I’m sure. We’ve got 15 games left. We can’t be worried about this one. We’re still in a good spot. We’ve got to move on and get ready for (Pittsburgh)."
The game in Winnipeg was the first of a stretch where the Stars will play nine of 12 on the road, and Lehtonen is 1-4-2 with a 2.98 goals-against average in seven starts outside of Dallas in 2014. He did, however, stop 24 shots in a 3-0 win when the Penguins (44-19-4) visited Dallas on Jan. 25.
The Stars got power-play goals from Benn and Sergei Gonchar while thwarting Pittsburgh’s four opportunities with the man advantage, and special teams were a problem for the Penguins over the weekend as well. Pittsburgh went 0 for 9 on the power play while getting swept in a home-and-home series against Philadelphia, giving up a pair of short-handed goals and allowing the Flyers to convert three times with the extra attacker.
Though the Penguins have a 15-point lead in the Metropolitan Division, they’ve fallen behind Boston for the East’s best record with a 4-4-2 stretch.
”The last two seasons, March has been too easy for us,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said. ”We go through with just a breeze, and I think we go into the playoffs overconfident. Right now, we’re in a little bit of a bump in the road and we’re going to have to fight for it.”
That figures to be easier as soon as Chris Kunitz, James Neal, Beau Bennett and Kris Letang can return. Pittsburgh got the news Sunday that Letang was cleared to practice after suffering a stroke in late January, a surprising sign for a player many didn’t think would return this season.
While there’s no timetable on Letang’s return, Kunitz (lower body), Neal (concussion) and Bennett (wrist) all practiced Monday. Kunitz, tied with Sidney Crosby for the team lead with 31 goals, is the most likely to play Tuesday.
Neal seemed optimistic he might be able to face his former team.
"As long as I’m good all day (Monday), (we’ll) see what goes on (Tuesday)," Neal told the Penguins’ official website. "If I feel good in the morning, there’s no reason why I can’t (play vs. Dallas)."
Neal scored twice for Pittsburgh in the Stars’ last visit, a 3-1 win Nov. 11, 2011.
Crosby missed that meeting but has four goals in two career home games against Dallas.