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Aftermath: Maple Leafs 6, Penguins 2

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins
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The Penguins jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the first period. Toronto kept plugging and chipping away at the lead. Pittsburgh held Toronto at bay in the second period but the dam burst in the third. The Maple Leafs broke through with six unanswered goals, including five in the final frame.

The Penguins, who have been banged up all season, have nearly a full compliment of players with the return of Sergei Gonchar and Ruslan Fedotenko (only Mike Zigomanis is on IR). Pittsburgh is finally getting healthy and it couldn't have occurred at a better time - as the team gears up for a postseason push.

Over the course of an 82-game season, there will be games like this where nothing seems to go right. Pittsburgh will have to get this game out of its mind quickly and throw everything it's got into Monday’s showdown with the New York Islanders at 2 p.m.
(AP) - Jason Blake scored goals 19 seconds apart in the third period and the Toronto Maple Leafs overcame a two-goal deficit to beat Pittsburgh 6-2 on Saturday night, spoiling defenseman Sergei Gonchar's return to the Penguins' lineup.

Nik Antropov, John Mitchell, Alexei Ponikarovsky and Matt Stajan also scored for Toronto. Matt Cooke and Bill Thomas replied for the Penguins, five points behind Buffalo for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Ruslan Fedotenko (above) and Sergei Gonchar (not pictured) returned to the lineup for Pittsburgh (photo by Getty)
What Worked Well: Strong Start
The Penguins came out of the gate with their guns blazing. Pittsburgh put a ton of pucks on goal and scored twice to take a 2-0 lead at the end of the first period. Matt Cooke scored for the Penguins just 1:23 into the opening frame. Bill Thomas’ short-handed tally added to the lead and Pittsburgh came inches shy of adding a late power-play goal but the net was dislodged.

What Could Have Gone Better: Finish
The Penguins allowed six unanswered goals, five of which were scored in the third period. The lopsided scoring doesn’t tell the entire story though. Pittsburgh took 11 shots in the final frame but just couldn’t get a puck into the Leafs’ goal. Toronto used a couple of fortunate bounces (two off the boards) to score three goals. The play was pretty even between the two clubs but it was one of those games where the pucks went in for Toronto and not for Pittsburgh. 
All eyes were on Sergei Gonchar in this game. The Russian blueliner returned to the lineup after missing the first 56 games of the season with a shoulder injury. He took his first shift about five minutes into the first period and didn’t show any signs of missing over four months of action. Gonchar took 22 shifts for 20:01 of ice time. He added four shots, one blocked shot and two hits.

Gonchar made an immediate impact on the power play. The puck movement looked more fluid and the Maple Leafs backed off with Gonchar’s shot-pass threat from the point. He made a great pass in the neutral zone that gave the Penguins a two-on-one rush that Sidney Crosby nearly put into the goal.
Pittsburgh grabbed the game’s first goal. Kris Letang skated the puck in deep and took a shot on net. Toronto goalie Vesa Toskala kicked the puck towards the near corner. Evgeni Malkin threw the puck towards the net. Matt Cooke found the puck at the edge of the crease and buried it for the opening score as he was falling to the ice. Pittsburgh 1, Toronto 0.

Fox Chapel’s own Bill Thomas netted his second goal in as many games, and first career short-handed tally. Thomas blocked a shot in the Penguins zone and then dished the puck to Jordan Staal, who skated the puck into the attacking zone. Staal garnered all the attention as three Maple Leafs converged on him and left Thomas all alone. Staal flipped the puck to Thomas and the Pittsburgh kid laid into a slap shot from the near faceoff dot. The puck rocketed behind Toskala and into the netting. Pittsburgh 2, Toronto 0.

Toronto cashed in with a power-play score to cut into the Pittsburgh lead in the second period. Jeff Finger took a shot on goal from the near midwall. Marc-Andre Fleury made initial save. Nik Antropov, standing atop the crease, was able bat the rebound out of the air and across the goal line. Pittsburgh 2, Toronto 1.

Toronto used a crucial faceoff win to net the game-tying goal in the third period. Dominic Moore won a faceoff in the near circle in the Penguins zone. Ian White put a shot on net. Jason Blake was above the crease and deposited the rebound into the goal. Pittsburgh 2, Toronto 2.

Blake struck again 19 seconds later to give the Maple Leafs their first lead of the game. The Penguins couldn’t control a bouncing puck in their zone. Moore picked it up in the high slot and pushed it to Blake, who was all alone, above the crease. Blake took the puck on the backhand, spun around to his forehand and scored the goal. Toronto 3, Pittsburgh 2.

Toronto used an odd bounce to extend its lead. Toronto dumped the puck along the wall. Instead of caroming behind the net, the puck came off the boards at the goal line and towards the net. Nikolai Kulemin collected the puck and threw it to John Mitchell in the slot. Mitchell one-timed a shot into the top far corner. Toronto 4, Pittsburgh 2.

The Penguins were pinching their defense in an attempt to generate offense and get back into the game. Sidney Crosby tried to get the puck to Sergei Gonchar in the slot. Antropov intercepted the pass and Toronto had a three-on-two. Antropov hit the trailer, Matt Stajan, who fed it back to Antropov for a one-timer. Fleury made the save but Alexei Ponikarovsky was there to poke in the rebound. Toronto 5, Pittsburgh 2.

Matt Stajan recorded his 13th goal of the season to cap the scoring. Ponikarovsky carried the puck into the zone and dropped it to Stajan. Stajan ripped into a slap shot and the puck deflected off of Ryan Whitney’s stick and eluded Fleury. Toronto 6, Pittsburgh 2.
The Penguins had two familiar faces in the lineup with the return of defenseman Sergei Gonchar and forward Ruslan Fedotenko. Gonchar missed the first 56 games of the season while recovering from shoulder surgery in October and played his first game. Fedotenko missed the past 15 games with a broken hand.  

How about Evgeni Malkin? Toronto’s Brad May was roughing up Matt Cooke, who needs no assistance in the physical department. Malkin came after May to stick up for his teammate. Then on a Pittsburgh power play late in the first period, Jamal Mayers, who is a tough customer, knocked Sidney Crosby to the ice in the crease. Malkin came in and gave Mayers a good body shot. Malkin was playing the role of protector for his teammates.
> Pittsburgh dropped to 27-25-5 on the year, with a 12-13-3 mark on the road.

> PIT, M.Cooke (8), 1:23 1st period: Penguins 1, Leafs 0.
PIT, B.Thomas SH (1), 8:34 1st period: Penguins 2, Leafs 0.
TOR, N.Antropov PP (18), 12:53, 2nd period: Penguins 2, Leafs 1.
TOR, J.Blake (20), 0:55 3rd period: Penguins 2, Leafs 2.
TOR, J.Blake (21), 1:14 3rd period: Leafs 3, Penguins 2.
TOR, J.Mitchell (4), 7:13 3rd period: Leafs 4, Penguins 2.
TOR, A.Ponikarovsky (17), 13:18 3rd period: Leafs 5, Penguins 2.
TOR, M.Stajan (13), 15:51 3rd period: Leafs 6, Penguins 2.

> Evgeni Malkin tallied an assist against Toronto to extend his NHL lead in points to 81 (24G-57A). Malkin’s 57 assists are a league best. In his last 17 games, Malkin has collected nine goals and 12 assists for 21 points. Malkin still has notched a point in 12 of his last 15 games.

> Sidney Crosby was held off the scoresheet against the Leafs as he continues to battle through an illness. He is still second in the league in scoring with 72 points (21G-51A) and his 51 assists are second most in the league behind teammate Malkin’s 57. In Crosby’s last 16 games, he’s posted six goals and 16 assists for 22 points in that span.

> The Penguins have the top two scorers in the NHL in Malkin (24+57=81) and Crosby (21+51=72). The last time Pittsburgh had the top two scorers in the league was the 1995-96 season when Mario Lemieux (first) and Jaromir Jagr (second) topped the NHL. The team also had that distinction when Lemieux (first) and Kevin Stevens (second) did it in 1991-92.

> Matt Cooke tallied his eighth goal of the season.

> Pittsburgh native Bill Thomas netted his second goal in as many games for the Penguins.

> The Penguins collected over $21,000 dollars at the “Pens and Pins” event Thursday. The event was organized by the Penguins’ Wives Associations and the proceeds went to the Greater PA and Southern West Virginia Make-A-Wish Foundation.
1. J.Blake, TOR
2. D.Moore, TOR
3. N.Antropov, TOR
“I don’t think I played my best game but I jumped in
a couple of times and created offense. Towards
the end I started feeling better.”
- Sergei Gonchar


Author: Sam Kasan

Author: Sam Kasan

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