Jared McCann’s short-handed goal gives Penguins win over Stars
DALLAS — The way they got the lead was so pretty, the Pittsburgh Penguins just couldn’t bear to give this one away.
Jared McCann scored a short-handed goal on a spinning backhander to break a third-period tie and lead the Penguins to a 3-2 victory over the Dallas Stars on Saturday night.
After surrendering late one-goal leads in their previous three games, the Penguins made this one hold up. Matt Murray made 15 of his 29 saves in the third period, standing his ground as the Stars fired away on a six-on-four power play in the final 80 seconds of the game.
“I feel like the mentality was just, ‘Bear down,’ ” McCann said. “Obviously, it was in the back of our heads, what’s happened in the past here, but we just tried to take one shift at a time, and we got the job done.”
The win helped the Penguins keep pace in the playoff race. Carolina, Montreal and the New York Islanders also won Saturday.
The Penguins remain tied with the Islanders for second place in the Metropolitan Division, moving within a point of first-place Washington. They lead fourth-place Carolina by four points.
The Penguins are six points up on eighth-place Montreal in the Eastern Conference race, nine ahead of ninth-place Columbus.
The Penguins twice took a lead in the game, with Jake Guentzel and McCann scoring goals set up by Phil Kessel. The Stars answered both times on goals by Tyler Seguin and Andrew Cogliano.
McCann’s second goal came with the Stars on a power play with the score tied 2-2 early in the third period.
Teddy Blueger picked up a puck in the defensive zone and took off up ice with McCann, trying to speed past the Stars defense for an odd-man rush.
Blueger’s pass was behind McCann, so he had to contort his body to receive it. As he did, he unleashed a spin-o-rama backhander that eluded goalie Anton Khudobin at the 4:20 mark.
“I think I’ve seen Sid do that move a couple times, Sid and Geno,” McCann said, citing Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin as highlight-reel role models. “It’s obviously not as pretty when I do it. I just tried to get the puck to the net, and luckily it went in.”
Crosby deflected credit — if any was actually due to anyone other than McCann — to his longtime teammate.
“Not recently. Maybe back in the day. Geno’s got a few more recently than me,” Crosby said. “He did it well, though. That was a huge goal.”
After the clip of McCann’s goal had been sent off to SportsCenter, the Penguins were faced with a scenario that had been a nightmare for them recently. They were charged with protecting a one-goal lead in the third period.
It was not always smooth. The Penguins white-knuckled it for most of the period, during which the Stars had a 15-9 edge in shots and a 28-15 advantage in shot attempts.
“We sort of had to weather their storm,” defenseman Erik Gudbranson said. “They put a lot of pressure on us.”
Murray was sharp in the moments immediately following the McCann goal, turning away Alexander Radulov at the doorstep twice.
“It all comes down to compete,” Murray said. “We can drop the schemes all we want, but at the end of the day, it just comes down to competing and getting the job done.”
After Bryan Rust was called for holding with 1 minute, 20 seconds to play, the Penguins clamped down, allowing only one shot the rest of the way.
“I think that’s an indication of our confidence level, that we didn’t sink,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “We stayed on our toes and we were aggressive.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review assistant sports editor. You can contact Jonathan by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .