What a way to enter the All-Star break: riding a season-high seven-game winning streak.
And that’s exactly what the Penguins will be doing, as they earned an entertaining
3-2 shootout victory over the St. Louis Blues at Scottrade Center on Tuesday.
Now the Pens can head their separate ways feeling both good and relaxed, and it’s well deserved – especially when you factor in the six-game losing streak that directly preceded this seven-game winning streak.
“Where our team was two weeks ago having lost six in a row, I think winning seven in a row going into the break is a significant answer by our team,” head coach Dan Bylsma said.
“It feels good. We had a tough stretch that was definitely frustrating,” goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury
said. “But we had a nice response from our team and won seven in a row. It feels good and now we can go in peace and relax.”
They’d be hard pressed to have gotten the two points without the breathtaking heroics – especially in overtime – of Fleury, who’s been between the pipes for all seven of Pittsburgh’s victories.
“He can make some of the best saves I’ve ever seen,” forward James Neal
said. “He battles for every puck. He’s a special goalie.”
Elsewhere, forward Chris Kunitz
scored the game-deciding goal in the fourth round of the shootout. It couldn’t have come off the stick of a more fitting player, as Kunitz played in his 500th career NHL game on Tuesday.
“It feels nice. Hopefully there’s many more to go,” Kunitz said of reaching the milestone.
While the Pens (aside from All-Stars Evgeni Malkin
and Kris Letang
) now get to enjoy a short vacation, Bylsma is itching for his team to build off this come Jan. 31 vs. Toronto.
“We’ll take the seven in a row and we’ll take the break, but we’ll look to start again when we come back,” he smiled.
Obscene. Disgusting. Unreal. Spectacular. Dazzling. Or as someone wrote on Twitter, “Jedi goalie mode.”
Whatever adjective you choose, they’re all fitting in terms of describing Fleury’s play on Tuesday night in St. Louis.
The 27-year-old netminder finished with 32 saves – including five breathtaking stops in overtime – in addition to stoning three of four shooters in the shootout to steal the win for Pittsburgh.
“’Flower’ was unbelievable,” Neal said. “Huge saves in overtime. Huge. I can’t say enough about him.”
Fleury was sharp from the get go, especially on the penalty kill and in a 4-on-4 situation – which was crucial in the Penguins building a 2-0 lead 12:16 into the second period.
But as the Blues rallied to tie the game – with one of their two goals being a converted penalty shot by Patrik Berglund – Fleury produced perhaps his finest play all season to keep his team in it and allow them to get two huge points in the standings.
The Pens began the overtime period with a 4-on-3 disadvantage for 41 seconds with Matt Cooke
serving the rest of a penalty he was assessed late in the third.
After flashing the pad to stone David Backes on the back door on that penalty kill, Fleury had to pull out some incredible split-pad saves on two re-direct chances from Berglund and Vladimir Sobotka that seemed like sure goals. And maybe would have been, if it was any other goalie.
“It wasn’t too technical, you know?,” Fleury grinned about his stops. “But as long as it doesn’t go in, I’m happy with it.”
Him and his teammates, coaches and Pens fans everywhere.
“Just some unbelievable, acrobatic saves,” Bylsma said. “He flashes the pad and produced some acrobatics there that he needed to come up with to make some great saves. Then with the shootout, he comes up just big enough to get ‘Kuni’ the chance to win the game.”
Fleury will now get a much-needed and well-deserved break, as his start on Tuesday marked a career-high 22nd-straight appearance.
may not technically be an All-Star, but he’s absolutely deserving.
Neal tied a personal best by scoring his 27th goal of the season early in the second period on Tuesday.
That goal also marked a milestone for the 24-year-old winger, as it was the 100th of his NHL career.
“It feels good,” Neal said. “I wasn’t aware of it before the game. I guess that can be good so that way you don’t worry about it. But it’s a nice accomplishment. I’m just happy the team is winning right now.”
Oh, yeah – it was also his 13th power-play tally, which ties for first in the league with Philadelphia’s Scott Hartnell.
“We thought he was an All-Star when they named the (initial roster),” Bylsma said. “There’s obviously some other good players that are getting named as well, but when you’re having that kind of season and having as many goals and power-play goals that he’s getting, he certainly deserves to be in the All-Star category.”
Author: Michelle Crechiolo