Stars-Penguins Preview

Though it’s not official, the defending Stanley Cup champion

Pittsburgh Penguins should be playing postseason hockey next month.

The same cannot be said for the Dallas Stars as they begin a tough

road trip that could go a long way toward determining their playoff

hopes.

The Penguins look to continue their mastery over Stars on

Saturday at Mellon Arena.

While Pittsburgh (38-22-4) and New Jersey will contend for the

top spot in the Atlantic Division and likely the No. 2 or 3 seed in

the Eastern Conference, Dallas (28-23-12) is currently outside the

top eight in the West.

Coming off the Olympic break, the Stars have been outscored 11-2

in home losses to Los Angeles and St. Louis, and that lack of

offensive spark also couldn’t have come at a worse time. Dallas

also will visit NHL-leading Washington and always-tough Buffalo

before a season-high six-game homestand.

The Stars had won six of nine before the league-wide shutdown,

but coach Marc Crawford said that matters little now.

“We haven’t got the ability to say, ‘Boy, we were really good

before the break,'” he told the Stars’ official Web site. “It’s

what we have right now, and we’re dealing with what we have right

now. The present is really present for us. … We’ve got a huge

task that we’ve got to put all our energies toward.”

Dallas now must focus its energies on trying to beat Pittsburgh

for the first time in nearly seven years. The Penguins have won

four straight over the Stars, outscoring them 16-5, and return home

after outlasting a division foe.

Pittsburgh fired a season-high 55 shots at Henrik Lundqvist of

the New York Rangers on Thursday, erasing a two-goal deficit and

winning 5-4 on Evgeni Malkin’s power-play score 3:42 into

overtime.

“We deserved that one,” the Penguins’ Sidney Crosby said. “We

felt like it was only a matter of time before we were back into

it.”

Crosby, who scored for Canada in overtime of the gold-medal game

against the United States on Sunday, has managed one assist in each

of two games since the NHL resumed its schedule, and remains tied

with Washington’s Alex Ovechkin for league lead with 42 goals.

The Pittsburgh captain scored twice in a home victory over the

Stars in 2007, but missed a 4-1 triumph March 1, 2009 in Dallas due

to a groin injury.

While the Stars have been struggling to put the puck in the net,

they also hope giving oft-injured goaltender Kari Lehtonen his

first start in a Dallas uniform over Marty Turco will provide a

boost.

Selected second overall by Atlanta in 2002, Lehtonen was

acquired from the Thrashers on Feb. 9. He has been on injured

reserve four times since 2005, missing 127 games due to groin and

back woes.

Lehtonen saw his first action since April 11 on Thursday, coming

on early in the second period against the Blues after Turco stopped

seven of 11 shots. Lehtonen turned away 14 of 16.

Though Dallas fell 6-1, Crawford liked what he saw from

Lehtonen.

“The good thing about last night was that he got to have about

35 minutes of quality start,” he said. “The fatigue that sets in

when you have the battle in the goal mouth for 30 or 40 seconds,

that’s really hard, anaerobically for a goalie, so for him to get

that intensity was certainly good and I know he’s looking forward

to his start.”

Lehtonen is 6-2-2 with a 2.53 goals-against average in his

career against the Penguins, but has dropped his last three starts

at Mellon Arena.

Stars forward Loui Eriksson scored versus St. Louis, tying James

Neal for the team lead with 24 goals.