The Penguins’ forward lineup – which recently had 10 players out at once with injuries – has slowly been getting replenished, first with the acquisitions of James Neal and Alex Kovalev and now with the returns of Mark Letestu and Dustin Jeffrey. Pittsburgh’s confidence has been building as each player has been added to the lineup, and on Saturday, it all came to a head as the Penguins exploded for five goals in regulation – their highest output since Jan. 12 – to top Toronto in a shootout by a score of 6-5 in an exciting, playoff-like atmosphere.
Although the Penguins were without the energetic Tyler Kennedy, who missed the game with a lower-body injury, Pittsburgh’s offense looked like a well-oiled machine as five different Penguins got on the board. They played with confidence and patience against a red-hot Maple Leafs squad, never panicking and battling back with a vengeance every time they fell behind. Pittsburgh managed to rally and tie the score a total of four times to force overtime and the eventual shootout.
And that attitude stemmed throughout their entire roster, from the forwards on down. Defensemen like Ben Lovejoy and Deryk Engelland – who have been thrust into bigger roles with injuries to Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin – looked fearless on the ice, playing with calmness and confidence.
Marc-Andre Fleury was back to his brilliant self in goal after getting pulled in Friday’s 4-1 loss to Carolina. He came up with a plethora of acrobatic, athletic saves at key moments that gave the Penguins the opportunity to win the game in the shootout.
Penguins general manager Ray Shero brought Alex Kovalev to Pittsburgh on Thursday with the hope that the 38-year-old Russian sniper would help rejuvenate a Penguins offense decimated by injury.
That was exactly the case on Saturday, as Kovalev scored both the game-deciding shootout tally and a goal in regulation to lift the Penguins past the Maple Leafs.
Kovalev is one of those players who has the uncanny ability to slow down a game, which he did on his goal with 46 seconds left in the first period that tied the game at 1-1. He received a pass from Ben Lovejoy while stationed at the top of the slot and saw that linemate Jordan Staal was creating a screen in front of Toronto goalie James Reimer. So Kovalev patiently moved in and picked his spot to score his first goal back in the Penguins uniform.
In the shootout, he unleashed a scorching wrister that flew past Reimer to win the game for the Penguins by a score of 6-5. Kovalev finished with two shots through 17:17 of ice time.
Each time the Penguins battled back to tie the game on Saturday, the Leafs would respond with a goal of their own to regain the lead.
After Pittsburgh entered the final frame with a 3-2 lead, Toronto answered with two goals in a span of 35 seconds to pull ahead 4-3. While Maxime Talbot’s shorthanded tally evened the score at 4-4, Dion Phaneuf scored just 61 seconds later to give the Maple Leafs a 5-4 lead with 12:33 left in the period.
But the Penguins would not be outdone.
While falling to the ice, Mike Rupp snapped a shot that floated over Toronto goalie James Reimer with just over 10 minutes remaining in regulation that evened the score at 5-5. The Penguins were able to hold the fort for the rest of the game and earn the eventual shootout victory.
TORONTO (AP) - Alex Kovalev is already making the most of his return to the Pittsburgh Penguins, scoring the only goal of the shootout after netting one in regulation in his new team's 6-5 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night.
Kovalev, in his second game back with the Penguins after being acquired from Ottawa on Thursday, beat goalie James Reimer with a hard wrist shot.
Mark Letestu, Dustin Jeffrey, Max Talbot and Mike Rupp also scored in regulation for Pittsburgh.
Joffrey Lupul had two goals, and Colby Armstrong, Clarke MacArthur and Dion Phaneuf also scored for the Maple Leafs, 8-2-3 since the All-Star break. Toronto closed within five points of eighth-place Carolina in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
- Rookie Mark Letestu was back in the lineup for the first time since suffering a knee injury on Feb. 1 that required surgery and kept him out for 13 games. Letestu played out of his mind in his first game back, scoring a power-play goal and adding an assist for a two-point night while throwing seven pucks at the net. He centered a line between Maxime Talbot and Chris Conner, skating for 13:59 minutes and throwing two hits.
- Maxime Talbot’s shorthanded goal with 13:26 left in the second period to tie the game 4-4 was the Penguins’ 10th, a number that is first (tied) in the National Hockey League. It was Talbot’s first goal in 12 games and his first against a goalie since Nov. 29, as his last tally was an empty-net score. Saturday’s goal was the 12th shorthanded goal of his career.
- Dustin Jeffrey – in just his second game back after missing the previous six contests with a lower-body injury – scored with just 16 seconds left in the second period to give the Penguins a 3-2 lead. After Matt Cooke sent a puck to the front of the net, Jeffrey corraled the rebound and stuffed it home for the score.
- The Maple Leafs thought they had scored with 12:47 remaining in the middle frame when a puck deflected off Joffrey Lupul’s skate and behind Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. But the ref stationed behind the net immediately and emphatically waved off the goal, as he determined Lupul had used a kicking motion to direct the puck into the net. After the play went under review, the call on the ice stood to keep the score tied at 1-1.
- Forward Tyler Kennedy participated in warm-ups but did not dress for the game with a lower-body injury. Kennedy – who has seven goals in his last 12 contests – has missed only one other game this year, a 3-2 overtime loss to the New York Rangers on Nov. 15. He was also sidelined with an injury for that contest.
#1. Joffrey Lupul
Right Wing - 19
1 blocked shot
#2. Alex Kovalev
Right Wing - 72
1 regulation goal
#3. Mike Rupp
Forward - 17
Author: Michelle Crechiolo