Thursday’s game in Toronto followed virtually the same script that Tuesday’s win over Boston did. For a second straight game, Pittsburgh broke through late – this time in the final 7:18 minutes of the third – and snatched a victory from the jaws of their opponent, carried by another heroic two-goal effort from an individual player. Tonight, that was Pascal Dupuis.
Dupuis’ two goals and Craig Adams’ shorthanded empty-netter with 9.4 seconds left in regulation gave the Penguins a 3-1 win over the Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre. The victory extended their winning streak to seven games and ties them with the San Jose Sharks for the second-longest win streak in the NHL this year.
However, unlike Tuesday – where the Penguins thought they had an overall strong performance and gradually wore the Bruins down – the Penguins didn't think they were as sharp tonight and their mood in the locker room postgame reflected that. They liked the way they played the third; but know they must figure out how to consistently put together a full 60-minute effort.
"We didn’t make it easy on ourselves," captain Sidney Crosby said. "We didn’t execute very well, especially the first two periods. We were pretty sloppy. But just kept it simple in the third and tried to give ourselves a chance to get back in the game. We were fortunate we were able to do that. ... We just stuck with it. It’s good we stuck with it, but we can’t expect to win games only showing up for one period."
Thursday marked the third time in their last six games that the Penguins have come back to win when trailing after two periods. They did it against Tampa Bay March 4 and of course, Boston on Tuesday. Their resiliency is impressive, but it's not the way they want to win games.
"We can’t make a habit of coming back on teams, but we certainly know we can," Dupuis said. "It’s something where we can’t play with fire here, we’ll get burned one day."
FLEURY OF SAVES
The narrative likely would have been different if it weren’t for the play of Marc-Andre Fleury.
Fleury stopped 28 shots in the game and came up with a number of absolutely crucial saves to keep his team in the game after they went down 1-0 with Tyler Bozak’s goal 10:01 into the second period. A 1-0 lead may not seem like much, but with both clubs playing strong defensive hockey it seemed insurmountable at times. Fleury’s heroics certainly kept it from getting any bigger.
His absolute best stop came late in the third right after Dupuis had knotted the score at 1-1. Brooks Orpik’s stick broke at the blue line and the puck bounced fortuitously to Leo Komarov, who got a breakaway. He went in all alone on Fleury and took a shot, but the Penguins goalie read the shooter perfectly and made the stop.
"I didn’t know much about him or his style, so I just tried to be patient and wait for him," Fleury said.
Right after that, Dupuis got the game-winner.
"He played a great game," Dupuis said. "Kept us in it when it was 1-0. He made some key saves for us to stay in there, especially when it was 1-1 there with the breakaway there on 47. He made a big save to keep us in there. Gave us a chance to come back and win that one."
Credit to Leafs goalie Ben Scrivens as well, as he made a few fancy saves of his own – finishing with 25 stops for Toronto.
Crosby and Chris Kunitz have been rolling all season, and now it looks like Pascal Dupuis is rolling right along with them – cementing their current status as the NHL’s hottest line.
Dupuis’ two-goal effort against Toronto is his second in five games, his other coming March 10 vs. the Islanders. Overall, he has six goals and an assist during that stretch.
Against the Leafs, Dupuis did a fantastic job of getting open in the slot and letting his teammates find him. Both Crosby and Kunitz earned the assists on each of his goals. On his first goal, which tied the game 1-1 with 7:18 left in the third, the play started when Kunitz won a battle on the boards behind the net and found Crosby in the circle. Crosby immediately sent a sick no-look backhand pass to Dupuis at the front of the net. He didn’t miss.
"I saw him forecheck on that side of the net," Crosby explained. "Once the puck kind of ended up to 'Kuni', I knew that he’d be coming back to the front. Don’t know where it ended up, but just tried to put it over there close to him. He was ready for it and made a great play to put it in the net."
On his second goal, Kunitz carried into the zone before stopping on the wall and changing direction. Dupuis skidded to a stop in the slot and waited, and Kunitz got him the puck. He blasted it past Scrivens for his second of the game.
"The first one was a great play by Sid, obviously," Dupuis said. "Around the back, no looker. He finds me backdoor with an empty cage. I just got to put it in. Then the second one, it’s an unbelievable play by Chris. Drives the defenseman all the way deep in their zone. Tight turn and finds me there by myself in the slot. I just got to fire it in there."
Dupuis always brings heart and hustle to the ice every night, using his speed to be a factor on both ends, but lately he’s been shooting the puck more. He fired a total of seven shots and had three more attempts blocked.
The Penguins penalty kill has been uncharacteristically struggling this season, but tonight they produced magnificent efforts while shorthanded and it looks like they’re getting back on track.
They killed off all three Leafs' power-play attempts (after Toronto went 2-for-3 in their last meeting), two of those coming within the final 6:41 of play with the Penguins holding a precarious 2-1 lead. It’s worth noting that they had to do it without their best penalty killing defenseman, Brooks Orpik, as he was in the box for all three.
"It's been a little bit of a concern the past few games," Fleury said. "They had those two big kills in the third, and the guys played hard. Played very aggressive and helped me out around the net pushing guys away and getting rebounds away. That was a big help for me."
"Some good battles, some little adjustments there that we made seems to be working," said Dupuis, who had 1:22 shorthanded minutes. "Flower making the key saves; it makes for a good recipe for the PK."
Both the Penguins and the Leafs have skill, depth and speed throughout their lineups, especially up front – which made for exciting matchups the first two times these teams met, with the clubs combining for 15 regulation goals in those games.
But both sides talked about how they wanted to tighten up defensively entering this game, and that seemed to be exactly what they did. The game was a lot quieter as they didn’t give each other a lot of ice to work with – especially early in the game – and crowded the neutral zone, forcing a lot of dumping and chasing. When a team did gain the offensive zone, their opponent did a solid job of containing them to the outside.
The Leafs did an especially good job of blocking shots. The Penguins had 29 recorded shots on goal, but an additional 20 attempts blocked before they reached the net.
Author: Michelle Crechiolo