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Notebook: Lovejoy Notches First NHL Goal

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins
Entering Wednesday’s game, Ben Lovejoy was just concerned about playing his game and making sure he didn’t get scored on.

But the Penguins defenseman was the one that ended up finding the back of the net, as he tallied his first-career NHL goal – unassisted, nonetheless – in Pittsburgh’s 5-2 victory over Florida at CONSOL Energy Center.

“The goal is something you dream of,” Lovejoy said.

Add in his first NHL fight against the Panthers’ Shawn Mattias in the first period, and Lovejoy only needed an assist to complete a Gordie Howe hat trick.

“(Head coach Dan) Bylsma made a comment about it in between the second and third periods,” Lovejoy said. “I told him not to get his hopes up. I certainly wasn’t pressing, I was just trying not to get scored on and play my game.”

Lovejoy made a heads-up play to tally his first goal in 30 career NHL games, when he dipped low and scooped up a weak Florida clearing attempt off the wall.

His quick one-timer deflected off the knee of Panthers defenseman Dennis Wideman and past goaltender Scott Clemmensen to put the Penguins up 4-1 at the 6:19 mark of the second period.

“I was happy to see it go in,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. “And it ended up being Benny’s first NHL goal. That’s always an exciting one. He’s a guy that works really hard, and I was happy to see him get that.”

RELATED: Aftermath: Penguins 5, Panthers 2 >>

Lovejoy’s overall battle level was sky-high throughout the game. He’s been splitting time with Deryk Engelland in the Penguins’ defense rotation, but made the most of his time in the lineup on Wednesday.

“He’s somebody that’s been in and out of the lineup,” forward Mark Letestu said, who also scored in the Penguins’ win. “That fight tonight was something out of character for him, but he’s doing what he can to stay in. He’s battling hard.”

Lovejoy’s night, however, took a sour turn when a slapshot off the stick of Bryan McCabe struck him just below his left eye with 3:46 left in regulation.

“It was a tough break taking that slap shot in the face,” Letestu said. “I’m sure he’ll be ready to go for (Thursday). It’s good for him to step up in different ways and I’m sure he’s proud of himself.”

Lovejoy spent most of last season with the Penguins' top minor league affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton before making the Penguins roster out of training camp in September.

He put up solid numbers in each of his past three seasons with WBS, with his best performance coming in 2008-09. The defenseman tallied seven goals and 24 assists for 31 points through 76 games that season.

But Lovejoy has been waiting for his first NHL goal, and it was only fate he got it against the Panthers.

“The turning point for Ben was last season against Florida,” Bylsma said. “He played there and almost scored his first NHL goal. The puck was in the air and he was right at the goal line, and he’s still dreaming about it today. It’s fitting that he gets in, plays really well, gets in a fight, does well and gets the goal.”

When Penguins goaltender Brent Johnson left the game after the second period with a groin injury, Marc-Andre Fleury got the call to take over for the final 20 minutes.

“I was cold a little bit, stuff happens like that,” Fleury said of coming off the bench. “Hopefully, everything is good with Johnson and it’s nothing too serious.”

It was an eventful final frame for Fleury, as he made 15 saves to stave off a Panthers surge and almost scored his first-career goal when he shot the puck down the ice with 58 seconds left in the game.

“With a two-goal lead I can take a little more risk,” he said. “I knew I had a little bit of time and try to go for it, but I missed.”

While Bylsma may not have entirely approved of his goalie’s thought process, he admitted he was hoping that the puck would go in.

“(When you’re) up by two, you still don’t want to take an icing at that particular time,” Bylsma said. “But when he shot the puck, I was more cheering for it to take a right turn and go in than I was worried about whether that was a good decision or not. We’re not looking to ice the puck at that point in time, but I sure would like to see No. 29 get that goal.”

With his league-leading 28th goal on Wednesday, Penguins captain Sidney Crosby extended his point streak to a career-high 22 games.

He’s now tied the National Hockey League’s longest scoring streak since the lockout, set by Ottawa’s Dany Heatley in 2005. 

Crosby's stretch is also now tied for the second-longest streak since Mats Sundin's 30-game point streak with the Quebec Nordiques in 1993.

Crosby’s goal came at the 7:44 mark of the first period. Penguins netminder Brent Johnson cleared the puck up the boards to a waiting Chris Kunitz, who sent a pass to a streaking Crosby. He then beat Panthers goalie Tomas Vokoun with a blistering slap shot on the short side.

Crosby now has 43 points (22G-21A) over his 22-game stretch. He’s now scored at least one goal in 15 of the 22 games during his streak.

Forward Arron Asham did not play in the third period after suffering a lower-body injury. Bylsma said Asham is questionable for Thursday's game in Washington.

"He had a lower-body injury, and that's why he didn't play in the third," Bylsma said. "He did go on the bench, but didn't play in the third. He's questionable for Thursday's game."

Asham recorded one shot in 7:02 of ice time throughout the first 40 minutes.
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