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Notebook: Neal Lifts Pens in Shootout

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins
Detroit – The Penguins entered Joe Louis Arena on Monday filled with 20,066 hostile fans that watched Detroit rally from a 4-0 deficit to take the game to a shootout.

But it was James Neal who silenced them when he sent a blistering wrister past Red Wings goalie Joey MacDonald in the third round of the shootout to give the Penguins a gritty 5-4 victory and a crucial two points in the standings.

“It felt great to get that goal in the shootout,” Neal said. “I haven’t scored in the shootout in a long time. ... No better way to get (a goal) than in a shootout to win a game. We found a way to win and it was a good two points.”

Bylsma smiled when asked why he chose to go with Neal as the shooter that could win the game, first citing Neal’s shootout percentage but ultimately stating that the Penguins’ recent acquisition was the guy he wanted to see get that type of uplifting goal.

“He’s got a decent percentage, we’re aware of what he did in Dallas,” Bylsma said. “But he’s a guy I wanted to see finish the game for us, and he certainly came up with a big shot. He’s done it in the past, and it’s good to see him get that goal for us.”

Neal is the Penguins’ leading healthy goal scorer with 22 tallies (tied with Chris Kunitz) and has four points (1G-3A) in his last six contests, but hasn’t been finding the back of the net as consistently as he would like.

However, scoring a shootout goal like his that helps the Penguins improve to 6-2-2 over their last 10 contests certainly helps ease any frustration that may be building.

“Coming into a team, you want to help the team win no matter what,” Neal said. “I’m getting chances, shooting the puck and hopefully it’s just a matter of time before they start finding the back of the net. But as long as the team’s winning, things are good.”

His teammates have the utmost confidence that Neal will continue to find ways to help the team win.

“He’s been working hard since he got here,” Pascal Dupuis said, who tallied twice and added an assist in the win. “He’s such a great guy and the way he plays, he plays hard. He brings the puck to the net, he shoots. It was great to see. Hopefully it will be a big boost of confidence for him.”

The Penguins managed to stave off the Red Wings’ furious comeback and keep the score tied through regulation and overtime to force the shootout.

Coming out of Joe Louis Arena with two points in the final stretch of games before the postseason – especially against a team that Pittsburgh has such a history against – was a huge confidence boost for the team.

With Monday’s win, the Penguins have swept the season series against Detroit.

“It’s very important,” Neal said of garnering the win. “But not only that, the team we’re playing, the previous battles that the Penguins have had with Detroit – it makes it that much better. We want to play this team tough every time we play them. No matter how much they battled back, we still find a way to win. “

Head coach Dan Bylsma agreed.

“I certainly like leaving this building with two points,” he said.

Brent Johnson played outstanding for the Penguins, making 37 saves and stoning all three Detroit shooters in the shootout to pave the way for Neal to net the game-deciding tally.

It was his second-straight win between the pipes and improved his season record to 11-5-3.

“It’s a fantastic feeling, especially for myself coming to Detroit,” Johnson said, who hails from Farmington, Mich. “It feels really good.”

Johnson had to be sharp from the get-go, as the Red Wings peppered him early and often. He came up with some key saves that kept the Penguins in the game.

“Johnny played great in net. He made some big saves,” Neal said.

The weather may have been chilly in Detroit, but the line of Chris Kunitz, Jordan Staal and Tyler Kennedy saw no need to cool down.

Kunitz and Jordan Staal each extended their respective point streaks to four games, while Kennedy tallied in regulation to give him six points (2G-4A) in his last four games.

Kunitz’s goal and assist on Monday gives him eight points (4G-4A) over that span, Staal also has seven points (3G-4A) in that same stretch with his two helpers.

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