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Pens’ postseason chase continues at 1st-place Stars

Mar 22, 2023; Denver, Colorado, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins center Jeff Carter (77) celebrates his goal with defenseman Brian Dumoulin (8) and left wing Drew O'Connor (10) in the third period against the Colorado Avalanche at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Not even their current rough stretch has knocked the Dallas Stars out of their share of first place in the Central Division.

The Pittsburgh Penguins, meanwhile, are in a scramble to keep their lengthy playoff streak alive.

The Stars, who have lost three of their last four games, look to get back on track Thursday night by keeping the visiting Penguins from building on a badly needed victory on Wednesday.

Their 1-2-1 stretch has the Stars (38-19-14, 90 points) tied with Minnesota atop the Central standings. On Tuesday night, Jamie Benn scored his 30th goal of the season to tie things in the final second of regulation, but Dallas lost 5-4 in overtime to visiting Seattle.

While the Stars have scored 10 goals in the last two games, and averaged 4.7 over the last 12 contests, they’ve yielded 19 goals in the last four games.

“I think that maybe we’ve been a little looser defensively, a little bit more odd-man rushes for sure,” defenseman Colin Miller told the Stars’ official website. “It’s something we’ve got to tighten up.”

Workhorse netminder Jake Oettinger, who has set career highs for appearances (54) and starts (53), allowed five goals apiece in back-to-back starts. He has also posted a 3.67 goals-against average in his last 10 starts.

With backup Scott Wedgewood still out due to a lower-body injury suffered at the beginning of the month, Dallas rookie Matt Murray has allowed seven goals in his first two NHL starts, both coming this month.

Oettinger was solid in stopping 23 of 25 shots at Pittsburgh on Dec. 12. However, Dallas managed only Roope Hintz’s goal 19 seconds into a 2-1 loss.

The Penguins (35-26-10, 80 points), who have reached the playoffs in 16 consecutive seasons, are sitting in the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. Pittsburgh leapfrogged Florida for that coveted spot after snapping a four-game losing streak with Wednesday’s 5-2 win at Colorado.

The Penguins’ Jeff Carter ended an 11-game goal drought with two on Wednesday, and Sidney Crosby scored once to reach 30 goals for the 11th time in his illustrious career. Pittsburgh also halted a three-game slide on the road, totaling just three goals in those games.

“Our biggest downfall here has been consistency,” Carter told TNT. “Putting the correct game on the ice that you need this time of the year. We’re in a position here where we’re fighting for our lives. You know, doing anything we can to get in (the playoffs).”

Fellow Pittsburgh star Evgeni Malkin recorded his 50th assist of the season at Colorado, and scored a goal versus Dallas in December. He has four goals with three assists during a six-game point streak against the Stars.

After Tristan Jarry made 28 saves on Wednesday, Casey DeSmith (3.12 goals-against average) could make his first start since March 11, when he stopped 31 shots during a 5-1 victory over Philadelphia.

Hintz has 32 goals this season but none in his last five games. He does, however, have four assists in the last two contests. Meanwhile, teammate Miro Heiskanen has four goals with 15 assists during an 11-game point streak — tying a Stars’ franchise record for defensemen.

–Field Level Media

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