But since overcoming a two-goal deficit in Detroit on Dec. 31, the Penguins have been cooking, going 11-4-4 as they prepare for their New Year’s Eve rematch against the Red Wings tonight at Consol Energy Center.
“I think you build confidence from games like that,” the Penguins’ captain said. “Since then we’ve been in some tough situations going into the third, down some goals, and climbed back. So you need to go through those sorts of things to build confidence. … Yeah, it was a big win for us at that point.”
Prior to their 5-2 comeback win at Joe Louis Arena, the Penguins had struggled through a 5-8-4 stretch.
“I think our starts were kind of slow there for probably a good couple of weeks,” Crosby said. “Our start wasn’t good again in that game. That’s an area we’ve tried to improve on since but I think at this point the desperation level should be much higher for both teams with how close everything is in the standings. … But, yeah, looking back, that was a good game for us.”
Meanwhile, the Red Wings need points as they begin a stretch of three road games over the next four days.
“It’s a big game for us today,” Wings forward Gustav Nyquist said. “Both teams need these two points, so it’s gonna be a good match up. … We have an intense road trip here. Three games in four days, so for sure we want to get off to a good start here. That would be key for us.”
Tonight’s game is the second of three meetings this season between clubs with a playoff history having faced in the Stanley Cup finals in back-to-back years.
Detroit currently sits in third place in the Atlantic Division. Pittsburgh clings to the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, but is also in the thick of the Metropolitan Division race.
|Pavel Datsyuk |
“We got a great amount of respect for their team, the players on their team and what this organization has done in their history,” Wings coach Jeff Blashill sid. “That only helps get everybody invigorated and ready to play. We understand what’s at stake here. Two huge points we’re both fighting for and we both need. So I think it should make for a real good game. We need to make sure we come out and play at a real high level to give ourselves a real good chance.”
PLAYER TO WATCH TONIGHT: Pavel Datsyuk has points in six straight games with six goals and four assists in that span. The 37-year-old center seems to have found a higher gear since he was reunited with Henrik Zetterberg on the Wings’ top forward line.
Certainly, Datsyuk’s productivity isn’t lost on Crosby, who himself has 53 points in 54 games.
“No matter how old he is he’s always going to have those hands, he’s always going to have that vision,” Crosby said. “I really don’t think it matters how old he is. The way he sees the game, the way he anticipates, yeah, I think he’s gonna be somebody that you always have to be aware of no matter how old he is.”
Fast and furious is how this one started with an incredible pace for both teams Thursday night.
The Wings and Penguins even went 5 ½ minutes between whistles, until Petr Mrazek covered up on a 58-foot shot from Olli Maatta to get a faceoff deep in the Red Wings’ zone.
Two minutes later the Pens had themselves a 1-0 lead when Darren Helm inadvertently redirected Ben Lovejoy’s 53-foot wrist shot behind Mrazek. It appeared Lovejoy was just trying to get a shot on net when his shot struck Helm’s stick in front of the crease.
The Wings got the equalizer when the third line connected on a rush that was capped by Tomas Jurco’s fourth goal of the season. Nyquist set up the scoring play when he slid a centering pass to Jurco in the slot. Using a Pittsburgh defender as a screen, Jurco blistered a shot stick side on Marc-Andre Fleury.
The Pens regained their one-goal lead when Matt Cullen, who assisted on Lovejoy’s goal, slammed a rebound into the open net off Mrazek’s right pad.
Pittsburgh finished the period on the power play when Kyle Quincey was called for roughing Crosby behind the Wings net.
The Pens will begin the second period with 44 seconds left on the man advantage.
PITTSBURGH 2, DETROIT 1
SCORING: 1. PIT, Lovejoy (Hornqvist, Cullen), 9:56; 2. DET, Jurco (Nyquist, Athanasiou), 13:40; 3. PIT, Cullen (Daley, Hornqvist), 16:47.
PENALTIES: 1. DET, Quincey (roughing), 1844.
SHOTS: Detroit 10, Pittsburgh 14.
Dylan Larkin pulled the Wings even again, scoring for the first time in six games. Larkin swooped in as Quincey battled a Pens’ defender for the puck in front of Fleury. The rookie swiped the puck before shoveling a backhander to Fleury’s glove side.
The goal gives Larkin 39 points, tying him with for 15th on the Red Wings’ all-time scoring list with Steve Wojciechowski (1944-45) and Murray Oliver (1959-60).
Unfortunately, the Pens roared back 24 seconds after the Wings’ tying tally when their top line of Crosby, Chris Kunitz and Phil Kessel collaborated on their third go-ahead goal of the game. Kessel, the former Maple Leaf, was credited with his 17th goal of the season, giving Pittsburgh a 3-2 lead.
With 5 minutes left in the period, the Wings had a goal waved off. Somehow, as Fleury was being bowled into the net by Justin Abdelkader, the Pens’ netminder managed to keep the puck from crossing the goal line with the paddle of his stick. The play was reviewed, but referee Kelly Sutherland affirmed the original call.
Pittsburgh built its first two-goal lead of the night when rookie Scott Wilson scored his first NHL goal from the bottom of the left faceoff circle. The Oakville, Ontaario, native took a pass from Conor Sheary in the near corner before sending a one-timer that beat Mrazek.
PITTSBURGH 4, DETROIT 2
SCORING: 1. DET, Larkin (Glendening, Quincey), 2:19; 2. PIT, Kessel (Crosby, Kunitz), 2:43; 3. PIT, Wilson (Sheary), 16:46.
SHOTS: Detroit 11 (21), Pittsburgh 13 (27).
The Penguins scored another rebound goal, this one by Kessel, who collected his second goal of the night for his fourth multi-goal game of the season.
Kessel’s goal ended Mrazek’s night at 6:26 of the period. The Wings starter made 27 saves on 32 shots before he was lifted for Jimmy Howard.
It was the first time Mrazek – who has been a remarkable side story for the Wings this season – was been pulled in 37 straight starts.
The Wings got one back when Henrik Zetterberg scored on a pretty play made possible by Datsyuk, who stretched his consecutive point streak to seven straight games. Datsyuk split the defense at center ice to gain the offensive zone. Justin Abdelkader made a quick pass across ice to Zetterberg, who corralled the puck with the toe of the stick blade before lifting a backhander over Fleury.
Howard was lifted for an extra skater with 3:57 left in the period. The move paid off for the Wings, as they managed to draw a tripping call on Detroit-area native Bryan Rust, who went to the penalty box with 3:23 left.
The Wings were unable to capitalize on their only power play of the game, and Crosby capped the scoring with an empty-net goal at 19:12.
The Wings have lost four straight road games now for the first time since March 2014 when they lost in regulation at New Jersey, New York Rangers, Columbus and Chicago.
PITTSBURGH 6, DETROIT 3
SCORING: 1. PIT, Kessel (Maatta), 6:26; 2. DET, Zetterberg (Abdelkader, Datsyuk), 11:13; 3. PIT, Crosby EN (unassisted), 19:12.
PENALTIES: 1. PIT, Rust (tripping), 16:37.
SHOTS: Detroit 16 (38), Pittsburgh 9 (37).