PITTSBURGH -- The Toronto Maple Leafs are perfect this season when leading after two periods. Except in Pittsburgh, where the Penguins have been almost perfect for nearly two months.
Pascal Dupuis scored twice, including the go-ahead goal early in the third period shortly after he set up Jordan Staal's tying goal, and the Penguins again overcame a two-goal deficit to beat the Maple Leafs 3-2 on Wednesday night at Consol Energy Center.
A monumental win for the Penguins only hours after they celebrated the unveiling of the huge statue honoring franchise icon Mario Lemieux? It wasn't quite that, but the Penguins won their seventh in a row overall and their 11th in their last 12 games at Consol.
"This year, we feel like we can come back in every game," Dupuis said.
The Penguins have rallied from deficits of at least two goals seven times during the recent run of success at Consol in which they have lost there only once since Jan. 10.
"That's not that common in the League to be able to come back like that; teams are usually pretty good at holding those leads," defenseman Matt Niskanen said. "We just do a really good job of sticking with it, staying aggressive. We don't have to change a whole lot when we're down. We just keep playing the same game. Guys are committed to making that strong push."
Their latest rally pushed the Penguins four points ahead of fifth-place Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference playoff race and was exactly the kind of victory that's becoming very familiar to them. It also was just the kind of loss that has been perplexing the Maple Leafs, who are 2-11-1 in their last 14.
Toronto is 20-1-1 when leading after two periods, with both defeats in Pittsburgh. The Maple Leafs lost there 5-4 in a shootout Jan. 31 despite leading 2-0 and 4-1.
"We need to get that mindset just to play defense in those situations, especially on the road. Right now, I don't think we've got that in our heads," defenseman Carl Gunnarsson said.
The Maple Leafs found it hard to keep pushing after losing forward Mike Brown and defenseman Cody Franson after they had played less than a minute each. Franson caught a stick in his eye and Brown injured a leg.
The night before, forwards Joffrey Lupul (shoulder) and Colby Armstrong (broken nose) went down during a 5-4 loss to Boston. Lupul will be out from three to four weeks.
It seems the Maple Leafs are running out of players at the same time they're running out of games.
"I think we showed signs of enthusiasm, we stuck with game plan, and I thought we were better from a defensive standpoint, but we ran out of bodies," new Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said. "When you lose two bodies in the first 10 minutes of a hockey game, it taxes everybody."
Their start – and their stars -- couldn’t have been much better. Phil Kessel scored his 34th of the season 60 seconds into the second period, taking advantage of a wide-open net created when rookie goalie Brad Thiessen roamed out of the crease and was upended by Tyler Bozak as he went to play the puck.
Gunnarsson redirected Mikhail Grabovski's shot from the slot to make it 2-0 later in the period; Grabovski had seven points as the teams split the four game season series.
But Thiessen – playing in only his second NHL game and backup Brent Johnson sits out with an injury – shut out the Leafs the rest of the way while making 22 saves. The former undrafted free agent beat Columbus 4-2 in his NHL debut on Feb. 26.
"Brad's waited a long time to get a chance and he's won a lot of hockey games (in the AHL), but we haven't seen much him at all at this level," Pens coach Dan Bylsma said. "But that's two solid games for us where he's been in control, and that's good for us."
With the Maple Leafs forced to rotate five defensemen during the final 50 minutes-plus – Dion Phaneuf played 29 minutes, 20 seconds in the second game of a back-to-back -- Dupuis was in the middle of everything.
Dupuis began the comeback by deflecting Niskanen's shot from just inside the blue line past Gustavsson at 9:25 of the second period.
The Penguins,19-4-1 in their last 24 games, tied it up when defenseman Brooks Orpik settled down Dupuis’ cross-ice pass and threw it in front to Staal, who redirected it past goalie Jonas Gustavsson 1:34 into the third period. Staal also assisted on Dupuis' first goal.
"Pascal doesn't get a lot of notoriety for us, but he was definitely effective in a lot of ways and tonight he got two for us," Bylsma said.
Dupuis then gave Pittsburgh its first lead, steering a backhander between Gustavsson's pads at 4:10. Gustavsson crowded the right post and gave Dupuis little shooting room, but Dupuis somehow found a narrow opening to score his 17th goal.
"I've been getting so many chances, it's good to have a couple go in," said Dupuis, who couldn't convert on a succession of good scoring attempts in a 5-1 win at Colorado on Saturday.
Niskanen credited the Steve Sullivan-Staal-Dupuis line for changing the tempo of the game, thereby creating the comeback.
"Staal and Duper and Sully did a good job of getting offensive zone time, a few hits, and kind of got everybody going," he said. "And they got rewarded with a couple of big goals."
The Leafs began the night 12th in the Eastern Conference standings and are fading fast during a slump that helped cost Wilson his job. And Carlyle is beginning to see why.
"Until we adopt the mentality that we're going to do the little things, the work they're putting in, they're not going to be rewarded for it," Carlyle said.
Evgeni Malkin, tied with Steven Stamkos of Tampa Bay for the NHL scoring lead with 81 points, was shut out to end his eight-game scoring streak, but the Penguins still extended their second-longest winning streak of the season. They won eight in a row from Jan. 13-31.
1 - 0 TOR
2 - 0 TOR
2 - 1 TOR
2 - 2 Tie
3 - 2 PIT
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