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Stars, Penguins meet in clash of hot teams

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The Dallas Stars, who on Saturday host the surging Pittsburgh Penguins, proved to themselves that a long layoff and games against strong teams aren’t enough to deter them.

After a 16-day break because of postponements and the NHL’s holiday shutdown, the Stars on Thursday topped the visiting Florida Panthers in a wild, seesaw 6-5 shootout.

“It wasn’t our prettiest, but we got the result we wanted,” said Dallas winger Jamie Benn, who had a goal and an assist against Florida. “We’re going to try to keep building.”

The Stars’ lull was sparked by a COVID-19 outbreak that hit their organization both at the NHL and minor-league levels. Now they are back and, in a couple ways, have picked up where they left off before the unplanned break.

They have won three straight, dating to Dec. 18, and after struggling some to score, have racked up 17 goals in those three games.

Pittsburgh, which has won 10 straight spanning its own break, will be the second straight hot opponent for Dallas. Florida had won four in a row before Thursday.

Benn said there is confidence “because we’re a good team. When we play Dallas Stars hockey, we can beat anyone.”

The Stars are 12-3-1 at home, where they await the Penguins after a successful return to play.

Dallas coach Rick Bowness said coming out of a midseason shutdown is “a tough thing, it really is. … Was it going to be a Picasso? No, but we’re thrilled with the two points.”

Now comes the task of trying to get two more against a team that has been nearly unstoppable lately.

“We’ve just got to keep trying to find solutions,” Bowness said.

Pittsburgh knows all about doing that.

The Penguins have won in various ways during their winning streak, which endured a two-week, five-game COVID-19 shutdown.

The past three of their 10 straight wins have been sparked by some of their top offensive stars.

In wins this week over San Jose, St. Louis and Philadelphia, top-line winger Bryan Rust has seven goals, 11 points; the other top-line winger, Jake Guentzel, has three goals, six points; top-line center Sidney Crosby has one goal, six points; and breakout forward Evan Rodrigues has five goals, seven points.

During the 10-game winning streak, Crosby leads the Penguins with 16 points.

Pittsburgh fourth-line center Brian Boyle, who scored a short-handed goal Thursday in a 6-2 win at Philadelphia, noted there is “a high standard that comes from the coaching staff, the leaders and how hard they work and what they demand of themselves. Everybody falls in line. There’s a ton of encouragement. Everybody wants to contribute.”

The 10-game string is the longest winning streak, active or otherwise, in the league this season. It’s not just offense that is thriving. Pittsburgh has given up just 20 goals over the 10 games.

It’s also the fifth-longest winning streak in franchise history. A win Saturday would tie the fourth-longest such string at 11, achieved in 2011-12.

Another of the Penguins’ elite players, defenseman Kris Letang, has 27 points in 29 games, including seven assists in the three wins this week.

“A lot of guys are benefiting from the fact that we’re playing well as a team,” Letang said.

–Field Level Media

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