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Penguins Top Line Powers Win

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins
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The Penguins erased 3-0 and 4-3 deficits to pull off a 5-4 overtime victory against the Columbus Blue Jackets and have three players to thank for the win.

Pittsburgh’s line combination of Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz and Eric Tangradi dominated the game and single-handedly willed the Penguins to victory. It was a strong opening audition for the regular season.

“I think there’s a certain expectation, as far as creating things consistently,” Crosby said. “We have the right ingredients there, with all the guys on the line. Our battle level is there. We’ll go into those tough areas to score. We should create things, and it just comes down to execution. I don’t think there’s ever a goal number, but for sure we have high expectations of creating things, and from that you’ll hopefully get production.”

Production is exactly what the Penguins got from their top line. The trio combined for four of the team’s five goals and totaled eight points. Crosby scored two goals and setup the winning tally, Tangradi chipped in two assists and Kunitz buried two goals, including the overtime winner.

It was a ton of fun for my first game in a Penguins jersey. It’s been kind of a dream so far. It was a great game. A little bit early I kind of got caught up in the lights, but towards the end I got my feet underneath me. I thought I finished pretty well. - Eric Tangradi
“It was a ton of fun for my first game in a Penguins jersey,” Tangradi said. “It’s been kind of a dream so far. It was a great game. A little bit early I kind of got caught up in the lights, but towards the end I got my feet underneath me. I thought I finished pretty well.”

“You can’t say enough, big body like Tangradi, he can get in the corners and separate the guy from the puck and make nice little plays,” Kunitz said. “He’s got a good set of skills. He can skate. He can hit. He’s definitely a good player.”

Pittsburgh trailed 3-0 in the game when the three men connected on a power-play goal that sparked the Penguins’ comeback. Tangradi made a strong cross-crease pass to Crosby, who slid the puck over the goal line.

“We came into the dressing room after two, and everyone was real positive and real sharp,” Tangradi said. “You look in anyone’s eyes in the room and you knew we had a real good chance in the third.”

Exactly three minutes later, the line struck again. Kunitz put a shot on goal. Tangradi whacked at the airborne rebound and sent it towards the backboards. Crosby corralled it behind the net, pulled it to his forehand and dished it into the net.

Crosby used a new stick for the game and the results were three points on two goals and an assist. So far so good on his decision to switch to a new stick.

“One game in, it’s a little early right now,” Crosby said. “For the most part, they’re pretty good. I’m just trying it, and hopefully, if I get two goals every game, they’ll be a lock. Hopefully it keeps up. I want to try them, and give them the best shot. They felt pretty good.”

“Certainly he was ripping it,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “If (switching sticks) gets him thinking he can shoot it more, he had seven shots, focusing on shooting the puck when he’s attacking the net like he does, that’s a dangerous weapon, when he’s a shooter as well as a passer.”

Tangradi helped create the second goal with his net-front presence. He was able to screen the goalie on the first shot and his play on the rebound enabled Pittsburgh to score.

“(Tangradi) played really well, won a lot of his battles and made some good, quick plays down low,” Crosby said. “I think the biggest adjustment he’ll find is the battles, stronger guys. He did a great job. He looked like he was pretty comfortable out there.”

After the Penguins tied the game at 3-3, Columbus reclaimed the lead with only 2:02 left in regulation. But Pittsburgh’s talented threesome hit gold just 17 seconds later to pull the game even. Defenseman Mark Eaton sent a shot on net from the point. Kunitz collected the rebound and pushed it into the net.

It only took 44 seconds into overtime to decide the game. Crosby intercepted an attempted Columbus backboard pass behind the Blue Jackets’ cage. Crosby made a quick pass to Kunitz in the high slot. Kunitz nailed the shot to give Pittsburgh the victory.

“You’re just kind of on top of the crease. Puck goes in the net. You’re in a good spot,” Kunitz said. “It was a great pass by Sid. Three guys went to him, and I put it on net. I think their guy might have screened their goalie a little bit.”

It may only be one game but the combination really impressed the Penguins coaching staff.

“I think before the game every player was challenged to go out and do what they do,” Bylsma said. “It’s not a time to tiptoe into things. You play the game you're playing. If you’re Chris Kunitz, you should be going to the net and playing physical. You don’t wait until the first game of the season. If you’re Eric Tangradi, it’s your job to show what kind of player you are. I think he did a pretty good job of showing what kind of player he is, and what he can bring to a line and to a team.”

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