The Red Wings got the one point they needed to clinch their 23rd consecutive playoff berth on Wednesday, but the Penguins came away with the two points in their 4-3 shootout win – their 100th victory at CONSOL Energy Center.
However, there are no shootouts in the playoffs, and the Pens know they need to be better during regulation and overtime – especially if they meet this team in the postseason.
They asked a lot out of their goaltender – too much – as Marc-Andre Fleury had to be spectacular to keep them in it as the Wings had a plethora of extended shifts in the offensive zone, starting in the first period when they had a pair of early power plays.
Fleury was brilliant in the shootout to get them the victory, thwarting all three of Detroit’s skilled shooters – Daniel Alfredsson, Pavel Datsyuk and Tomas Tatar – in magnificent fashion. Fleury’s stop on ‘Alfie’ was especially dazzling, and it had the veteran forward just shaking his head in amazement.
“Players on the bench called that a (Dominik) Hasek-like save for the sprawl with putting his glove behind," smiled head coach Dan Bylsma. "I’m not sure I’ve seen a more acrobatic save from (Fleury) on that regard.”
“Unbelievable,” said winger James Neal – who scored twice on the man-advantage for Pittsburgh – of Fleury’s play. “Same way all year. Unbelievable save in the shootout and he was great again all night.”
Jussi Jokinen’s game-deciding shootout goal was the opposite of pretty. He lost control of it right as Wings goalie Jonas Gustavsson came out and challenged him with a pokecheck. The puck took a crazy bounce high into the air right into the net on a play that’ll probably be on SportsCenter’s Not Top 10.
“I was going with full confidence,” said Jokinen, who scored Pittsburgh’s third goal in regulation. “I got the last goal, I knew what I wanted to do. I knew the goalie was going to be there with his stick, so I just tried to make a quick move but there’s not much you can do with that. Just a lucky bounce.”
Overall, it was an incredibly entertaining shootout to end an intense, edge-of-your-seat playoff-type game.
“It was good for the game. I thought it was fun,” smiled Fleury, who finished with 37 saves. “There were some good shots, it was intense for both sides. For a shootout it was fun to make that first stop and that last one too. It was fun.”
NEAL’S BIG GAME
Goal scoring usually comes easy to James Neal. He’s hit the 20-goal mark in all six of his NHL seasons, including this one, and reached 40 in 2011-12.
But lately, Neal had been struggling to find the back of the net. Entering Wednesday’s game, he had just four goals in 19 games since returning from the Olympic break, including just two in his last 12. And while he’d created a few quality chances during the Pens’ three-game road trip, the puck just wasn’t crossing the goal line.
That all changed tonight as he broke through with two huge goals against Detroit, his 25th and 26th of the season.
“It feels good,” Neal said of his night. “It was definitely a tough game out there and a team that we could possibly play first round. There are a few mistakes we would like to have back, but come playoff time we’ll tighten it up. I thought we played well.”
Both came seconds into two separate power plays. His first was set up by Sidney Crosby and was an exciting display of skill by the two of them.
Crosby carried up the ice with speed and literally drew all four Detroit players to him – he was in the center of a square of white – and found Neal cutting to the net. Instead of shooting, Neal opted to deke to his backhand, completely faking out Gustavsson and tucking the puck into the open cage.
“It was a great play,” Neal said. “Especially with our power play, we put a lot of emphasis on it. We go out there and do our job and it got us back in the game tonight.”
His second was what we’re used to seeing from Neal – an absolute snipe from the circle.
When defenseman Kris Letang met with doctors after suffering a stroke on Jan. 29 the first thing he wanted to know:
“When would I be able to play hockey again?”
The answer to that question came 10 weeks later when Letang returned to the ice in Pittsburgh’s 4-3 shootout victory against the Detroit Red Wings at CONSOL Energy Center Wednesday night.
“I felt pretty good,” said Letang, who has missed the last 26 games due to the stroke. “I had a lot of fun. It wasn’t perfect structure-wise for me. I’m just happy to be on the ice. It’s something I missed a lot. I’m glad to play with this bunch of guys in this dressing room. It was fun to be a part of.”
The Pens had a tough call go against them in the second, when Detroit took a 2-1 lead with 5:38 left in the period.
The Wings had an extended shift in the offensive zone and had the Pens pinned in their own end for what felt like an eternity. What made it feel even longer was the fact that defenseman Paul Martin's stick broke, meaning the Wings basically had a man-advantage. They eventually circled the puck back to Jakub Kindl at the point. And as he wound up and took a shot, Riley Sheahan fell into Fleury in the crease and knocked him over, impeding him from making the stop.
It appeared to be goalie interference, but the ref at the side of the net called it a good goal. That meant the play was not reviewable, per NHL rules. In order for it to be reviewable, that ref would've had to call goalie interference right away.
Fleury and defenseman Brooks Orpik were livid, but there was nothing they could do.
“The referee said (Orpik) hit him into me,” Fleury explained.
Author: Michelle Crechiolo