Crosby's line propels Penguins over Dallas, 5-1

The line, Lee Stempniak suggested, remains very much a work in progress.

Hard to disagree, considering its time together still is being measured in minutes, not months.

But perhaps that's what should concern teams that will have to face the Penguins from now until the end of their playoff run, whenever that might be.

For as good as the line of Sidney Crosby between Chris Kunitz and Stempniak was in the Penguins' 5-1 victory Tuesday night against Dallas at Consol Energy Center, it has the potential to improve considerably as Stempniak settles in on the right side.

"It's a pretty dangerous line, with those two guys," said Stempniak, acquired from Calgary at the NHL trade deadline two weeks ago. "I'm just trying to fit in."

He certainly did against the Stars, contributing a goal and two assists as the Penguins (45-19-4) ended a two-game losing streak and maintained their spot five points behind first-place Boston in the Eastern Conference.

Stempniak's co-workers had pretty productive games, as well. Crosby chipped in two goals and an assist, while Kunitz -- back in the lineup after missing two games after his legs slammed into a goal post a week earlier -- had a goal and an assist.

"Our line felt like we had some good jump and were around pucks," Crosby said. "And got rewarded for it."

Kunitz has matched his single-season high of 61 points, and his 32 goals leave him just one behind Crosby for the team lead.

He said that, physically, he "felt pretty good" while logging 11 minutes, 51 seconds of ice time.

Kunitz was a lot better mentally, as well, than he had been while watching the Penguins get swept by Philadelphia in a home-and-home series this past weekend.

Those games, he said, were "extremely difficult" to watch.

Of course, his teammates didn't enjoying playing in them much, either, although rebounding with a strong game against the Stars likely removed a little of the sting.

"That's the way you respond from a tough weekend," Crosby said.

Rookie goalie Jeff Zatkoff, who stopped 19 of 20 shots after relieving Marc-Andre Fleury in a 4-3 loss Sunday at home, didn't have much bouncing back to do, but did turn in a strong showing.

He rejected 32 of 33 shots, including a few quality chances when a Dallas goal could have altered the course of the game.

"He made some timely saves," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said.

By the time Zatkoff made his first stop, at 7:35 of the opening period, the Penguins already had a lead they never would relinquish.

At 4:17, Crosby -- who had failed to earn a point in either of the Flyers games -- capitalized on a turnover forced by the fourth line and beat Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen with a backhander that ricocheted off the right goalpost and into the net.

"That gave us the lift that we needed," Kunitz said.

Simply having Kunitz and second-line right winger James Neal, who had missed the previous two games because of a concussion, back in uniform no doubt helped in that regard, too.

Neal didn't get a point, but played 17 minutes and six seconds with no apparent difficulty.

After Crosby put the Penguins in front, Tyler Seguin countered for Dallas when he deflected a Trevor Daley shot out of the air and past Zatkoff at 12:30 of the first.

The Penguins, though, would get the next four goals -- the first three from Crosby and his linemates.

Kunitz scored the winner at 15:25 of the first by punching a Stempniak rebound past Lehtonen, and Stempniak rang up his first for the Penguins at 13:21 of the second, converting a Kunitz set-up.

"The killer goal was the third one," Ruff said.

Probably, but the Penguins piled on with a couple in the third period, as Crosby tossed in the carom of a Matt Niskanen shot at 1:56 and Brandon Sutter stuck an exclamation point on the victory with a short-handed goal at 12:47.

If the Penguins are to have a significant impact in the playoffs, they will need offense from all areas of their lineup.

But there's nothing wrong with having a line that shows the potential to be a reliable source of goals.

"We're trying to do things quickly," Crosby said.

"Hopefully, it's something we can continue, but it's nice to have that chemistry and not have to really think or work at it too much."

Dave Molinari: and Twitter @MolinariPG.

First Published March 18, 2014 9:45 PM

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