After sweeping three current non-playoff teams in last week’s road trip, the Penguins’ schedule this week contained games against Montreal and Boston: the two teams chasing them for the No. 1 seed in the East.
And despite having an injury list that would make up a formidable first unit at an All-Star Game (Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Paul Martin), Pittsburgh reinforced that they are the team to beat with a 6-4 win over the Canadiens on Wednesday at CONSOL Energy Center – virtually eliminating Montreal from the battle for the top spot. The Penguins have now won five consecutive games and are 20-2 in their last 22 games.
The Penguins now need just one point the rest of the season (either gained or lost by Montreal) to officially remove the Habs from contention. Overall, Pittsburgh’s magic number to clinch the No. 1 seed in the conference and home-ice advantage throughout the Stanley Cup playoffs has shrunk to three with Boston losing in a shootout to Buffalo on Wednesday.
Brenden Morrow scored twice, added an assist and endeared himself to Penguins fans forever with a passionate fight against city villain P.K. Subban. Brandon Sutter also scored twice, Douglas Murray got his first of the season and first as a Penguin and Jarome Iginla rounded out the goals. Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury made 31 saves.
“We’ve kind of struggled with (injuries) all year,” Sutter said. “I think in the short season, a lot of teams have. With the schedule, it’s kind of a wear and tear. You’re going to have injuries. But guys have stepped up. We’ve played well no matter who is in the lineup. It’s kind of been a different guy every night that’s been the hero.
“Tonight, obviously our goalie played well but Brenden Morrow played a big game too. His third straight big game. We got a few guys that are really going right now. We’re just trying to keep it going and stay on track.”
MORROW ENDEARS HIMSELF
Morrow may have weakened his chances of getting his second career hat trick with his fighting major in the third period, but it was so worth it.
As play left the Canadiens’ zone with just over seven minutes played in the third, Subban took a few liberties with the veteran Penguins winger. Morrow didn’t like it, and the two agreed to drop the gloves and dance.
Subban’s first punch missed, and Morrow took full advantage of it – throwing the defenseman to the ice and wiping the floor with him. The fans ate it up, cheering wildly and starting a thunderous “MORROW! MORROW!” chant after he went to the penalty box. But Morrow didn’t stop there; he was on his feet for a long time yelling animatedly at Subban from their respective penalty boxes.
Morrow’s fight with Subban alone would have been enough to become completely revered by Penguins fans. But add that to what he’s doing offensively, and I don’t think he could be loved any more than he is right now.
After a three-point effort (2G-1A) in his last game on Saturday against Florida, Morrow followed that up with his second straight three-point night – scoring twice and adding an assist against the Canadiens. This is the first time in his long and fruitful career that Morrow has had back-to-back multiple goal games. He now has eight points in a season-high four-game point streak (5G-3A).
FAST AND FURIOUS FIRST
The Canadiens have been one of the top teams in the East all season, but their play had drastically fallen off entering tonight’s game. Montreal had dropped back-to-back games and surrendered 12 goals against in those losses. They came to Pittsburgh desperate to return to their winning ways and get back on track before the playoffs.
The Penguins didn’t let them.
Pittsburgh played a fast, hard and physical first period, taking a 3-0 lead into the first intermission with goals from Sutter, Morrow and Iginla and outhitting the Canadiens 19-8.
It’s not that the Canadiens didn’t have a few solid shifts or decent scoring chances; they did. The Penguins were just much more dominant physically and were able to finish their opportunities. And because of that, Pittsburgh chased goalie Peter Budaj from the net – the third straight game Canadiens coach Michel Therrien has been forced to replace his starting netminder. That period set the tone for the rest of the game as the Canadiens could never fully recover.
“I think we wanted to get in and finish their D,” Sutter said. “We know they skate well. We know they got some talent both up front and on the back end. We got to try and get body position on those guys and try to slow them down a bit. We did a good job of that. I think that’s kind of the main focus and it worked well.”
All of the Penguins acquired before the trade deadline except for Jussi Jokinen scored on Wednesday. Morrow, Iginla and Murray all got goals. Murray’s was his first of the season and first as a Penguin.
The goal ends a personal goalless streak of 146 games – the longest in the NHL. It’s his first goal since Dec. 9, 2010 at Buffalo.
Iginla won a faceoff back to him that Murray retrieved, turned and shot through three Canadiens players. It bounced off Tomas Plekanec’s skate and past goalie Carey Price. In addition to his goal, Murray led the team with five blocked shots and had three hits.
“It’s funny, you don’t really know how to celebrate when it goes that long,” Murray joked after the game. “It’s obviously nice. It’s something I’m not focusing on, otherwise my confidence would be pretty shattered.”
Future Hall of Famer Iginla’s goal, scored on a first-period power play with a perfectly placed pass from Chris Kunitz (sorry for all of the alliteration there) was his 1,110th NHL point. Iginla became just the 58th player in NHL history to reach that mark. Since joining the Penguins, Iginla has two goals, three assists and five points in eight games. The Penguins recognized Iginla’s achievement on the video board, and he acknowledged the fans’ cheering with a quick wave.
Kris Letang assisted on Iginla’s goal and Sutter’s first goal to give him points in three straight games. Letang now has 32 points this season, tied for second among NHL defensemen despite missing a total of 12 games due to injury.
Pascal Dupuis’ assist on Morrow’s first goal extends his point streak to a season-high six games. Dupuis, who has played center the last couple games with all the injuries, has three goals and 10 points over that stretch.
Jokinen left the game about halfway through the second period and did not return due to illness. “He left the match, just became ill, became sick and that’s why he left the game,” coach Dan Bylsma said. Joe Vitale also left the game in the third period after blocking a shot, and Bylsma said “he basically just has a bruise at this point.”
Author: Michelle Crechiolo