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Frantic Finish

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins
RALEIGH, N.C. – The toughest task in all of hockey is protecting a one-goal lead in the final minutes of the third period.

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Now consider that the game is on the road.

Now consider that the Penguins were killing a penalty.

Now consider that the Penguins were shorthanded by two men.

Now consider that Carolina pulled their goaltender and had an extra skater, creating a 6-on-3 scenario.

Now consider that the Penguins’ three best penalty killing forwards were not available to them.

Add all that up and you have the worst-case scenario when trying to win a hockey game with a one-goal lead late in the third period.

But thanks to a colossal effort by the Penguins, they were able to fend off the surging ‘Canes and their shooting gallery to preserve a 3-2 victory at RBC Center.

“We had three of our top four penalty killing forwards either in the box or (Jordan Staal) was hurt,” said goaltender Brent Johnson, who made 30 saves in the win.

“(Richard Park) came in and did a great job on draws. (Sidney Crosby) came in. (Brooks Orpik) was a steady guy to have in front of the net there. The guys did a great job and made a few unbelievable blocks when needed. That’s why we came out with the win.

“It was a heck of an effort by our PK at the end. You don’t see 6-on-3s that often. It was an excellent effort from our guys.”

The frantic finish started with Staal getting cut under the eye from a puck that forced him out of the game. Then with 2:26 left in regulation, the team was penalized for too many men on the ice. Just 22 seconds later, Pascal Dupuis was called for holding.

The Penguins sent out Matt Cooke, Craig Adams and Orpik as their three penalty killers (in fact, Orpik never left the ice after the initial penalty call).

The Hurricanes were relentlessly firing pucks on net. However, the Penguins, with no regard for their bodies, were blocking everything they could – and the few shots that sneaked through were denied by Johnson.

The ‘Canes then pulled goaltender Brian Boucher for a sixth skater to create a 6-on-3. It was almost difficult to see the Penguins with all the red jerseys on the ice and there was most definitely a cluster of red in front of Johnson.

With under a minute left, Cooke was called for tripping and Pittsburgh had to fight through the final 54 seconds with Staal, Dupuis and Cooke unavailable.

“The 8-on-3 was pretty gutsy from guys blocking shots and battling hard,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “I think they had three or four real good ones through and Johnson had to come up with some great saves. He stood tall in there considering the traffic and people in front of him.”

Bylsma jokingly added, “We are short for another 24 hours.”

The biggest save came on a rebound opportunity off of Johnson’s pad. Eric Staal shot the puck and it took an insane route through dangerous territory.

“It was a shot from the slot; it hit my pad and went right to (Staal),” Johnson said. “His shot hit my skate, hit the post and rolled under my arm and I got my back on it. I knew I had it.”

And the work of Johnson and the penalty killers was much appreciated by their teammates.

“I was in the penalty box and almost broke my stick on the glass from banging because guys were blocking shots, diving and Johnny made an unbelievable save,” Dupuis said. “It was a big effort by the penalty kill.”

Thankfully, the Penguins were able to escape without any damage and leave North Carolina with a well-earned two points in the standings.

“A lot of guys jumped in and did a great job. ‘Parky’ did a great job with a couple huge blocks,” Adams said. “Obviously the D was great and Johnny was huge.”

“I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite like that. it was gutsy by our guys,” Bylsma said. “Killing off some penalties and being down 5-on-3 with our penalty killers either getting stitched up or in the penalty box, we had to come up with some gutsy efforts from Adams, Cooke, Park, Brooks played the last 2:20. Paul Martin was in there as well. It was a firing range. It seems like they were coming from all over the place. Somehow we kept it out of the cage.”
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