With the Pens holding a 2-1 lead in their game against Chicago on Sunday at CONSOL Energy Center, it seemed like it was only a matter of time before they tied it up as all of the momentum was on the Blackhawks’ side. The Hawks were all over the Pens, keeping them pinned in their end and forcing Marc-Andre Fleury to come up with save after save.
That is, until the captain brought out his dagger and delivered the death blow.
Minutes after being robbed by Hawks goalie Corey Crawford on a 2-on-1 rush, Sidney Crosby got another one and this time, he converted it – sniping a ridiculous shot into the twining with 4:51 left in regulation to get the Pens a huge two-goal lead.
“It was a huge goal,” said Crosby’s linemate Lee Stempniak, who was credited with the game-winner in the contest. “We got some huge saves from (Fleury) and they were all over us at times, so it was great to get that goal. They were all over us at times, so it was great to get that goal. It was his second two-on-one, I don’t think he’s going to miss two in a game, so it was great to see him put that in. It was definitely good to get that two-goal lead back.”
“It’s nice to get a second chance, you get a chance like that and you don’t know if you’re going to get another one,” Crosby said. “It was nice to get one right after.”
He got another one after that, as Crosby put the nail in the coffin by scoring an empty-netter with 1:16 left to play in regulation, giving the Pens a 4-1 win.
“They possessed the puck a lot,” Crosby said. “You have to be patient and wait for your chances. They took a few more risk themselves as the game went on and we capitalized.”
James Neal also scored for the Penguins. Fleury finished with 25 saves in the game.
TWO IN :21
The Pens essentially won this game in a 21-second span midway though the first period. They scored twice during that stretch, both coming off rush plays and both beating Crawford five-hole.
Neal got the first one, his second in 13 games. And before the crowd had a chance to finish celebrating, they erupted again just 21 seconds later on the next shift. Matt Niskanen made a home-run stretch pass to Lee Stempniak, who carried in and ripped it through Crawford for what stood as the game-winner.
“We’ve got some guys who are capable of making plays. For my goal, (Niskanen) made a great pass to let me get a step on the guy and walk in," Stempniak said. "I think those two goals were huge in the sense that we didn’t have to open up. We’re able to get enough to not pinch recklessly. We can kind of play a little bit more safe while they take chances trying to get an equalizer.”
The Pens were under heavy enemy fire as Chicago, trailing 2-1, opened the third period with chance after chance after chance and Pittsburgh struggled mightily to get the puck out of their own zone.
But during a TV timeout head coach Dan Bylsma delivered a message to his team.
“For a good portion of that third period we were playing too much defense,” Bylsma said. “Part of it was our execution level and not being able to advance the puck out of the zone with their five guys playing hard against us.
“We used the TV timeout to get our guys refocused and back to playing in the other direction. I thought that was the time for it.”
The Penguins responded by pushing back and eventually broke through with on Crosby’s pair of scores.
“Dan gave it to us halfway through the third period,” Brooks Orpik said. “We responded well.”
FLEURY BIG AGAIN
If it weren’t for Fleury, the Pens wouldn’t even have been in a position to respond.
He was spectacular in the contest, coming up with save after save as the NHL’s top-ranked offensive team created chance after chance while keeping play pinned in his end. And they were big ones, with a number of them coming on second and third opportunities and rebounds.
“It's good because we're ahead,” Fleury said of handling the pressure. “If I'm making the saves then we win the game. I don't mind it. I like the action. As a team it was nice. Nobody panicked. We stayed calm, played our game and finally got a big goal by Sid.”
It was the second straight game that Fleury came up huge for his team, as he was the biggest factor in their 2-1 win over Columbus on Friday night.
“Teams have put some extended shifts together the last couple of games,” Crosby said. “He’s been tested and he made a toe save there on a rebound and a couple secondary opportunities. You need those saves to win games, especially against a good team like that and he was solid for us.”
ORPIK CRUSHES TOEWS
The Hawks were already without Patrick Kane entering this game, and they finished it without Jonathan Toews.
The Blackhawks captain was sent to the dressing room with an upper-body injury in the second period of the contest after being on the receiving end of a thunderous hit from Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik.
Toews had the puck along the wall in the corner of the Pens zone. Right after he pushed it behind the net, Orpik skated up next to him and absolutely crushed him into the boards with a shoulder-to-shoulder hit. Toews skated off the ice favoring his left arm – the one Orpik made contact with – and did not return.
“There was no penalty,” Orpik said after the game. “That hit happens 10 times a game.”
After the game, Chicago head coach Joel Quenneville said he didn’t think Toews’ injury was too serious. He called Toews day-to-day, and said he will be reassessed Monday.
Author: Michelle Crechiolo