The Penguins continued to distance themselves from an ugly six-game slide with a crisp 2-1 shootout win over Carolina at CONSOL Energy Center on Tuesday night. The victory—the club’s third in a row—vaulted the black and gold past idle Florida and into sixth place in the Eastern Conference standings.
Although the Hurricanes entered the contest with the sixth-fewest points in the league, they hardly were an easy mark. The visitors pounced on the Penguins early, thanks to some fierce forechecking by the Jeff Skinner line. Jussi Jokinen outworked Steve Sullivan in the left-wing corner and dished a pretty cross-ice pass to Jamie McBain skating in from the right point. The young ‘Canes defender made no mistake and drilled the puck past Marc-Andre Fleury for his fourth goal of the season.
The highlight of an evenly played first period might have been a furious toe-to-toe fight between Deryk Engelland and Carolina’s Tim Gleason if not for the continued brilliance of Evgeni Malkin. With just over a minute left in the period “Geno” stripped the puck from Eric Staal below the right circle, angled to the side of the net and roofed a backhander over Cam Ward’s left shoulder to knot the score at 1-1.
“It was a pretty lucky goal,” Malkin said. “I just saw Ward going down so I shoot high.”
The rest of the game belonged to the goalies. Ward was sensational, turning aside 40 shots to earn the No. 3 star. At the other end of the rink Fleury was no less superb. In the closing moments of the second period he stopped Jokinen cold from point-blank range. Midway through overtime he robbed Staal of a sure game-winner with an equally dazzling save on the doorstep.
Brooks Orpik provided some drama as well. Seven minutes into the final period the rugged rearguard leveled Skinner with a crushing open-ice hit. Skinner—who recently returned to action after missing 16 games with a concussion—briefly exited to the locker room. Thankfully the 19-year-old star returned a few moments later no worse for wear.
“(Orpik) made a good play,” Skinner said afterward. “The (defenseman) is supposed to step up and take the body or the puck and he did a good job of taking my body.”
Following a scoreless overtime Malkin staked the Pens to an early lead in the shootout, beating Ward with a slick backhander. Jokinen immediately evened the slate with a nifty backhand shot of his own. After Chris Kunitz and Skinner failed to score, Pens sniper James Neal hopped over the boards. Uncoiling through the Carolina zone in a slow serpentine maneuver, Neal suddenly knifed through the slot and beat Ward with a wicked wrister. Fleury made a dazzling split-legged save on Staal to secure the Pens’ first victory on home ice in 2012.
“Definitely a nice win,” Fleury said. “And we haven’t won at home in a while. We just need to keep it rolling right now.”
Neal earned the No. 1 star … Fleury (25 saves) was named No. 2 star … The Penguins out-shot the Hurricanes 41-26 … Carolina won the faceoff battle (31-19) … The Pens were 0-for-1 on the power play … Paul Martin registered his 200th career point … Joe Vitale dressed in place of ailing Arron Asham … Vitale engaged former Pen Tim Brent in a lively third-period scrap … Asham, Sidney Crosby, Simon Despres, Kris Letang, and Jordan Staal were scratches.
The Penguins (24-17-4) travel to the Big Apple to challenge the Conference-leading Rangers (29-11-4) on Thursday night. The Pens are 0-2 against “the Broadway Blueshirts” this season.
*Be sure to check out Rick’s new book, “100 Things Penguins Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die” at TriumphBooks.com. It features 296 pages of bios, stories, anecdotes and photos from the team’s colorful past in a compelling, easy-to-read style. Whether you’re a die-hard booster from the days of Jean Pronovost or a big fan of Sid and Geno, this book is a must have for any true Penguins fan.
Don’t forget to check out Rick’s first book, “Total Penguins,” at TriumphBooks.com. A complete and comprehensive book on the team’s rich and storied history, it’s filled with season-by-season summaries, player profiles and stats, bios on coaches, general managers and owners, photos from the “Post-Gazette” archives, and much, much more.