The perception long has been that the Penguins got the better of a February 2011 trade with Dallas.
The return was winger James Neal, who has a 40-goal season on his Penguins resume and Matt Niskanen, who has become one of their most dependable defensemen.
But the Stars, who faced the Penguins Tuesday night at Consol Energy Center, are happy with the player they got, too, defenseman Alex Goligoski.
“Alex has been a real important piece for us this year,” Dallas coach Lindy Ruff said. “He got off to a little bit of a tough start, but I really think since after maybe the first 10 games of the season he’s been our best defenseman.
“He’s played in every situation. He’s been our lead defenseman on the power play and does the bulk of the penalty-killing. And plays the biggest minutes for us.”
Goligoski, 28, going into the game, had five goals, 32 points. That led the team’s defensemen and ranked third overall. He was averaging 24 minutes, 9 seconds of ice time, a team-high by more than 11⁄2 minutes.
“It’s been good,” Goligoski said of his time with Dallas. “I love it. We’re just trying to get into the playoffs. It’s kind of been that way the last few years. But our team is awesome, an awesome bunch of guys. It’s been really fun. It’s a young group. This team is going to be good for a long time.”
Goligoski was just breaking into the NHL when he was a Penguins teammate of Sergei Gonchar, a veteran defenseman now also with Dallas.
“He’s a big part of our team. Plays a lot of minutes for us,” Gonchar said of Goligoski. “He’s pretty much in every situation. He’s developed into a really good player.
“When he was here in Pittsburgh, he didn’t play much at the time, but you could see he had great potential. That’s why Dallas got him. He has all the tools.”
Neal, Kunitz return
The Penguins got two top-six forwards back in the lineup. Right winger Neal had missed two games because of a concussion, and left winger Chris Kunitz was out the same two games because of an undisclosed injury.
Neal has declined to be more specific about how he got a concussion other than to say it was from taking a hit.
He hinted, though, he played at least one game after that hit before he realized he had a problem, and that he didn’t have any notion of hiding his concussion symptoms from the Penguins medical staff.
“You do have to be honest, but it was affecting my play,” he said. “It was hindering my play.
“You can play through it as long as you want, but when it’s affecting you like that and you don’t feel right, you’re not doing your teammates any good or yourself any good. We took care of it the way we needed to, and I’m back pretty quickly and feeling good.”
Kunitz got hurt March 11 when he crashed into a goal post with both legs, then went into the end boards against Washington. He finished that game after missing just one shift and took the pregame warm-up for the next game, but ultimately did not play again until Tuesday, missing both weekend games against Philadelphia.
“It was sore,” Kunitz said of the immediate aftermath. “I felt myself hobbling around out there a little bit. Probably a little bit of adrenaline kicked in.
“It got a little more sore [in the ensuing days]. I didn’t think it was going to be strong enough to be able go out and play on the weekend.”
Defenseman Paul Martin (broken hand) and winger Beau Bennett (wrist surgery) skated before the game-day skate, although Bennett is cleared for practice. Defenseman Kris Letang (stroke) participated in the game-day skate. It’s not clear when or if he will be given the OK to play this season. … The Penguins scratched forwards Jayson Megna and Taylor Pyatt and defenseman Deryk Engelland. … Kari Lehtonen started in goal for Dallas. He had been out since March 8 because of concussion-like symptoms.
Shelly Anderson: email@example.com, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly.