Petr Sykora scored Pittsburgh’s most important goal at this juncture of the season. The Penguins desperately needed to defeat the New York Islanders to remain in the postseason chase before embarking on a five-game, 11-day road trip.
The two teams skated to a scoreless tie late in the third period. The frustrated Penguins never quit and Sykora delivered the game-winning score with 2:28 left in regulation.
“I think it was a huge goal for us and it was a big win for us before going on the road because we are going to be playing some tough teams and it was real big to get that win and those two points,” Sykora said. “Hopefully, we can carry the way we played from (Wednesday’s) game to the road games. I think we spent a lot of time in their zone but we just didn’t create a lot of scoring chances but we stayed patient and our power play had a couple of chances that didn’t score. But finally, being patient, we got that winning goal.”
The Penguins had a number of scoring chances during the game but couldn’t solve New York Islanders goaltender Yann Danis, who was coming off of a 40-save shutout of the New Jersey Devils Saturday.
“You never really want to be in a tied game getting that late but I thought we had the better of the chances the first 55 minutes there,” defenseman Brooks Orpik
said. “It was still pretty calm on the bench. Guys were excited. There wasn’t much panic on the bench. I think guys are aware of the situation. We obviously know we need the two points bad but the guys kept their composure really well on the bench.”
The team’s composure on the bench starts with interim head coach Dan Bylsma and his staff. Bylsma believes in a 60-minute formula that starts with the talk on the bench.
“You have got to keep the talk the right way on the bench,” Bylsma said. “It’s the game plan, you keep on the game plan, you keep focused on the game plan, you keep playing the right way, you manage the puck and you have to believe that’s the way you’re going to have success. Sometimes it’s going to be 1-0, sometimes it’s going to be 5-4, but the game plan is to continue. You believe it, you keep at it, you do it for 60 and that’s the formula.”
And then it was a pretty simple play. I put my head down and drove to the net and Gonch made a beautiful pass off of the goalies pads and it came right to me and I had an open net. - Petr SykoraEvgeni Malkin
was the unsung hero on the Penguins’ scoring sequence. He made a great play with his stick to keep the puck in the Islanders zone. He batted the puck from midair and Sergei Gonchar collected it near the blue line. Gonchar skated towards the bottom near circle and sent the puck towards the net. Danis kicked out the rebound and Sykora buried the puck for the clinching score, his eighth game-winning goal this season.
“I had a shot before on the power play that I thought was a goal and then I had a shot from a couple feet away that just hit his glove but that’s the way it goes,” Sykora said. “You have a lot of chances and nothing goes in. And then it was a pretty simple play. I put my head down and drove to the net and Gonch made a beautiful pass off of the goalies pads and it came right to me and I had an open net.”Shutout LiteMarc-Andre Fleury
turned aside 21 shots to notch his 14th career shutout and third of the season. While he went through long stretches without facing a shot, Fleury remained focused and closed the door in an important win for Pittsburgh.
“I was kind of watching the guys play, so it was a little bit tough to stay focused but I think the guys deserve a good win,” Fleury said. “When I don’t get shots for a while it just feels weird. I don’t have anything to do. I just stand there so it was good we didn’t give up too many chances. I would rather see (the puck), have more shots. I think it’s easier in the game. We got the win so we can’t complain.”
Bylsma was impressed with Fleury’s performance despite the limited shots against him.
“Early on I looked up and there were seven shots and the thought goes through your brain, you’d like to make sure your goalie’s into the game,” Bylsma said. “But he’s played a lot of hockey in his life and he’s been through games where you get a lot of shots and not so many. It’s something you talk about after the game, but he’s a mentally sharp guy. He’s focused and he was tested a couple of times and he was up to the task.”
Fleury was relieved when he watched Sykora nail the game-winning goal late in the third period.
“I was watching for a goal and then finally with two minutes left we got it so it’s good to slip a goal in,” he said. “I think until the end they are all big games whether it’s the worst team or the best team. We have to be ready and focused. It was two big points for us.”Scoreboard Watch
The Penguins victory enabled them to keep pace in the Eastern Conference playoff race. While Pittsburgh still sits in the No. 10 spot, it is now only two points behind Buffalo for the eighth seed.
You look at the standings every day you come to the rink and you watch your opponents at the night time. Watching the scores add up, and we need to get points. - Dan Bylsma
“You look at the standings every day you come to the rink and you watch your opponents at the night time,” Bylsma said. “Watching the scores add up, and we need to get points. It didn’t matter what the opponent was here, you’re at home in your building, at a game where you’re missing a few key players and you need to get the points regardless. That was a great game from our team tonight in a lot of different areas. We played well defensively, our PK was real good when it needed to be. We just kept at the game plan and we banged one home with about three minutes left for the win.”
Pittsburgh has done its fair share of scoreboard watching recently and they’ve noticed that a lot of the teams that they are chasing have been losing. That has given the team some cautious optimism but everything begins and ends with the Penguins.
“All that stuff really doesn’t matter if we don’t start winning our games,” Orpik said. “You don’t want to get in a position toward the end of the year where you need other teams to lose. You want to control your own destiny. As long as we keep winning our games we should be fine.”Letang Returns
After sitting out the last three games as a healthy scratch, Kris Letang
returned to the Penguins' lineup for Wednesday’s game.
“Early on I think there were some jitters in his game, not quite comfortable yet,” Bylsma said of Letang’s performance. “As the game went on he had a real nice chance in the second period in the offensive zone and in the third he had a couple of point shots on the power play that went just wide there. I think he got a little more comfortable as the game went on and that’s to be expected. I thought he looked good as the game went on.”Deborah Francisco contributed to this report.