PITTSBURGH - The Stars found out first hand what the rest of the league already knows about Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby.
Crosby, the Canadian Olympic hero, single-handedly changed the Stars fortunes during a 5-minutes span that bridged the second and third periods when he scored twice to add to the assist he had already registered earlier in the middle frame to lift the Penguins to a 6-3 win over Dallas on Saturday afternoon at Mellon Arena.
Crosby, who scored the overtime winner for Canada in the gold medal game last week in Vancouver, potted the go-ahead tally with just over 3 minutes left in the second stanza, then broke the game open with a shorthanded goal 1:35 into the third.
"When you have hockey sense like he has, you can play him in any situation, and he's going to excel at it," captain Brenden Morrow said about Crosby. "You're not going to find a guy with more hockey sense and awareness of the ice. When you got guys like Crosby and (Evgeni) Malkin, all they need is one sniff of a turnover and they can really turn a game around. Everything that Pittsburgh got, we gave them the opportunities and they made the most of them."
The two goals completely changed the complexion of the game, especially the deadly third-period tally that came at a time when the Stars could have easily swung the contest back in their direction. Down by a goal, Dallas opened the third with a 56-second two-man advantage, but its only shot -- provided by Morrow -- was denied by a sparkling sliding save by goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
Under a minute after the dizzying denial, Crosby raced down the left wing on a 2-on-1 break, and let go a sizzling wrist shot from the left circle that went over Dallas goalie Kari Lehtonen's right shoulder that gave the Penguins a 5-3 advantage.
The goal was a bubble-burster for the Stars, who've now lost their first three games following the Olympic break by a combined score of 17-5.
What made the defeat doubly hard to swallow was the inability of the Stars to hang on to a well-deserved lead. Dallas opened a 3-1 edge after Loui Eriksson capped a three-goal rally in the second period, but eventually squandered it away when the Penguins responded with five unanswered goals of their own.
Crosby's shorthanded dagger was his league-leading 44th goal of the year.
"It's no secret you're not going to win much when you're giving up five or six goals a game," Morrow said. "You look on paper, and a ot of these teams right now, we might be outmatched on paper, so we just gotta want it more. Looked like we did for part of the game, but a couple of undisciplined-type plays and they get back in the game."
Mike Ribeiro and Brandon Segal had a goal and assist each, and Lehtonen finished with 28 saves in his starting debut with the Stars.
"It doesn't matter if it's Kari or Marty (Turco) back there, they're both battling as hard as they can," Morrow said. "We have to defend with six guys, and we can't leave just one or two guys out to defend for us. On the power play we're getting outworked and giving up scoring chances, and that's not acceptable."
Jordan Staal and Chris Kunitz each had a goal and assist, Pascal Dupuis and Alex Ponikarovsky also scored, and Fleury made 27 saves for the high-flying Penguins, who won their third straight.
It was the fourth straight defeat that Pittsburgh has pinned on the snakebitten Stars.
Ponikarovsky, acquired earlier in the week, finished the matinee scoring with a power-play goal with less than 5 minutes to go in regulation.
With the game knotted at 1, Segal made it 2-1 just 1:29 into the second period when he cashed in on a mini-2-on-1 with Ribeiro. Segal actually started the play in the neutral zone by chipping the puck over to Ribeiro along the left boards after receiving a long pass from Morrow.
Just under a minute later, Eriksson stretched the Dallas lead to 3-1 with his team-leading 25th of the season. From in tight, the Swedish Olympian was able to easily tap in Brad Richards' pass from the right corner.
But the Penguins were able to take the lead with three unanswered goals to finish the middle frame. Kunitz cut the advantage in half off a feed from Crosby when his wicked wrist shot from the left circle went in over Lehtonen's glove hand at 4:01 to make it 3-2.
Dupuis then tied it at 3 at 9:10 of the second period. Kris Letang was able to outmuscle Richards off the puck at the Dallas blue line along the right boards, and then sent a pass to Dupuis, who redirected it in from the low slot.
Crosby completed the blitz when he scored his first of the game to give the Penguins a 4-3 lead with 3:13 left in the second. From behind the goal line, the Pittsburgh captain was able to bank the puck in off defenseman Trevor Daley's right leg.
Staal opened the scoring just 2:11 into the game, notching his 18th of the season to give the Penguins a 1-0 lead. Staal was able to split Dallas defensemen Matt Niskanen and Karlis Skrastins after accepting a pass from Matt Cooke just outside the Stars blue line, and calmly wristed a shot past Lehtonen from the slot on the mini-breakaway.
Ribeiro tied it for the Stars with his 15th of the year at 12:05 of the first with some slick maneuvering. The smooth center was able to get a shot off from the inner edge of the right circle while battling Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar on a one-on-one, and then collected his own rebound on the backhand before moving the puck to his forehand to flick it in for his fifth goal in his last six games.
Dallas continues its three-game Eastern Conference road trip on Monday against the Washington Capitals (6 p.m., VERSUS). The high-octane and NHL-leading Capitals extended their streak of scoring three or more goals to 23 straight games following Thursday's 5-4 victory over Tampa Bay.
"We aren't going to win many hockey games if we're not willing to do what it takes to win and pay the price," Morrow said. "If you look at our schedule, we have some really tough opponents and we have to be focused."