TORONTO – Shutting down the NHL's top offense for more than 52 minutes is an impressive accomplishment. Unfortunately for the Toronto Maple Leafs, it wasn't enough to win.
Pascal Dupuis scored two late goals as Pittsburgh Penguins rallied to beat Toronto 3-1 on Thursday night for their seventh consecutive win.
The Leafs led 1-0 and had stifled Pittsburgh's attack until Dupuis tied the game with 7:18 remaining by burying a brilliant behind-the-back pass by Sidney Crosby.
Dupuis then got the game-winner with 2:10 left in regulation when Chris Kunitz found him unmarked in the high slot for a quick shot that beat Ben Scrivens, who may have been screened by his own defenseman on the play as Korbinian Holzer dove to block the shot.
It was the second time in three days that the Penguins went more than 50 minutes without scoring, only to rally for a victory. They trailed Boston 2-0 on Tuesday but scored three times in the last 6:30 for a 3-2 win.
"We can't make a habit of coming back on teams, but we certainly know we can," Dupuis said. "It's something where we can't play with fire here; we'll get burned one day."
On the go-ahead goal, Crosby drew two Maple Leafs players in the far corner, leaving Dupuis open for the pass. The goals were Dupuis' 12th and 13th goals of the season.
"Perfect," Dupuis said. "Obviously players are going to be drawn toward him because he is the best player in the game, Chris made an unbelievable play, pushed their defenseman all the way deep in their zone and just found me there open in the slot."
While Dupuis recorded his second two-goal game in three outings, many of the questions he fielded after the game were about No. 87, who leads the race for the Art Ross Trophy with 47 points.
"Every time he touches the ice he makes special plays" Dupuis said of Crosby. "He found me, obviously I've got to put those in."
On the tying goal, Crosby said he anticipated where Dupuis would be positioned based on how the play evolved.
"I saw him forecheck on that side of the net," Crosby said. "Once the puck kind of ended up to Kunitz, I knew that he'd be coming back to the front. Don't know where it ended up, but just tried to put it over there close to him. He was ready for it and made a great play to put it in the net."
From nearly 200 feet away, Marc-Andre Fleury, whose goaltending held the Penguins in the game throughout the game was as impressed by the seeing-eye pass.
"That was fun to watch, I see this guy every day, but it's still amazing what he can do," said Fleury, who stopped 28 saves for his League-leading 14th victory. "Every day, he still does crazy, crazy stuff out there."
The Maple Leafs might have been able to put the game away in the first 10 minutes of the third period had it not been for the stellar goaltending Fleury who stopped 12 shots in the final 20 minutes.
Three minutes in, Fleury stoned Nikolai Kulemin on his redirection of Dion Phaneuf's slap pass.
After Penguins coach Dan Bylsma called timeout just before the five-minute mark, Fleury dove out to stop Nazem Kadri who had a clear path to the net but couldn't slide the puck in on the short side. Fleury also stopped Leo Komarov on a breakaway with less than 3 1/2 minutes remaining.
"I just tried to stay patient," Fleury said of Komorov's break-in. "I didn't know too much about him and what he likes to do so I just tried to be patient and let him do his move."
Fleury's captain summed up his performance quite simply.
"We are lucky he played the way he did," Crosby said. "It's a lot different outcome if he doesn't play the way he does, so that is a big plus for us."
Craig Adams added a shorthanded goal into an empty net with 10 seconds remaining to give the Penguins their second win in six days at Air Canada Centre. With the win, they clinched the season series 2-1-0, with the road team winning in each game.
Toronto effectively utilized its transition game to open the scoring at 10:01 of the second period. Tyler Bozak roofed a Cody Franson pass from the edge of the crease to finish off a nice passing play initiated by Phil Kessel. With the Penguins retreating from the Leafs' zone, Kessel raced the puck through the neutral zone and into Pittsburgh territory before flipping the puck to Franson.
It was Bozak's seventh goal of the season; the assist gives Kessel 10 points in his past five games.
Ben Scrivens started in goal for Toronto and finished with 25 saves.
Leafs defenseman John-Michael Liles, playing in his first game since Feb. 16, had his best shift early in the second period, combining with Mikhail Grabovski for back-to-back chances, but Fleury made a chest save followed by a left skate stop to keep the game scoreless.
Liles had four shots and five hits in 17:22 of ice time.
The physical play that began in the first period continued to escalate in the second period. The Maple Leafs out-hit the Penguins 24-21 through 40 minutes and had 11 takeaways to Pittsburgh's six.
It was a tough loss for the Maple Leafs, who currently sit in seventh spot in the Eastern Conference but are 0-2-1 since barely hanging on for a 5-4 victory against the Ottawa Senators on March. 6. The one point came in a 5-4 shootout loss to Pittsburgh last Saturday.
Toronto coach Randy Carlyle, looking for a spark, not only added Liles to the lineup but also tinkered with his second and third lines. Kulemin moved off the second line and played with Kadri and Clarke MacArthur while Komarov, Grabovski and Matt Frattin made up the second line.
"We are just trying to see if we can mix things up a little bit, I thought that it had a positive effect, we were more balanced and we did create more offense." Carlyle said.
Toronto's game plan of aggressively forechecking, using its speed in transition and clogging up the shooting and passing lanes worked for much of the night, but in the end the Maple Leafs could not hang on.
"It's not all doom and gloom, but it's doom and gloom when you lose the way we lost." Carlyle said. "It tears at your fabric -- at your heart, because you are finding a way to lose a game instead of finding a way to win a game."