UNIONDALE, N.Y. – It’s official.
The Penguins will have home-ice advantage in the first round of the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs at CONSOL Energy Center, thanks to their hard-fought 4-3 shootout win over the New York Islanders on Friday at Nassau Coliseum.Chris Kunitz
netted the game-deciding shootout tally to lift the Penguins to victory.
“I like home ice in the playoffs,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “Our team found a way to win and found a way to get the two points, and that means home ice for us, so that’s a big win.”
“It was something we talked about before the game, and I think we’re happy we got it, finally,” goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury
said, who made 35 saves in the win.
It certainly wasn’t easy by any means. The Islanders may be out of playoff contention, but that didn’t stop them from putting up a heck of a fight. They battled back twice from deficits, including scoring a goal with 35 seconds left in regulation to force overtime and a shootout.
“The last minute they get the tying goal, but we’re still able to battle and find a way to get the two points in the shootout win,” Bylsma said. “It was important. We needed the two points to secure home-ice, and we wanted to do it tonight and not wait for a later date, so it was a big win.”
The Penguins also had to adjust to losing first-line forward James Neal
early in the second period, who Bylsma said is day-to-day at this point pending further evaluation.
But like they’ve done all season, the Penguins earned a crucial two points with their scoring by committee, with goals from Michael Rupp, Zbynek Michalek
and Mark Letestu.
“I think that’s kind of been a reoccurring theme with our team this year,” Rupp said. “We haven’t been relying on one line or one guy.”
Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury
played a huge role in the win as well, as he finished with 35 saves – 11 of those on the power play.
Not only did Fleury stop all three Islanders shooters in the shootout, but he gave his team a much-needed lift after that deflating tying goal in the final minute of regulation.
“You could feel it on the bench, it was a little down,” Rupp said. “And ‘Flower’ right before the shootout comes by and just starts yelling something and got the boys going. He stood on his head in the shootout, so it was good to pump us up a little bit in the shootout.”
The Penguins are still in the hunt for the Atlantic Division title with the win as they are now tied Philadelphia, who lost in overtime to Buffalo on Friday.
But no matter what happens in Pittsburgh’s last game Sunday in Atlanta, the Penguins are relieved to be starting the playoffs in front of their home crowd.
“It feels great,” Michalek said. “It feels good to start at home, definitely, and that’s something we talked about the last few weeks, that we want to get home-ice advantage in the first round. We got it and we’re happy we did.”EXTRA-SPECIAL TEAMS
The Penguins killed off six of seven Islanders’ power plays, including a four-minute double minor to defenseman Brooks Orpik
with just over five minutes left in the third.
Pittsburgh’s PKers did what they did best – blocking shots, forcing turnovers with their aggressive play – and Fleury was a rock between the pipes.
And not only did Pittsburgh’s top-ranked PK unit continue to roll, but the Penguins connected on the power play for a second-straight game when Michalek blasted a cannon past Islanders goalie Al Montoya to give the Penguins a 2-0 lead halfway through the second period.
“It was huge,” Michalek said of the Penguins’ special teams play. “I think special teams make a difference, especially late in the season and in the playoffs. For us to be able to kill penalties and score a big power-play goal, it was huge and gave our team a chance to win.”
The Islanders attacked hard with the man-advantage, firing 12 shots on Fleury during their power-play opportunities. But the Penguins always say their goalie has to be their best penalty killer, and Fleury certainly was that for his team.
“’Flower’ was Flower and really helped us out there,” Rupp said.
Not only did Rupp score, but he added an assist and factored in on the Penguins’ power-play goal by setting a screen. He accomplished all of that in just 7:05 of ice time.
“It was what Mike Rupp can do,” Bylsma said of his play. “He was physical, he was good in the offensive zone and drove the net, was a force there. … He’s a guy who can add skill and touch and that ability with size and a physical game and he showed that tonight.”