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Penguins Respond Strong After Tough Performance

by Caitlin Kasunich / Pittsburgh Penguins
Battling fiercely down to the wire, the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Atlanta Thrashers, 4-3, in a come-from-behind overtime victory during Saturday afternoon’s game. The win gives the team a 3-1 mark in its six-game homestand to end the regular season.

After coming off of a disappointing loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, 2-0, last Wednesday night, many players recognized that they needed to maintain their perseverance and bounce back strong in their win against Atlanta.

“I think that we’ve talked a lot in our locker room about bringing our A-game and doing things right consistently,” Jordan Leopold said. “We played better than we did the last game obviously, but we still have progress to be made. It’s a step in the right direction. We have four (games) left, and we’ll keep going from here.”

Captain Sidney Crosby also said that he was impressed with the team’s intense battle level and the way in which the team re-grouped and focused on getting another win on home ice.

“We probably deserved better,” he said. “We probably didn’t deserve for it to be that close, but Flower (Marc-Andre Fleury) made some big saves. He had lots of pucks around the net…It’s funny the way that it works out. You battle strong, and it’s tough to get them, and we had a great bounce there in overtime. It’s one that I thought we deserved.”

Head coach Dan Bylsma added that he always believed that the team could come back from Wednesday’s loss, because he has faith in what the players can accomplish both individually and as a group.

I’m not happy with the things that we need to work on and the consistency, but our team has responded numerous times this year after poor performances or times where we thought that we weren’t at our best. I’m not surprised to see our guys respond and play that type of game. Our challenge is now taking that step and moving onto the next game. - Dan Bylsma

With 1:14 left in the third period, Sergei Gonchar tied up the game, 3-3, after receiving a pass from Evgeni Malkin at the point. Bylsma said that the goal was a perfect example of how the players kept pushing themselves until they got the result that they wanted.

“We are going to play the way that we played,” Bylsma said. “We kept on going, and you have those conflicting thoughts in your head about if we are going to get the goal or have the disappointment of playing this way and not getting the result. But our team kept sticking with it.

“The power play was great in getting us on the board. We kept playing. We got the power play, and our power play answered for us with that goal in the third. Those are the types of games and wins that you are going to have when games get tougher.”

Both Malkin and Gonchar, both of whom returned to the lineup following injuries, also said that they knew the team would quickly bounce back from the loss.

“We had a bad game against Tampa but I knew we would be alright,” Malkin said. “We had a great practice and then talked with the coaches after the next day. As a result we played better today.”

“I don’t know if it’s crucial, but it’s a big win for us,” Gonchar agreed. “We haven’t played as well lately. If you look at us today, we did a great job systems-wise. We did a lot of good things. We have to continue building on that.”

Although he is satisfied with the team’s performance against the Thrashers, Bylsma said that the players do not need to win every matchup that they face – they just need to stay committed to their game throughout the entire 60 minutes.

“That’s the way that our team plays games,” he said. “You’re not going to win every game, but that was our response. You saw it in our play and our physicality and the bite in our game in getting into the offensive zone. That’s a great step. We have another one coming up on Wednesday.”

Leopold Plays the Hero
It was newly acquired defenseman Jordan Leopold who notched the game-winning goal at 2:50 in overtime, as well as scored his first tally as a Penguin. Leopold sent the puck through the legs of former Penguin and Thrashers goaltender Johan Hedberg from the near circle to clinch the victory.  

“I was just trying to put it on the other side and maybe surprise them,” he said. “I ended up surprising them. It went through, and it’s a big two points for us.”

Guerin the Enforcer
Thirty-nine-year-old Bill Guerin helped to pump up the team after dropping his gloves for the second straight game – this time with Thrashers center Jim Slater at the end of the first period.

“They’re fighting for their lives,” Bylsma said of the Thrashers. “They played hard, and they played well, but there was a push back from our team. You take territory, and you keep pushing for the puck physically. That was what that fight was about. Our team was doing that – Billy was doing that – and it kept us going forward. They did get the first goal, but I think that was an indicator of where our battle level and the mentality of the team were at.”

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