Surviving such a challenge became an even bigger chore when it was revealed following the morning skate that captain Sidney Crosby
would be sitting out the contest with a sore groin. Thanks to a late third-period goal off the stick of Jordan Staal
the Penguins were able to force overtime before Kris Versteeg sent Chicago home victorious at 2:38 of the extra session for a 2-1 Blackhawks’ victory.
As has been the case all season long the Penguins refused to blink in the face of adversity late in a hockey game. With 1:40 remaining and the ensuing faceoff coming to the left of Chicago netminder Antti Niemi, who to that point in the contest had stoned the Penguins, head coach Dan Bylsma pulled goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury
for the extra attacker while turning to the chalkboard expertise of assistant coach Mike Yeo to draw up a play which would send the home faithful into a fenzy.
Bylsma summoned rookie Mark Letestu, a mid-day call-up from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton once Crosby was ruled out against the Hawks, to take the draw against wily veteran John Madden.
“He was proficient in the faceoff circle,” Bylsma said of Letestu, who went 9-7 on draws. “Being a right-handed shot, we don’t have many of those to put out there.”
Letestu, who created several quality scoring chances throughout the game, was happy to be rewarded during crunch time.
“(Coach) Yeo called a play there and he’s got enough confidence in me to take the draw,” Letestu said. “It was against John Madden. I know he’s a pretty good faceoff guy, so I just tried to be as strong as I could on my stick and get my feet in there.
“I missed it with the first swipe, but got it with my left foot coming through. So it was kind of fortunate, but I guess a nice play for myself tonight. I got it back to Gonch (Sergei Gonchar) and then the guys did their magic.”
Did they ever.
Gonchar jumped on the loose puck and sent the rubber back to Evgeni Malkin
at the right point. Malkin walked into a slapshot which glanced off traffic in front and landed on the tape of Staal, who threw the biscuit into the cage to tie the score, 1-1.
“It was part of our six-on-five play,” Staal said. “I got the opportunity to stay up high. I was just there if they rimmed it. If we got a shot on net I was just supposed to creep down. Geno made a great shot and I had a nice pass off the pads to me.
“If it wasn’t going to be me it was going to be somebody else. We had a lot of great opportunities to score goals and everybody had a couple chances to get one.”
Yeo refused to take credit for helping the Penguins earn their point after the game.
“It’s nice that they give me the credit, but there are lots of plays that you can draw,” Yeo said. “And they look good when you put them on a board, but those guys, Mark did a great job by winning the faceoff.”
Bylsma was certainly pleased with the way his troops executed when it mattered most.
“You don’t often get the opportunity to execute one of those faceoff plays and we got one tonight for a big point,” Bylsma said.