Pascal Dupuis scored a goal in the fourth round of the shootout and Marc-Andre Fleury stopped Michael Ryder to give the Pittsburgh Penguins a 4-3 victory over the Dallas Stars for their fourth consecutive win Wednesday night at American Airlines Arena.
The Penguins gave themselves a small amount of breathing room in the fourth spot of the Eastern Conference race with 79 points, three more than the red-hot Ottawa Senators.
Even though they had their four-game winning streak snapped, by virtue of picking up a single point, Dallas moved one point ahead of the Colorado Avalanche and Los Angeles Kings for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.
It was a tough game all the way around, as both clubs played a very physical style. Midway through the opening frame, Eric Nystrom drilled Pittsburgh's Kris Letang at the side of the Penguins' net as the defenseman reached for the puck. Nystrom's shoulder made contact with Letang's chin, and the defender, who has had concussion problems this season, had to be assisted from the ice. The collision occurred at 10:05, and Letang did not return.
Dallas opened the scoring late in the first period when Steve Ott picked up the puck at the left circle, then found Jamie Benn in the slot. Benn accepted the pass and sent a one-time snap shot that Fleury caught a piece of but could not stop from trickling over the goal line for his 18th goal of the season at 15:25 and a 1-0 lead for the home team.
But they didn't have much time to enjoy it. Pittsburgh's Steve Sullivan broke in alone on Kari Lehtonen and beat him with a backhander to the blocker side for his 12th goal of the year with just 1:07 remaining in the first period to send the teams to their respective locker rooms with the game knotted at 1-1.
Sullivan later left the game with a "lower body injury" and did not return.
The Stars were able to grab the lead late in the middle stanza, when Sheldon Souray was able to finish off a Loui Eriksson drop pass for his sixth goal of the season with just 13 ticks remaining on the clock in the second period.
Just 39 seconds later, Pittsburgh would take its first lead of the night. Defenseman Paul Martin set up for a shot from the right point and spotted Chris Kunitz alone in the slot. Martin sent a low, deflectable shot / pass toward Kunitz, who redirected the puck to Lehtonen's left and inside the post for his 18th goal of the season for a 3-2 Pittsburgh lead.
Moments after Fleury had made an acrobatic stop on a Mike Ribeiro breakaway, Dallas struck back. Eriksson sent a saucer pass from Fleury's right across the goalmouth to Ryder, who tapped the puck past the goaltender for his 26th goal of the year to make it a 3-3 game with 12:37 remaining in regulation.
The best chances through the remainder of the third period and overtime belonged to Souray of the Stars, and he nearly scored late in the third. While on an elongated delayed penalty on Penguins rear guard Brooks Orpik, Souray's straight-away blue line blast trickled through Fleury and went just wide of the left post in the last 30 seconds of regulation.
Late in the overtime, Souray had a chance to move into the left circle and let a slap shot go from the hash marks. The blast beat Fleury cleanly but ripped off the far post over the netminder's glove and stayed out, as the game went to a shootout.
After mirroring each other through three rounds of the game-deciding skills competition, Dupuis beat Lehtonen and when Ryder shot wide of Fleury and the net, the Pens had locked up the extra point.
Pittsburgh has been excellent when play goes beyond overtime, and now own an 8-3 record in the shootout. Fleury made 30 saves to improve his record to to 33-14-3 on the year, while Lehtonen stopped 26 shots to take the loss and drop to 24-15-4.