The Penguins knew that the Chicago Blackhawks would provide a hefty challenge being the NHL’s top team in the standings and riding a five-game winning streak into Pittsburgh.
The Penguins jumped out to a 3-0 lead through 40 minutes of play on goals by Chris Kunitz
(PP), James Neal
and Tyler Kennedy
The Blackhawks battled back in the third period with two goals to make it a 3-2 contest on tallies from Jonathan Toews and Viktor Stalberg. The Penguins held off a ferocious charge in the final minutes of the game, including being shorthanded for the final 1:29, to earn a victory and snap Chicago’s winning ways.
“They’re first in the league heading into tonight, so that’s a good test for us even if we have our full lineup,” defenseman Matt Niskanen
said. “We approach every game the same no matter who’s playing. We’re going to stick to our systems and guys are going to battle hard, so that’s great, a big win for us. Two points, but as a measuring stick too. So that’s good for us.”
Fleury made 36 total saves in the contest.
“I thought we responded real well the last half of that third period, played much better with the puck and much better where we wanted to play,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “The PK had to come up big at the end there and (Marc-Andre Fleury
) was very good in the third period, and needed to be.”
FLEURY HOLDS THE FORT
A lot of players pulled their weight for Pittsburgh to defeat Chicago, but goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury
stood above all others in the third period. Chicago kept the pressure up for the final frame, scoring two goals in the first six minutes and outshot the Penguins 19-4 in the last 20 minutes.
But Fleury was equal to the task. He turned aside 17 shots to preserve the victory for his 17th win of the season.
“He was rock solid for us there and didn’t give them any rebound chances,” Niskanen said. “He made scrambles a few times for some big saves and that’s what you need in games like that against a good team, so good for him.”
“He’s been doing that all season and all year, since I’ve been a Penguin really,” defenseman Ben Lovejoy
said. "He’s our backbone. He’s a stud back there. It’s really nice to have him when you make a mistake.”
“It was a little rough to start (to the third period), but I knew to stay calm,” Fleury said. “We got to battle through it and the guys did a great job the rest of the game. “
MALKIN DOMINATES...AS USUALEvgeni Malkin
continued his dynamic stretch of performances on the ice with another elite effort against the Blackhawks. Malkin recorded three assists, including two clutch passes to spring teammates for scores, to give him 39 points (15G-24A) on the season.
“He’s definitely demanding of the puck,” linemate Chris Kunitz
said. “He wants to make plays and he’s having success right now. I think he added up three assists tonight. He’s just a dominating player that wants the puck.”
With his 39 points, he is now in a four-way tie (Phil Kessel, Claude Giroux, Henrik Sedin) for the NHL’s scoring lead.
The way Malkin has been playing lately, one could tell he was just ready to explode with some big games on the scoresheet. He now has a six-game scoring streak with 15 points (6G-9A) over that period.
“’Geno’ has been a force offensively,” Bylsma said. “He’s also a guy that we’re counting on to play against other team’s top lines right now. He’s been good in both ends of the rink. He’s been powerful in making plays and driving, and he’s going to have probably 10 scoring chances again tonight with how he’s dominating and the way he’s playing.”
Malkin also set a new career high with 16 faceoff wins, beating his old mark of 15 (Nov. 25, 2006 vs. NY Rangers). Malkin finished 16-8 in the dot for a 67 winning percentage.
Pens defenseman Matt Niskanen
has quietly been one of the team’s most reliable and steady defensive performers so far this season. And his stellar defensive play is now translating into offense.
With his two assists against Chicago, Niskanen now has eight points (1G-7A) in his last six games, and 14 total (2G-12A) on the season.
“I just approach every day the same, I haven’t changed anything,” Niskanen said. “You try to work on your habits and play as hard as you can, pay attention to details. I’ve just had a focus of being involved in the offense and I’ve had a chance lately, because of injuries, to play on the power play. I think a lot of the points have come on there. I’ve been fortunate to play pretty well lately, and I’m happy about it.”
Niskanen’s second assist of the game was also his 100th career NHL point.
“It’s a nice achievement and even better that it happened in a win,” he said.
The Penguins, who have suffered 170 man-games lost entering the contest, received some positive news entering the game as injured players Jordan Staal
, Craig Adams
and Ben Lovejoy
returned to the lineup.
Lovejoy, who played with tape on his left wrist, set up the game-winning goal when he skated deep in the play, carried the puck around the Chicago net and made a cross-crease pass to Tyler Kennedy
, who scored.
“I didn’t notice (my hand) once all game,” Lovejoy said. “I had a little bit of tape on it, but the wrist felt great, strong. I was shooting the puck, I was passing the puck well. I didn’t notice it once.”
Staal finished the night winning 70 percent of his faceoffs (16-7) through 22:14 minutes of ice time.
Author: Sam Kasan