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Penguins hand Flames another home loss

by Aaron Vickers

CALGARY -- The Pittsburgh Penguins weren't going to be bested twice in Alberta.

After seeing a late lead slip in their 4-3 overtime loss to the Edmonton Oilers a night earlier, the Pittsburgh Penguins nailed down a 2-1 win against the Calgary Flames at Scotiabank Saddledome on Saturday.

"It was big," said Matt Niskanen, who scored what held up as the game-winner. "We really talked about playing better with the lead. I would like to think that we're going to have a lot of those opportunities the rest of the year where we have the lead going into the third.

"We have to get better at the situation of playing smart, especially on the road, just not shooting ourselves in the foot, taking care of the puck and playing smart. Good team defense. We did a little bit better job of that tonight and we'll try to keep improving on that."

It was a record-setting night the Flames would like to forget. Calgary entered the game having been shut out in four of its past five games at home, scoring once in that span. Back-to-back shutouts against on home ice and a lethargic offense ran the Flames' drought at home to a franchise high 196 minutes and 59 seconds.

But the Flames finally did get one.

"Obviously it was nice to get a goal since we haven't had too many at home here, lately," said Mikael Backlund, who had Calgary's lone goal. "We're very disappointed that we didn't win the game. Personally, obviously it feels good [to score], but it doesn't feel good if you don't win."

After back-to-back listless outings that saw Calgary outscored 11-0 at the hands of the Coyotes at Arena and the St. Louis Blues in Calgary, the Flames showed plenty of jump early, outshooting the Penguins 6-1 in the opening seven minutes of the game.

It didn't take long, though, for Pittsburgh to turn the tides.

In a play nearly identical to his game-winner against the Flames on Dec. 21, Sidney Crosby walked around TJ Brodie and went in on partial breakaway, blasting a shot from below the faceoff dot that Reto Berra was able to swat down and cover with his glove.

Twenty-three seconds later, Chris Kunitz caught Crosby behind the Calgary defense again, springing the Penguins captain alone on Berra a second time. Crosby deked before firing a shot that the Flames goaltender caught with his blocker.

But with the momentum swinging Pittsburgh's way and a delayed penalty to Joe Colborne, Kunitz opened the scoring with 3:26 remaining in the first, taking a pass from Robert Bortuzzo and walking off the half wall before snapping a shot short side over Berra's glove to give the Penguins a 1-0 lead.

Despite finishing the first with 12 shots, the Flames failed to beat Marc-Andre Fleury.

Calgary couldn't beat Fleury in the second, either.

Niskanen beat Berra, though, with seeing-eye shot skipped between Berra's legs 6:42 into the period to extend Pittsburgh's lead to two.

"It was kind of a weird play," Niskanen said. "The goalie has it covered, or maybe he doesn't and Tanner [Glass] kind of pokes it out of there. I found some space and nobody really came to me, so I'm just trying to find a lane to the net, threw kind of a weak wrister in there. I thought it bounced off someone in there. There was a lot of traffic there and it found its way in."

From there, Fleury kept the Flames frustrated, getting a toe on Jiri Hudler's wraparound attempt.

He saved his best for Mikael Backlund, though.

While shorthanded, Backlund carved his way into the Penguins' zone and cut through the slot while Mark Giordano drove to the net. The Flames captain spun Fleury around as Backlund let a shot go, but the Penguins goaltender still kept the puck out of the net with the back of his head to keep the Flames off the board.

"The player cut across on the middle and I tried to move to the right but another guy was there," said Fleury, who made 27 saves. "I was stuck there. I just rolled around, tried to get something on the other side and it caught a piece of the back of my head.

"I forgot who shot it. I couldn't see."

A pair of posts off the sticks of Evgeni Malkin and Crosby kept Calgary within two after 40 minutes.

A hit from Bortuzzo on Giordano in the third seemed to spark the Flames, and Backlund took advantage.

Giordano was carrying the puck up the boards near center ice when Bortuzzo stepped up and delivered a crushing blow to the Flames captain. Giordano took several minutes to get back to his feet as a scrum ensued. Bortuzzo was assessed a match penalty on the play.

"It's right there," Crosby said. "I'm not sure if he catches his shoulder or head. I've seen [Bortuzzo] step up a lot like that. The way he hits, it looks bad. He's a good guy. He gets low when he hits.

"I didn't see if there was exactly contact to the head or not. We saw a quick replay. It's hard to tell. Obviously the officials are well aware to try to get those hits out of the game, but that's a tough one to tell when it's that quick and two guys are coming that quickly together."

Skating 4-on-4 after Mike Cammalleri's cross-checking minor shortly thereafter, Backlund outmuscled Kris Letang for a loose puck and snapped a shot over Fleury's glove to pull the Flames within one and end Calgary's lengthy scoring drought.

"It's a relief," Backlund said. "It's hard when you chase and chase and you get scoring chances and the puck doesn't go in. It gets in your head a little bit. It shouldn't, but it's natural. But as soon as you score one, everybody settles down a little bit and you feel better."

But after seeing a late lead evaporate in Edmonton on Friday, the Penguins didn't allow the Flames to find the equalizer, extending Calgary's home losing skid to six games.

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