It’s safe to say Pittsburgh’s 4-3 shootout victory over Dallas on Wednesday night can be classified as a big character win for the Penguins.
The Penguins were on the road facing a desperate Dallas Stars team which is fighting for its playoff lives – and had been playing some fantastic hockey because of that – entering the game.
Pittsburgh lost a pair of key players during the game, as star defenseman Kris Letang
left midway through the first period with an upper-body injury and did not return, while forward Steve Sullivan
missed the third period with a lower-body injury.
The Stars then scored what could have been a hugely deflaiting goal with 12.1 seconds left in the second period to take a 2-1 lead into the third – which didn’t bode well for the Penguins, as Dallas had a 19-0-1 record when leading after two periods coming into the contest.
But despite being down two players and a goal entering the final frame, the Penguins scored twice in a 39-second span early in the third period – and killed off a penalty to Brooks Orpik
with 14 seconds left in regulation that spilled into overtime – to get two huge points on the road in a playoff-like atmosphere at American Airlines Center.
“It’s tough to lose those two guys,” goalie Marc-Andre Fleury
said. “But the guys battled hard till the end. Got some big goals in the third and got a big win.”
Fleury was magnificent in the game, especially at the most crucial moments, and produced 30 saves in the win.
Sullivan, Craig Adams
and Chris Kunitz
all scored for Pittsburgh, while Pascal Dupuis
netted the game-deciding shootout tally for the Penguins’ sixth win in their last eight games.
"We knew the third period was going to be our biggest and we came out very strong," center Jordan Staal
said. "Got two quick ones. They came back with one. It was just a back-and-forth game that we were fortunate enough to find a way to win."
“It’s just a great job for the team to come back there,” Kunitz said. “They caught us, but great job on the kill in overtime. ‘Flower’ was great, as always, and the D was blocking shots, so it was a good team win.”
The Penguins and Stars combined for a stupendous third period that had a playoff-like atmosphere and was a blast to watch.
“They’re a tough team. They definitely played a hard game,” Jordan Staal
said. “It was back-and-forth. It felt a lot like playoff hockey. Very tough. Lots of hitting and stuff like that. It was exciting hockey.”
After defenseman Sheldon Souray scored with just 12.1 seconds left in the second to put Dallas up 2-1, the Penguins came out strong in the third. It resulted in a pair of re-direct goals from Adams and Kunitz just 39 seconds apart to give Pittsburgh the 3-2 lead.
“We gave up a goal with 12 seconds left in the second period. I liked the response from our team,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “We came out hard and played well in the third period.”
But Stars winger Michael Ryder would get the equalizer at the 7:23 mark of the third to make it 3-3, and both teams spent the remaining 12 minutes, 37 seconds trying frantically to get the go-ahead goal for two points.
That’s when The Fleury Show really
He came up with a number of dazzling stops to keep his team in the game, the first coming midway through on Mike Ribeiro. Fleury was down on his side after making a save seconds earlier and didn’t have time to get up as Ribeiro circled. But Fleury frantically lifted his arm and leg in a half snow angel to somehow make the save.
With 26 seconds left in the period, Eriksson got a big chance on the backdoor on a delayed penalty call – but Fleury dived back and covered to help force overtime.
That’s when the Penguins produced their biggest kill in a penalty-filled game.Brooks Orpik
went to the box for hooking with 14 seconds left in regulation, meaning the Stars would have a 4-on-3 power play for 1:46 minutes in the extra period.
But Fleury and the three penalty killers in front of him – Adams, Matt Cooke
and Zbynek Michalek
– somehow kept the Stars off the board and allowed their team to get to the shootout, where the Penguins would come away with the two points.
All three players were sharp on their clears, while Michalek was especially fearless in blocking some heavy shots from the Stars. He came up with at least two big ones during the penalty kill and finished the evening with a game-high six in that category.
“Killing off the penalty there going into overtime, that may be the best 4-on-3 kill I’ve seen,” Bylsma said. “They got in front of a bunch of shots and got in lanes. … To come up with that kill and then to be able to get two points and move on, it’s a pretty big win.”
The Penguins suffered a huge blow midway through the first period when they lost defenseman Kris Letang
to an upper-body injury sustained on a hit from Eric Nystrom. Letang immediately went to the locker room after the play and did not return.
is upper body,” Bylsma said. “Day-to-day at this point.”
On the play, Nystrom and Letang were converging on a loose puck in the Penguins zone from opposite directions. Letang reached out and poked it up the boards, while Nystrom decided to take the body and clipped the defenseman up high with a hard hit that sent him flying.
Letang stayed on the ice for a few scary moments and was tended to by athletic trainer Chris Stewart before heading straight off the ice. The Penguins rotated five defensemen for the remainder of the game.
After scoring the Penguins’ first goal on a gorgeous precision play with Dupuis, forward Steve Sullivan
did not return to the bench for the third period with a lower-body injury.
Bylsma said Sullivan is “day-to-day” and “a maybe for Saturday at this point in time.”
Author: Michelle Crechiolo