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Sunday Just Like Any Other Game for Ponikarovsky

by Caitlin Kasunich / Pittsburgh Penguins
It was a night to remember in Mellon Arena Sunday as the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs in a shootout, 5-4. Newly acquired winger Alexei Ponikarovsky battled against the Leafs for the first time since being traded from Toronto to Pittsburgh at the deadline on March 2.

Ponikarovsky played with the Leafs since he first joined the National Hockey League in 1998 and said that he approached the game against his former teammates as purely business and nothing else.

“I just kind of treated it as any other game,” Ponikarovsky said. “Now we can maybe smile and talk. It was a little bit different to see myself on the other side. Other than that, I was doing whatever I could to win the game.”

The 29-year-old Ukrainian native, who got an assist on Sidney Crosby’s first goal in the second period, also said that the Penguins knew Toronto’s record coming into the game and expected the encounter to be a hard-fought contest.

The Maple Leafs picked up two overtime victories in their last two games after defeating the Atlanta Thrashers, 2-1, on March 25, as well as the New York Rangers, 3-2, on March 27.

“We knew that they were playing good hockey and pretty fast hockey, so basically they had nothing to lose,” said Ponikarovsky, who was unable to meet up with some of the players since the Maple Leafs arrived in Pittsburgh late last night. “They were playing to show management what they can do. That’s what they’re playing for right now, and we knew coming into the game that it wasn’t going to be that easy.”

Three Penguins Milestones of the Night

After Pascal Dupuis scored the game-winning goal during the shootout against the Leafs, many players recognized that the team had reached a myriad of milestones throughout the game, including Brooks Orpik’s three-point game.

Orpik, the No. 2 star of the game, picked up assists on both of Crosby’s goals in the second period, as well as the game-tying goal scored by Matt Cooke in the third period. Orpik said that although getting assists is not a huge part of his game, he felt happy to help his teammates pick up goals since the Penguins were able to skate off the ice victorious in the end.

“Any time that I can contribute, it’s just a little bit of an added bonus,” Orpik said.

Dupuis said that he was equally excited to see Orpik pick up the three assists since the defenseman consistently contributes to the team in more ways than one.

“It’s great to see that,” Dupuis said. “He’s a great penalty killer. He plays against the opponent’s top line night after night, and he battles hard. He’s such a big body there on D, and to see him contribute offensively, it’s good for him, and it’s good for our team.”

Maxime Talbot said Orpik has more offensive flair to his game than he is given credited for.

“He is projected as a defensive-minded defenseman, but tonight you look at Sid’s second goal, and what a play by Orpik,” he said. “I think that it is good that some guys are stepping up.”

In addition to Orpik’s three assists, Craig Adams also obtained his 100th career point in the first period after assisting on Tyler Kennedy’s goal at 9:49.

“It’s just a stepping stone to a thousand for me,” Adams joked. “I’m just taking it as it comes.”
Dupuis said that he was not at all surprised to see Adams get the point.

“He’s one of those guys who battles every night,” Dupuis said. “He does the little things right – blocks a lot of shots on faceoffs and is a great penalty killer. It’s great when you see a guy like that getting rewarded.”

The contest against the Maple Leafs also marked Talbot’s 300th career game in the NHL. Talbot said that he feels great to have played such a high number of games over the years.

“It’s awesome,” he said. “I remember playing my first game back in Jersey. You always want to play games and have a career in the league. Three-hundred is a number that I’m proud of, but hopefully there are a lot more games and a lot more playoff games to be played.”

Adams and Dupuis both said that they could not believe that Talbot has not actually played more games since he has the ability to make memorable, game-altering plays for the team night after night.

“It surprises me that Talbot is at his 300th game,” Adams said. “I thought that maybe he had already played 800 or 900 with the way that he acts.”

“He acts like he has played 1,000,” Dupuis agreed.

Dupuis Gets Game Clincher

Although Dupuis has only participated in one shootout with the Penguins, he made sure that it counted on Sunday against the Maple Leafs.

After Crosby sent the puck over the glove of Giguere for the first goal of the shootout, Dupuis sealed off the team’s victory after scoring again against the Toronto goaltender.

“He’s good at that stuff,” Adams said. “He’s been playing really well lately. He probably had some confidence going in there and made a really nice move. He got us the extra point that we needed.”

Orpik agreed that Dupuis, who has 18 goals this season, has been having a successful year as one of the team’s 14 wingers.

“He’s close to 20 goals, which is always a good number for forwards,” Orpik said. “I think the biggest thing with him is that he has been consistent all year.”

Dupuis said that it feels good to be able to contribute in the final games of the regular season.

“We talked about the last eight games, and we needed to play well with the six-game homestand,” he said. “I think that we showed we’re going to be pretty hard to beat.”

Talbot also acknowledged Dupuis’ consistency during recent games.

“After the break, he’s been one of our best forwards,” Talbot said. “There was no doubt when he went into the shootout that he was hot and confident and that he was going to win it for us. It’s great to have him score the goal for us.”

Dupuis could have actually made his Penguins shootout debut earlier on in the season, said head coach Dan Bylsma.

“I have wanted to get him in there, and that is the move he does,” Bylsma said. “I thought about it in Washington, but with (Jose) Theodore being a right catching goalie, I did not do it. With (Jean-Sebastien) Giguere and it being his blocker side, he went to his move and got us the goal.”

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