Milestone at Mellon
Penguins interim head coach Dan Bylsma earned his first career NHL victory behind the bench in Pittsburgh’s 5-4 win.
“Your first win is an important win,” Bylsma said. “I like to get on the positive side immediately, but it’s more important for the players at this time to get a positive result. We talk a lot about our mindset and the changes and how we want to play. I think the players have been attentive in listening and trying to take that change to mindset as a good thing.
“From behind the bench I saw good things going on the offense, speed, going north-south quickly. I think what I was most pleased with was how I saw our forwards come back in a lot of situations. I think we lifted up sticks, about 10 or 12 times with our forwards coming back and tracking down their forwards.”
It was a critical victory for the Penguins in the playoff race. Pittsburgh is sitting in the No. 10 seed and is only four points away from the eighth slot. But the Penguins are also just six points from the fifth slot and are closing the gap.
“I told the players before the game, how you play is going to send a message to the fans and to the Canadiens in tonight’s game,” Bylsma said. “Our guys were focused. Our guys were ready to go. I think they had a clear understanding of what was at stake and how we wanted to play. While I said it wasn’t perfect, I think we sent the message nice and clear. This is a team where we think we can go and play aggressive and we were aggressive offensively more like we wanted to be, and it was a great message.”
“We’re not satisfied because we know there’s a lot of work to do in front of us, but tonight’s win was definitely a big one for us,” Maxime Talbot said. “It feels really good. It’s big for all of us but we can’t just say, ‘OK, good job guys, and good job coach and good job players. We won a game.’ It’s a long way, still 23 games to play and it’s definitely going to be fun.”Matt Cooke
stole the game puck to give to Bylsma to commemorate his accomplishment.
got me the puck,” Bylsma said. “I told him he’s 10 favors for the coach away from getting in front of the net on the power play.”Return of Gonchar
Bylsma couldn’t have celebrated his first victory if not for defenseman Sergei Gonchar’s critical third-period goal, which was also his first score of the season.
With the game tied, 4-4, Gonchar netted the game-winning score at the 7:38 mark of the third period. The blueliner had the puck at the midpoint and skated closer to the goal before sending a wrist shot through traffic and into the net.
“I had so much time,” Gonchar said. “I mean our forwards did such a good job. Ruslan (Fedotenko) had the puck on the boards and he gave it to me, and then there was a battle in the front of the net. Sidney (Crosby) was battling there and all the attention was to him. The goalie was distracted and so I had time to skate in and look for the corner and shoot it.”
“If you have a shot like (Gonchar’s), eventually the puck is going to go in and he had a good look from the middle of the ice,” Sidney Crosby
said. “That’s where he likes to shoot it so it was a great shot. I’m happy for him.”
It was an emotional evening for Gonchar, who was playing his first meaningful game in Pittsburgh since Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final. The goal was his first regular-season score since April 2, 2008, against Philadelphia.
“It was a really long time since the last time I scored,” he said.
Gonchar’s goal was a gesture to Penguins fans who have shown the Russian defenseman support throughout his recovery from a separated shoulder.
“Yeah, (the fans) have been supporting me through my injury, the four months I was out,” Gonchar said. “Every time I am out, out on the street, people were asking me how I was doing and they were wishing me well and all that stuff. So it was very nice of them and I tried to, since they gave me so much support, it was nice to score that goal.”Up and Down Hockey
The game was full of suspense. Pittsburgh lost leads of 1-0, 2-1 and 4-2, but eventually pulled through with a victory. Despite the blown leads, the Penguins never lost confidence on the bench.
"Yes, they came back but everybody on the bench said, ‘OK, we can still do this,'" Talbot said. "They came back and the game was tied, but we kind of knew we were going to win that game. The way we played all night, and guys were not worried like the way we have been in the last couple of months. If that game would have happened a couple of months ago, guys would have been like, ‘Oh, here we go again.’ But tonight the guys were upbeat and we knew we could win.”
The third period opened with a flurry of scoring. Both teams combined for five goals in the first 7:18 of the final frame. The teams traded scores until Gonchar’s goal put the Penguins ahead for good.
“When we play a real good game you’ll see extended periods in the offensive zone,” Bylsma said. “It’s up-and-down hockey. It’s not run-down hockey we’re looking to play. We’re looking to play offensive zone time and repeatedly get shift after shift after shift where we can (pin) them in and gain the momentum that way.”
“We did a pretty good job I thought of establishing a good forecheck,” Crosby said. “We played pretty physical and we were tough to play against. That’s what you want. As I said before, we made a few mistakes that cost us but we kept coming at them and saw a good result there.”
The Penguins appear to have bought into Bylsma’s aggressive philosophy.
“You can see the way we have been playing,” Gonchar said. “We were forechecking now, much more aggressive, all over them and all over the ice. We didn’t have that much of a gap. We’ve been playing well all over the ice and I think that’s the style that we’re trying to play.”
“When you play a 60-minute game, the plan is to invest and to wear down and force them to play a pace that makes it hard to keep up for 60 minutes,” Bylsma said. “That’s why it’s a 60-minute game. So we kept playing the pace and we said after the second period, this is a team that played last night, we have to keep playing at that pace and keep attacking aggressively. We have to track back, don’t give them chances to get in the offensive zone. Our thought going out, if we can continue to play at the pace that we established for most of the first two periods, that we would have a good opportunity to get some chances to win the game.”