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Notes & Quotes: Big Three Bailout

by Deborah Francisco / Pittsburgh Penguins
Thoughts, observations and comments from the Penguins’ 4-3 shootout victory over the Florida Panthers.


The Comeback

The Penguins entered the third period against the Florida Panthers trailing 3-1. The odds were against Pittsburgh to pull off a comeback considering Florida’s 24-1-1 record when leading after two periods. It was obvious that the Penguins needed to do something drastic to stage a comeback in the third period. Yet, the Penguins never lost their confidence.

“We just knew it was a matter of time,” Sidney Crosby said. “It’s not a fun position to be in, but that was the case and we had to deal with it. We had to keep going the same way. I think we all believed if we kept going the same way we would find a way to at least tie it and force overtime.”

The way the Penguins came out roaring in the third period it seemed like they must have had a rousing locker room speech to motivate the comeback. What was said in the locker room before the third period?

“We talked about it and we were just thinking we needed to play the same way,” defenseman Sergei Gonchar said. “We spent a lot of time in their zone and it’s tough to play against us when we are always pushing and pressing over there.”

“Other than the adjustments we just asked the question, ‘Can we do this?’” interim head coach Dan Bylsma said. “We had 20 guys in there saying, ‘yes, we can do this.’ And we said if we can just keep playing the right way and we keep playing like we played the previous 40 (minutes), we’re going to get our chances to score. We went out there believing that if we did that we were going to have some good chances to score.”

“Everyone seemed pretty calm,” Jordan Staal added. “I think, to be honest, everyone just knew that if we kept playing the same way we were we would be fine. We did a great job coming out in the third and getting a couple of early ones.”

Centers Staal and Crosby each tallied a goal in the opening 5:29 of the third frame to erase the deficit and tie the game at 3-3.

Staal got the ball rolling with his 18th goal of the season 2:20 into the third period. Tyler Kennedy had the puck in the far corner. After juking a Panthers player, he setup Matt Cooke for a one-timer. Panthers netminder Tomas Vokoun made the save but the rebound jumped into the air. Staal batted the airborne puck through Vokoun’s legs for the score.

“It was just a little play,” Staal said. “TK did a great job of feeding Cookie in the slot. He got a great shot off. I just saw the puck bounce up in the air and I closed my eyes and whacked at it and it squeaked in.”

A few minutes later the Penguins tied the contest when Bill Guerin and Chris Kunitz set up Crosby for the equalizer. The Penguins would eventually come out victorious in the shootout.

“We probably deserved a better fate than having to go into overtime, but we kept going,” Crosby said. “We made sure we played a full 60 minutes and left it all out there and saw some good results there in the third to tie it up.”

While Pittsburgh would have liked to rob Florida of two points in the standings by winning in regulation, the club was happy with the two points it came away with. The win bumped them into sixth place in the Eastern Conference with a one-point lead over Florida and Carolina.

“For us, leaving this building with two points is better than leaving with one in a tie,” Bylsma said. “We played a great game, battled hard and laid it on the line. We got 50 shots on a great goaltender tonight and to get the shootout win and the extra point, that makes it feel all that much better.

It reinforces the way we need to play every night. We played 60-hard minutes and we come out with two points. They do get one, but I think the extra point in the shootout means a lot more to us and our momentum than it does giving up a point. - Dan Bylsma
“It reinforces the way we need to play every night. We played 60-hard minutes and we come out with two points. They do get one, but I think the extra point in the shootout means a lot more to us and our momentum than it does giving up a point.”

And for the record, Florida is now 24-1-2 when leading after two periods.

Big Three Bailout

Pittsburgh had a sizeable advantage over the Panthers in the form of its center depth, particularly with Evgeni Malkin, Crosby and Staal. All three tallied a goal in the game to convert a third-period come-from-behind victory and bailout the Penguins.

“Obviously it’s a big advantage, those three guys are three very good players,” Gonchar said. “It’s a good thing they’re playing on our team.”

Pittsburgh’s “Big Three” combined for four points (3G-1A) and figured in on all three Penguins’ goals – plus Malkin scored the game-clinching shootout goal.

Bylsma was not surprised that his top-three centers demonstrated their leadership with their performance on the ice.

“I think in the last 11 games they have led by their play,” Bylsma noted. “When you are young you lead with your play, you lead with your battle level, you lead with your effort and you let that speak for itself.

I think us guys who have been here for a few years want to make sure that we’re doing our part and leading the way, but really everyone is doing a great job. We all want to contribute. We want to make sure we’re accountable and responsible out there. It’s really fun to pay when you see everyone really competing and playing the right way. - Sidney Crosby
“The more you play at battle level then the more you play the right way, the more you lay it on the line and you become a leader. That’s the way they need to lead. It’s easy to follow when those guys go, when they play hard, when they’re battling, when they finish checks and go to the net. It speaks volumes and the players are listening.”

For Crosby, the biggest part of his leadership role is doing his part and encouraging everyone else to do the same.

“We’ve been in situations now, it’s not our first year, but we’re all playing together,” Crosby said. “I think us guys who have been here for a few years want to make sure that we’re doing our part and leading the way, but really everyone is doing a great job. We all want to contribute. We want to make sure we’re accountable and responsible out there. It’s really fun to pay when you see everyone really competing and playing the right way.”

“Yeah, now the team is great,” Malkin said of the comeback win over Florida. “We win, and everybody talk and everybody help teammates – good job guys.”

Shoot the Puck

Spending more time in the offensive zone is the heart of Bylsma’s coaching philosophy. In his view, if you spend more time in the offensive zone then you’ll have more scoring chances and more shots on net, something the Penguins clearly had the hang of Tuesday night against Florida.

Pittsburgh registered a season-high 50 shots on net. The Penguins outshot the Panthers, 11-8, in the first period, 18-7, in the second period, 18-5, in the third period and, 3-1, in the overtime period for a total advantage of 50-21 in the game.

“The games we have played against this team have gone to shots,” Bylsma said. “They had 30-something shots in the last game we played them in Florida and they had 21 tonight. So, there were a lot of shots in the game but hopefully that means we’re getting in the offensive zone more, drawing more penalties, going on the power play more and getting more pucks on net. Hopefully, we can get to 30-35 shots on a regular basis every night.”

Florida’s goaltender Tomas Vokoun was named second star of the game for the shower of shots he faced in net. Vokoun turned aside 47 pucks.

“You just have to keep peppering him,” Crosby said. “He was obviously on his game tonight but every goalie is the same way. If you get shots and get traffic they’re going to be forced to deal with rebounds. Goalies can get tired as well when you face that many shots. It’s not easy and we just wanted to keep it going.”

In the Penguins last meeting against the Panthers in Florida they employed a similar tactic. Pittsburgh finished that game with 47 shots and have sent 97 pucks on net in the last two games against Florida.

“We did the same thing a few games ago,” Staal noted. “We just keep pounding away at them and tonight it was the same way. Vokoun played great but we knew that if we create 50 shots, we’re going to get a few in.”

The high number of shots is a byproduct of the Penguins buying into Bylsma’s philosophy of playing a majority of the game in the offensive zone.

We are spending a lot of time in their offensive zone,” Gonchar. “We made a goal for ourselves to shoot the puck as much as we can. We take shots and those shots are creating lots of scoring chances. - Sergei Gonchar
“We are spending a lot of time in their offensive zone,” Gonchar. “We made a goal for ourselves to shoot the puck as much as we can. We take shots and those shots are creating lots of scoring chances.”

The Shootout

The Penguins oftentimes conclude practice with a mock shootout which helps Bylsma determine who to use in the real occasion. Tonight, Bylsma had no doubt that he wanted to put Malkin in.

“Sometimes in practice, the skill guys try different moves and try to be overly fancy to try to do their different things,” Bylsma said. “I asked Geno in Washington if he wanted to go and he said yes. He didn’t get to go so he got to go tonight and it turned out pretty good.”

Malkin struggled in the practice shootout Monday afternoon and wanted to prove he could get the job done.

“Because I not score last time I practice a couple of times and my move worked for me tonight,” Malkin said.

Kris Letang converted on the Penguins fist shootout attempt.

Milestones

Bill Guerin’s assist on Crosby’s goal marked the 400th assist of his NHL career.

Malkin netted his 30th goal of the season with the opening goal of the game. Malkin’s 30 goals are a team best.

The Booming Crowd

At certain junctures of the game the crowd at Mellon Arena was so loud you would have thought it was Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.

“Tonight was definitely the loudest the crowd has been all season.” Staal said. “It’s been a tough season up and down for our home crowd and they did a great job cheering us on tonight.”



Sam Kasan contributed to this report.
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