Cross Checks: Alex Goligoski
DALLAS -- The Dallas Stars earned their first playoff victory since 2008, beating the Anaheim Ducks, 3-0. It was the Stars' first home game of the series, played in front of a sellout crowd of 19,120.
Some quick thoughts:
How it happened: The Stars got goals late in both the first and second periods. Jamie Benn, the Stars' second-leading goal scorer in the regular season, scored after Shawn Horcoff's shot from the left circle hit the pads of Ducks goalie Frederik Andersen and came right out to Benn on the right circle and he deposited it in the net. The goal was scored with 35 seconds left in the first period, allowing Dallas to take some momentum into the dressing room.
The teams were physical in the second period and both had some scoring chances. But it wasn't until the clock got under three minutes left that the Stars expanded their lead. Tyler Seguin's speed and puck-handling created the opportunity. He skated into the zone and left it for Valeri Nichuskin, who managed to get the puck through Andersen.
Dallas added another insurance goal midway through the third period.
What it means: The Stars earned their first shutout since April 10, 2008, at Anaheim in Game 1 of the first-round and in the process are back in the series. It was an opportunity lost for the Ducks to take a stranglehold in the series. The result also guarantees that the series will go back to Anaheim for Game 5 on Friday.
Player of the game: Kari Lehtonen was terrific when it mattered most. He made several key saves on some point-blank chances, including Saku Koivu and Nick Bonino early in the second period. That kept it a 1-0 game and the Stars were able to add to it later in the period. Lehtonen was in a good rhythm and not afraid to come out and challenge shots. And he saw a lot of them. The Ducks vastly outshot the Stars, but just couldn't get anything past Lehtonen, even when they got some traffic in front of him. He made 37 saves, earned his first playoff victory and did so in a shutout.
Stat of the game: The Stars' penalty kill was 5-for-5 and became a big momentum-booster for Stars goals late in the first and second periods. The Stars didn't allow rebound chances, blocked shots and Lehtonen was able to keep everything out. The Ducks haven't had a power-play goal since Game 1.
Injured defenseman: Stephane Robidas fractured his right leg early in the second period after getting tangled up with Ryan Garbutt in front of the Ducks' net. It's the same leg Robidas fractured in November when he was with Dallas, causing him to miss four months.
What's next: Game 4 is Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET at American Airlines Center before the series shifts back to Anaheim for Game 5 on Friday.
Goligoski, acquired from Pittsburgh last season for left wing James Neal and defenseman Matt Niskanen, is in the final year of a contract that is paying him $2.75 million this season. He'll be a restricted free agent at the end of the season.
"It's not far along at all, but we've discussed it and we'll initiate that," Nieuwendyk told Custance. "We'll have talks at some point here. We'd like to get that done. He's an important player for us. Jamie Benn, same thing."
Benn is in the final year of his entry-level deal and will earn $670,000 in 2011-12. He will be a RFA as well.
PITTSBURGH -- So once again Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero jumps from the horns of a dilemma and lands if not in the clover, then pretty darned close.
Without former NHL scoring champ Evgeni Malkin for the rest of the season and with captain Sidney Crosby out indefinitely with a concussion, Shero had to wrestle with how to improve his team short-term should Crosby return for a playoff run but without squandering assets should Crosby's injury keep him out of the postseason and thus limit the team's chances of a long playoff run.
All three players are signed through next year and, while Goligoski has turned into a valuable point producer, Shero was dealing from a position of strength along the blue line with Kris Letang having a season worthy of Norris Trophy consideration and last summer's free-agent acquisitions Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek anchoring one of the top-rated defenses in the league.
Clearly the Pens' needs were up front, where they have been decimated by injuries, most notably to Crosby and Malkin.
What Shero managed to avoid in this deal was giving up young assets for a rental player.
Neal, 23, was the 33rd overall pick in the 2005 entry draft and has 21 goals this season, although he did go through a stretch recently in which he went without a goal in 10 straight games.
Neal scored 24 times in his rookie season and 27 in his sophomore season and will play top-six minutes for the Penguins.
"His best years are ahead of him," Shero said after the deal was announced Monday.
Niskanen, 24, has also shown some offensive pop, producing 35 points in his sophomore season in Dallas. The Virginia, Minn., native's numbers have fallen off the past two seasons though.
Shero said Niskanen will get a chance to get back on track offensively in Pittsburgh.
From the Stars' perspective, GM Joe Nieuwendyk was able to address a glaring need -- point production from the back end. Goligoski, a swift-skating defenseman with 31 points, instantly becomes the Stars' leading point producer along the blue line with five more points than Stephane Robidas.
Goligoski, a regular on the Penguins' power play, should aid in that area as well as Dallas' struggles to stay in the top eight in the tightly packed Western Conference. The Stars have gone 1-7-1 in their past nine and were tied for eighth heading into play Monday.
Shero said he'd been fielding calls on Goligoski, a Penguins prospect, for a couple of months but wasn't interested in moving him unless the right forward became available. Shero believes that player is Neal.
While the Stars look to be life and death to make the playoffs let alone go on a long playoff run, the Penguins' future is much more interesting.
If Crosby comes back to the form he was at the time of his injury, given the team's strong defensive play and goaltending and now the addition of a strong scoring winger, the Penguins would be considered once again a Cup contender.
Without Crosby in the lineup that outlook changes dramatically and makes the trade deadline trickier for Shero.
While Monday's deal satisfies immediate and long-term needs, Shero may not yet be done.
"I've got a little idea," Shero said. "But based upon Sid it's hard to make a determination because I just don't know.
"I have no inside information on Sidney Crosby and when he's coming back."