James Neal scored two power-play goals against the team that traded him nine months ago and led the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 3-1 win over the Dallas Stars on Friday night.
Neal netted his 10th and 11th goals of the season to pull within one of the NHL lead, and Matt Cooke scored on a penalty shot in the third period as Pittsburgh won for the seventh time in nine games.
Eric Nystrom had a goal in his fifth consecutive game for Dallas, which had a four-game winning streak snapped.
The game matched the teams with the most points in their respective conferences. Pittsburgh is on top in the East, and Dallas leads the West.
Both of Neal’s goals came seconds after Penguins goals were waved off by officials.
There had been speculation that Penguins captain Sidney Crosby would make his season debut after being out since January because of a concussion, but he won’t return before Tuesday at the earliest.
Pittsburgh traded for Neal in February with the thought that he might fit on a line with Crosby, but he had only one goal in 20 games last season. Neal scored in the second and third periods.
For the second consecutive home game – 15 days apart – the Penguins had an apparent goal waved off. Cooke was cited for interfering with the goalie Oct. 27. This time, Chris Kunitz was ruled to have gotten his stick up above the crossbar to deflect Evgeni Malkin’s shot late in the second.
Fans were still booing that call when 24 seconds later Neal scored on a snap shot from the left circle that found its way between Kari Lehtonen’s right arm and torso. The puck trickled over the goal line before Stars defenseman Nicklas Grossman was able to swat it away.
Neal nearly scored again at 6:56 of the third when he threw the puck toward the net from the right boards. It went in off Dallas defenseman Mark Fistric, and sent the sellout crowd into another premature celebration. But the call didn’t count because Kunitz made contact with Lehtonen.
However, 23 seconds later Neal did score after being set up by a quick pass from Malkin. Neal intended to feed a wide-open Kunitz, but the puck hit off Stars defenseman Trevor Daley’s stick and went into the net.
Dallas entered with 22 goals in three games, but managed only 20 shots Friday. The Stars’ lone goal was scored by Nystrom off a feed from Dvorak.
Dallas played the final two periods without defenseman Alex Goligoski, who was in the trade that sent Neal to Pittsburgh. Goligoski was spotted with a heavily-bandaged thumb.
The Stars played with only four defensemen for the final seven minutes of the second period, when Fistric went to the locker room after taking a puck to the face. He returned for the third.
Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury made 19 saves, improving to 6-0-1 in his past seven games. He has allowing only 10 goals in that span. Fleury is 5-0 against Dallas.
NOTES: The Stars haven’t won in Pittsburgh since Dec. 23, 2000. ... Cooke’s goal was his 100th point with Pittsburgh. ... The Penguins, who had a five-day break between games, are 5-0-2 against Western Conference teams. ... Letang has an assist in five straight games. ... Pittsburgh, the NHL’s top penalty-killing team, turned aside both Dallas power-play chances. ... The Penguins improved to 5-1-1 at home. ... Lehtonen lost a road game for the first time in six starts this season, falling to 11-2 overall. He’s never beaten Pittsburgh in five tries.