While the Penguins didn’t get the outcome they would have liked in Game 2 as they suffered a 3-1 setback to the Montreal Canadiens to even the Eastern Conference semifinals series at 1-1, there was good news on Sunday which bodes well for the team moving forward.
Defenseman Jordan Leopold and forward Tyler Kennedy
each returned to action for the Penguins while center Maxime Talbot filled in admirably for the injured Jordan Staal
Leopold, who had been sidelined with a head injury since taking a hit from the Ottawa Senators Andy Sutton late in the first period of Game 2 last series, returned to the lineup. Leopold had missed the previous five games.
The 29-year-old Golden Valley, Minn. native saw 15:55 minutes of ice time and registered one shot while teaming with partner Alex Goligoski.
“I felt good,” Leopold said. “I felt comfortable right off the bat and that’s what I’ve been working with all week. I was on the ice for six or seven days. It’s one of those things where you don’t want to be hesitant, you don’t want to be tentative out there and I wasn’t. I felt good.”
Leopold, who resumed skating with the team on April 28 and then shed his non-contact jersey on Saturday, said that he did not feel tentative or hesitant out on the ice.
“If you play on your heels and you play tentative, you tend to get hurt again,” Leopold said. “So I felt good out there but I would have liked to win.”
Leopold wasn’t the only member of the Penguins’ walking wounded to get back into action on Sunday as Kennedy also returned. Kennedy had missed the previous three games dating back to the Ottawa series with a lower body injury.
“It felt good,” Kennedy said. “I was excited to get back out there and play. My parents are in town. You always want to put a show on for them. I want to help this team, too.”
Not only did Kennedy get back into the lineup Sunday, he earned a promotion to the second line, playing on the right side next to Evgeni Malkin
and Alexei Ponikarovsky. Kennedy also saw a few shifts with Malkin and Sidney Crosby
when head coach Dan Bylsma elected to combine the two-headed monster in an effort to generate more offense in the second and third periods.
“I was excited to play on the second line with Geno,” Kennedy said. “Wherever I play I plan on giving 100 percent.”
Kennedy, who has been hit by the injury bug on a couple occasions this season, said that moving forward his No. 1 priority in addition to scoring is staying healthy.
“Especially in the playoffs,” Kennedy said. “You want to help the team as much as you can. I have to stay healthy and help this team out as best as I can.”
The other bit of good news on Sunday was how seamlessly Talbot slid into Jordan Staal
’s spot at center between Matt Cooke
and Pascal Dupuis
on the Penguins’ shutdown line. Staal, who had appeared in 358 consecutive games including the postseason, is day-to-day after undergoing a procedure to repair a lacerated tendon in his foot.
That unit, which scored Pittsburgh’s opening goal 4:38 into the first period to stake the Penguins to an early 1-0 lead, spent the entire afternoon dominating zone time and generating scoring chances in the offensive end of the rink.
Together the trio accounted for three points (1G-2A), five shots and six hits as they formed an instant chemistry with Talbot manning the middle.
“I think we played well,” Cooke said. “We had long periods of time in the offensive zone. We cycled the puck, we had shots and we had opportunities. Maybe within inches we’d have two or three more goals as a line. We’ll welcome (Jordan) Staalsy back as soon as he is ready, but Max did a good job.”
Talbot, who now has points (1G-4A) in four of Pittsburgh’s eight postseason contests, further building upon his reputation as a playoff performer, made a nifty feed to help set up the Penguins’ first goal.
After the Penguins took control of the puck after Talbot beat Ben Maxwell, who was playing in place of Glen Metropolit for the Canadiens, Talbot took a pass at the blue line from Dupuis. Talbot quickly dished left side to a streaking Cooke, who sneaked behind Andrei Kostitsyn after lining up in the position where the left defenseman normally would. Cooke took care of the rest, sliding a backhander through the legs of Jaroslav Halak.
Talbot finished the game with one assist, two shots, three hits and a plus-1 rating in 16:11 minutes of ice time.
The Penguins are going to need similar contributions from the Leopold, Kennedy and Talbot as they look to re-take control of the series when it shifts to Bell Centre for Games 3 (Tuesday) and 4 (Thursday).