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Penguins Finish Road Trip Strong

by Jason Seidling / Pittsburgh Penguins

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTES – With points at a premium as the 2009-10 National Hockey League season rapidly winds to a close here in the stretch run, teams with championship aspirations must use the upcoming weeks to mentally prepare themselves for the rigors that come with chasing the 16 wins necessary to take home the Stanley Cup.

If you play long enough into late May or early June, chances are you are going to face a little adversity along the way.

Your goaltender might be looking for a bounce-back performance. Maybe the team must respond to a tough loss in a short period. It could even involve playing a key contest without one of your premier superstars.

Sometimes you might even have to overcome all three scenarios.

Good teams rise above such circumstances and find a way to deliver the goods. Based upon the Penguins’ performance against the Boston Bruins on Thursday night, they look like a squad more than capable of delivering the goods when the odds are stacked against them.

Marc-Andre Fleury closed the door on the Bruins with 17 saves, Tyler Kennedy chipped in his first goal in his past 19 games and the Penguins overcame the absence of reigning NHL scoring champion Evgeni Malkin to notch a 3-0 victory at TD Garden on Thursday, less than 24 hours after a disappointing loss to the New Jersey Devils.

Pittsburgh’s victory, which allowed them to finish their second five-game road swing of the season with a 2-2-1 record, was their 42nd of the season and gave Pittsburgh 89 points on the season, allowing them to jump ahead of the Devils (88) and back into first place in the Atlantic Division.

“I think there was a lot of focus on this game,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “This is one of those games where your team has to find out about itself and how they are going to play. We stuck with it. … We kept with it.”

“That was a tough loss (Wednesday) night (in New Jersey),” said Fleury, who was pulled from the net in the second period. “It’s good to be able to forget about it as soon as possible.”

No. 1 on the list of reasons why the Penguins skated away victorious was the play between the pipes of the 25-year-old Fleury. He picked up his 16th career shutout against the Bruins, and his first since blanking the Calgary Flames 2-0 on March 25 of last season.

“We have known all season long that he hasn’t gotten one,” Bylsma said. “It’s nice to see that. We have been getting close to (getting him one). … This has been due for a while. It’s nice to see him get that zero.”

“It was great because it had been so long,” Fleury said. “My teammates did a great job. It was good to finally get it.”

We have known all season long that he hasn’t gotten one. It’s nice to see that. We have been getting close to (getting him one). … This has been due for a while. It’s nice to see him get that zero - Dan Bylsma on Fleury's shutout
Fleury didn’t face a large volume of shots against the Bruins but several of the ones which did come his way could be considered high-quality.

“There were some good (chances) here and there so I had to stay alert,” Fleury said. “My teammates did a good job all game of clearing away rebounds and blocking a lot of shots. That kept the scoring chances down, which was good.”

Perhaps Fleury’s best save of the night came with 3:42 remaining in the first period when he flashed his glove to stone former teammate Miroslav Satan, who had a good look from the near faceoff dot following a turnover. Fleury was also alert midway through the opening frame when he came aggressively out of his crease to poke the puck away from Marco Sturm, who was about to turn the puck over to his forehand in the slot.

Fleury’s workload didn’t get much tougher in the second period, but once again he denied a great chance by Satan, this time on a deflection from just outside the crease. He also displayed his outstanding athleticism by quickly sliding from right to left to make a save with his chest protector on Patrice Bergeron’s one-timer off the rush.

With Malkin missing his second straight contest with an undisclosed injury, the Penguins needed some of their secondary scorers to step up. Kenned, Alexei Ponikarovsky and Mike Rupp rose to the occasion.

Kennedy, who has seen time at center for the first time since the beginning of the ’08-09 season with Malkin out, opened the scoring 8:34 into the opening period.

Mike Rupp quickly broke up a cycle in the far corner of the Penguins zone, working the puck ahead to Brooks Orpik at the top of the circle. Orpik quickly moved the biscuit to Ruslan Fedotenko, creating a two-on-one with Kennedy. Fedotenko sprang Kennedy over the Boston blue line, and Kennedy promptly beat Tuukka Rask with a snap shot over the glove from the far circle.

”The whole play started with a good breakout by (Orpik) and (Rupp),” Kennedy said. “I just tried shooting the puck hard.”

Kennedy’s tally was his 10th of the season, giving the Penguins 12 players with double-digit goal totals, most in the NHL.

“I think we have really good depth on our team,” Kennedy said. “That is what we are going to need coming down the stretch here.”

Ponikarovsky gave the Penguins all the insurance they would need when he deflected a Kris Letang one-timer through the legs of Rask with just 14.1 seconds remaining in the second period to make it 2-0. That goal, Ponikarovsky’s second with Pittsburgh, gives the Ukrainian forward four points (2G-2A) in seven games with the Penguins.

Rupp eliminated any potential drama when he blocked Bergeron’s shot at 14:46 of the third period, caught up to the loose puck in the neutral zone and beat Rask to the far post for his 13th goal of the season, extending his single-season career high in goals.

Thanks to a total team effort in a game the Penguins had to win, Pittsburgh can look forward to continuing to build upon their 6-2-1 record since the Olympic break.

”It’s been going well for us, knock on wood,” Fleury said. “Hopefully things can keep going the same way and we’ll be ready for the playoffs.”
 
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