It was set up as the ultimate trap game. Pittsburgh, which had spent seven of the previous nine games on the road, was little more than 24 hours removed from a 4-1 victory over the archrival Philadelphia Flyers at Mellon Arena.
Standing in their way Sunday night for the tail end of back-to-back contests was the Toronto Maple Leafs, owners of the National Hockey League’s second-worst record. However, the Leafs had posted an 8-2 record in their last 10 games.
Things became a lot more interesting when Toronto’s Tyler Bozak jammed home a rebound during a Maple Leafs’ power play 5:38 into the third period, staking Toronto to a 4-3 lead.
As time dwindled in regulation, it appeared the Penguins fell right into that proverbial trap. Pittsburgh might have stumbled in for second, but forward Matt Cooke
helped make sure the team escaped unscathed when he sent the contest to an extra session by deflecting a Jordan Leopold shot over the shoulder of Toronto netminder Jean-Sebastien Giguere with just 2:48 left to play to tie the game, 4-4.Sidney Crosby
, Pascal Dupuis
and Marc-Andre Fleury
took over from there.
Crosby, who also had two goals in regulation, and Dupuis each blew shots behind Giguere in the shootout, while Fleury denied Phil Kessel and Nikolai Kulemin to allow the Penguins to begin this six-game homestand 2-0 and jump back ahead of the New Jersey Devils into first place in the Atlantic Division with just six games remaining in the regular season.
“They are not necessarily lesser teams but rather teams below us,” Cooke said of Toronto. “You want make sure you earn those points. We are pushing for first in our division. We feel we have to win as many games as we can. If that means winning the rest of the way out we want to be able to do that.”
“You look at who they have in the lineup, they have a lot of young guys and new faces that want to make and impact and stay in the NHL,” Leopold said. “That is always a tough opponent down the stretch. In a way they aren’t playing for anything, but they are definitely playing for jobs (next year).”
If the Penguins want to fend off the Devils for the potential second seed in the Eastern Conference they are going to need a total team effort, which is exactly what they received on Cooke’s game-tying tally.Tyler Kennedy
began the sequence by stepping over the line and getting a shot on Giguere, who made the save. Jordan Staal
picked up the rebound and moved it back to Brooks Orpik
at the left point. Orpik laid a perfeed feed to his partner Jordan Leopold, whose low slap shot was re-directed over Giguere by a wide-open Cooke stationed to the right of the crease.
“Tyler got a good shot on net,” Cooke said. “Staalsy got to the rebound and did what he does. He outmuscled everybody down low and got the puck back to the point. I just went to the front of the net for a screen. A great shot by Jordan. It was up high enough that it got over the defensemen’s stick to an area where I could have put it into any area I wanted.”
“Cookie was in the right spot at the right time,” Leopold said. “Brooks gave me a good pass. I just tried to get it on net. Cookie was there for a great tip. It was a big goal for us.”
Cooke’s goal was obviously huge for the team as it led to two points at a time in the season when every point is precious. But the marker was also significant for another reason – it allowed Cooke to tie a career high with his 15th goal of the season. Cooke also notched 15 goals while playing for the Vancouver Canucks in 2002-03.
“That tied a career high tonight so that’s a fun thing for me,” said Cooke, who scored in both games for the Penguins over the weekend. “You set goals at the start of the year. You think you are (capable of playing) at a certain level, so you try to get yourself back to that. I am just happy I was able to chip in tonight.”
Both Cooke and head coach Dan Bylsma, who stated he is not surprised Cooke has reached the 15-goal plateau, attributed the winger’s success tipping shots around the net to the increased power-play minutes he has seen this season as a net-front presence.
“Speaking to his hands or the touch, he is one of our best at net-front presence and tipping pucks and that is why he is seeing some time on the power play,” Bylsma said. “I think six of his 15 goals are tip-ins. He has a skill. I wouldn’t equate that to good hands, but he does have a lot of good skill, and the best part of his skill is he stands in front of the goalie and gets the screen.”
“It’s a skill you want to practice,” Cooke said. “I have been able to practice it when I get on the front of the net on the power play a little bit. I used to ding that one off the top of my foot. I knew I had to get it out of the way otherwise it wouldn’t have gone in.” PREVIOUS ARTICLE: Aftermath: Penguins 5, Maple Leafs 4 SO
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