Same teams. Same score. Same result. And yet another dramatic ending.
When the Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings converge on the same sheet of ice two things are certain – the game is going to come down to the wire and fans are going to head home entertained.
That was the case again on Sunday afternoon as Sidney Crosby
and Evgeni Malkin
both tallied in the shootout, and Marc-Andre Fleury
stopped both Detroit shooters, as the Penguins secured a 2-1 shootout victory for a national TV audience.
It was the first matchup this season between the combatants of the past two Stanley Cup Finals. The last time we saw these two teams playing one another, Game 7 ended with Fleury diving across his crease to rob Nicklas Lidstrom as time expired to preserve a 2-1 victory in the Cup-clinching game at Joe Louis Arena on June 12, 2009.
Before Sunday’s game, Detroit’s most recent trip to Mellon Arena, a 2-1 (notice the trend in score?) Penguins’ win in Game 6, saw Fleury stone Daniel Cleary on a breakaway attempt with less than two minutes remaining in regulation, followed by former Pittsburgh defenseman Rob Scuderi making not one but two saves in the crease with Fleury down and out to ensure there would be a seventh game.
Thanks to sensational goals in the shootout by Crosby and Malkin, the Penguins were once again on the winning end of a dramatic finish Sunday afternoon.
After Detroit netminder Jimmy Howard (more on him later) stopped a backhand attempt by Kris Letang
, and Pavel Datsyuk missed the cage on a backhander of his own in the first round of the shootout, Crosby would pick up what would turn out to be his league-leading (tied) third shootout-deciding goal of the season.
Streaking down seam, Crosby used a couple subtle moves with his hands to get Howard laying prone on his stomach, and then the Penguins captain lifted a backhander into the top of the cage to further ignite the crowd and give the Penguins a 1-0 advantage in the shootout.
“I just kind of leaned forward a little bit and tried to get it around him, and I got it up,” Crosby said. “I was happy to see it go in.”
Detroit forward Jason Williams, playing in only his second game after missing 38 with a broken fibula, was next up for the Red Wings. He skated straight down the alley against Fleury and shot the puck right into the glove of the Penguins netminder, which Fleury had resting closely against his left pad.
“He was a little bit far,” Fleury said. “I thought he would be coming a little bit closer, but I think he’s known to have a good shot, a quick shot. I expected a little bit from the shot.”
Fleury’s save meant the Penguins needed to just score on their final attempt to ice their 34th win of the season. That Malkin, who had only one attempt in shootouts this season, was taking the final shot was a bit surprising considering the Russian had been only five for 25 in his career before facing Howard.
“The coach asked me if I wanted to go and I said ‘Yes, I feel good,’” Malkin said.
As Malkin brought the puck from center ice towards Howard he slowed down to the point where he almost stopped moving, but just like Crosby had minutes earlier, Malkin used his soft hands to get Howard out of position. With Howard caught too far off the post, Malkin deposited the puck along the ice into the empty cage to give the Penguins the victory.
“That was a move that I tried a couple of times in practice and I scored on it. I got it again (Sunday).” - Evgeni Malkin
“(Malkin) wanted to do it,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “It’s a tough position to be in, he hasn’t had a lot of success. … Certainly the skill level is there, if he goes out and makes a move like that, he’ll go again.”
“He’s got great moves, and that one was a pretty good example of it,” Crosby said. “I don’t think he lacks confidence at all after that one. I think he’ll be pretty excited to go after the move he put there.”
Malkin said his slick move was one he had been working on in practice the past few weeks.
“That was a move that I tried a couple of times in practice and I scored on it,” he said. “I got it again (Sunday).”
The win improved the Penguins’ record this season to 7-0 when the game heads to a shootout. Fleury has now stopped 14 of 15 shots he’s faced and is 5-0 in shootouts. Crosby has converted on six of his seven attempts.
That this game even went to a shootout is a testament to the play of Howard. He came into the day ranked fifth in the league with a .925 save percentage, and that figure only went up after he stopped 46-of-47 shots the Penguins threw his way during the first 65 minutes.
“I think we were able to have a lot of shots but their goalie played really well,” Malkin said. “If their goaltender would have played bad we would have scored a couple more goals. We had a lot of good chances but their goaltender played really well.”
The only shot to get past him was a spectacular goal off the blade of Crosby late in the second period in which Howard had really no chance after the Red Wings left the Penguins center wide open.
Alex Goligoski brought the puck over the Detroit blue line along the far boards and sent a perfect pass through three Red Wings onto the tape of Crosby sneaking down the left wing. Crosby brought the puck right to the top of the crease and threw a shot under Howard to break what had been a scoreless tie to that point.
“It was a great pass from Goose,” Crosby said. “It kind of forced me to hold onto it.”
Cleary later knotted the score midway through the third period when he re-directed a Brad Stuart point shot past Fleury for the Red Wings’ only score of the day. While that goal did help the Red Wings steal a point, the Penguins shear dominance was just too much to overcome.
“We managed the puck well,” Bylsma said. “We got there. We shot the puck. We got to the net. We won battles in the offensive zone. We had good shifts there.
“We weren’t looking to necessarily score a pretty goal. We got lots of pucks there. We won battles and made it tough on them and their defense. That’s how our game should look.”