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Johnson, Cooke surprise as NBC stars

by John McGourty
PHILADELPHIA -- NBC's second Sunday afternoon NHL telecast of the season was billed as a match between Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Gonchar vs. Philadelphia's Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Chris Pronger.

But it's a hockey game with 40 players all performing their roles and at the end of the Penguins' 2-1 victory, the heroes were Pittsburgh's backup goalie Brent Johnson, who stopped 27 shots, and Matt Cooke, their ace penalty killer who tipped in the winning power-play goal.

What was Cooke doing on a line with Crosby and Malkin on a game-ending power play? Where was their usual partner, Billy Guerin?

"It depends on when Billy changes, because most of the time I'm not supposed to be out there, but when Billy changes early, I go on and get the chance to be out there," Cooke said. "Usually, I'm out there with Jordan Staal and Ruslan Fedotenko.

"It's my job to be in front of the net. I was trying to create a screen and Gonchar's shot hit my stick. I didn't see it coming. It hit my stick and went through the five-hole."

Johnson, 32, a 13-year professional in his first season with Pittsburgh, had the rare treat of winning an NHL game in front of his father, Bob, a former Penguins goalie in the 1970s.

"He loves the male bonding and he has more stories than anyone, story after story after story," Johnson said. "He wanted to watch practice above all. He doesn't get a chance to do that too often. Somewhere down the line, I hope he gets a chance to see our new building."

"I was the one who was the most nervous, and that will never change," Bob Johnson said. "He'll be 33 in a few months and I know his mom was bouncing off the walls, watching the game at home. Even though he's been a professional for 13 years, we still get nervous. When we see the puck clear the zone, then we're happy."

Brent Johnson was playing his fourth-straight game in place of injured starter Marc-Andre Fleury, who will likely get the start Monday in New York against the Rangers. The Penguins, who hold second place in the Atlantic Division and fourth place in the Eastern Conference, went 2-2 in those games.

"I think we have eight more games before the (Olympic) break and we want to keep flying into the break," Johnson said. "Fleury went down with a finger injury and I'm happy to fill in, happy to help the guys get a win."

"I think we have eight more games before the (Olympic) break and we want to keep flying into the break.  Fleury went down with a finger injury and I'm happy to fill in, happy to help the guys get a win." -- Brent Johnson

Johnson was surprised early when Carter stuffed a puck between the right post and his pads for the first goal of the game. He stopped all 24 Flyers' shots after that.

"It went on the side of the net and he kind of hacked it off and with the same motion hit it toward the net," Johnson said. "I don't know if it went off my blocker or off my pad and in. I still haven't seen a clear view. It was such a weird angle. That's why I think it went off my blocker because he was so far behind the net. I thought he was passing it in front and it went off me."

"I felt confident in us, right from the start. It was a somewhat fluky goal. It's something that you've got to recover from."

Johnson caught a break when Mike Richards' apparent first-period goal was waved off due to a Simon Gagne high-sticking penalty. Johnson said he didn't hear a whistle before the puck went into the net.

"I did not hear a whistle but (the ref) said he was going to blow the whistle," Johnson said. "But he couldn't because the horn went off. The penalty occurred before the puck went in the net so, either way, it's still a penalty. It may have been controversial but we'll take it."

Johnson said the Flyers held the edge through most of the first period but the Penguins had the edge in play thereafter.

"We pressed hard. They kind of threw everything at us in the first period, came hard and threw pucks at the net and came hard to the net," Johnson said. "In the second period, we did the same to them, particularly in the neutral zone. They weren't getting any tape-to-tape passes, weren't able to break in with odd-man rushes and we did a fantastic job of that all night."

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