By WILL GRAVES
Sidney Crosby scored his 32nd and 33rd goals of the season and picked up an assist and Pittsburgh’s top line led the way in a 5-1 victory over Dallas on Tuesday night.
Lee Stempniak added his first goal since being acquired from Calgary two weeks ago and finished with two assists while Chris Kunitz had a goal and an assist in his return from a lower body injury. Brandon Sutter scored a late short-handed goal and Jeff Zatkoff stopped 32 shots to win for the 11th time in his past 14 games.
The Penguins were humbled in a home and home sweep by Philadelphia over the weekend, but bounced back behind their captain.
Tyler Seguin scored his 31st goal for the Stars. Kari Lehtonen made 27 saves, but Dallas slumped again on the road.
The Stars were crushed 7-2 in Winnipeg on Sunday. They weren’t terribly better 48 hours later thanks in part to a rejuvenated Crosby.
The NHL’s leading scorer pushed his point total to 91 and seemed energized by the return of Kunitz, who skipped the weekend series with the Flyers after jamming his leg in a victory over Washington last week.
Reunited against a scuffling team trying to make a late run at the postseason, Crosby and Kunitz helped the Metropolitan Division-leading Penguins rebound from a dismal performance by playing with the chemistry that makes them one of the most potent one-two combinations in the league.
The game was less than 5 minutes old when Crosby put Pittsburgh in front. Fourth-line forward Craig Adams – finishing out his shift – dug out a loose puck in the corner and fed it to Crosby darting through the slot.
Crosby deked past Dallas defenseman Sergei Gonchar then held the puck long enough for Lehtonen to commit before slipping the puck into an open net to give the Penguins some needed momentum.
Seguin tied at 12:30 into the first with a pretty deflection off a Trevor Daley shot from the point, but the game was tied less than three minutes before Kunitz pounced on a rebound off a Stempniak shot to put the Penguins in front to stay.
The Penguins acquired Stempniak from Calgary on March 5 hoping the veteran forward could patch the hole on the first line that hasn’t really been filled since Pascal Dupuis was lost for the season with a knee injury in December.
After a series of near misses in his first six games with Pittsburgh, Stempniak finally broke through 13:21 into the second period. He skated into the zone and dropped the puck to Crosby and sprinted to the net.
The puck was on Stempniak’s stick again a split second later as Kunitz hit him streaking through the slot. Stempniak knocked it in for his ninth of the season while getting tripped by Dallas’ Brenden Dillon in the process.
That was more than enough for Zatkoff, who made two glove saves in the second period during Dallas’ best sustained pressure. Crosby banged in a rebound 1:56 into the third to push Pittsburgh’s lead to three and the pressure that had built up after dispiriting performances against the Flyers – games in which the Penguins said they were more concerned with the way they played than the actual score – lifted.
Notes: Pittsburgh is 42-5-4 this season when Crosby collects at least one point. ... Dallas has lost three straight for the first time since a six-game skid from Jan. 2-12. ... The Penguins play at Detroit on Thursday. ... Dallas visits Philadelphia on Thursday.