It’s hard to imagine that a team blessed with elite players such as Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Bobby Ryan could be on the outside of the NHL playoff picture looking in. Yet despite a recent 13-2-3 hot streak the Anaheim Ducks entered Wednesday night’s contest with the Penguins at CONSOL Energy Center mired in 13th place in the Western Conference.
However, the Ducks had a secret weapon lurking behind the bench. Coach Bruce Boudreau owned a 12-2-3 record against the Pens—including a 9-0-3 mark against Dan Bylsma.
Still, it looked for a time as though the Penguins would bust the “Boudreau Voodoo” and win the battle of the black and golds. At 6:27 Pascal Dupuis made a nifty chip pass off the sideboards to Jordan Staal. The big center rambled down the right side of the Ducks’ zone on a 2-on-1, faked a look to Matt Cooke to draw Jonas Hiller off the post, and snapped a beautiful shot over the goalie’s left shoulder. Late in the period defenseman Zbynek Michalek nearly struck on a wraparound try, but Hiller made a sensational toe save at the last second to keep the score 1-0.
The Pens continued to dictate play through the early stages of the second period. Five minutes in NHL scoring leader Evgeni Malkin stole the puck from Toni Lydman and sped in on a breakaway. The red-hot Russian had Hiller at his mercy, but rang a 15-foot wrister off the left post. It was a harbinger of things to come.
When Perry was given the gate for slashing near the 14-minute mark, it was the Ducks who seized the momentum. Penalty killer Niklas Hagman streaked behind the Pens’ defense, forcing Marc-Andre Fleury to make a brilliant pad save. Moments later speedy Anaheim forward Andrew Cogliano hammered a shot off the left post. With the Penguins suddenly back on their heels, Perry walked around a sprawling Michalek at 19:08 and ripped the puck past Fleury to knot the score at 1-1.
Rejuvenated, the Ducks turned up the heat in the final frame. Cogliano had a golden opportunity to stake the visitors to a lead, but Fleury—who was razor-sharp—stopped him cold on a pair of rapid-fire shots from the doorstep. Midway through the period the Pens’ big line of Malkin, Chris Kunitz, and James Neal returned the favor with a dominating shift, but failed to convert on several chances. Anaheim immediately countered, as Matt Beleskey set up ageless wonder Teemu Selanne on a 2-on-1. The “Finnish Flash” lasered a backhander over Fleury’s left shoulder for the game-winner.
“We really didn’t get too many good opportunities,” Bylsma said, “and when we did, those shots didn’t go through.”
Staal was awarded the No. 2 star … Malkin’s home goal-scoring streak was snapped at eight games … Fleury made 27 saves in a losing cause … The Ducks halted the Penguins’ six-game home winning streak … Anaheim outshot Pittsburgh (29-27) … Kris Letang paced the Pens with four shots … The Pens won 30 of 50 faceoffs (60 percent) … Simon Despres was sent to Wilkes-Barre … Arron Asham, Sidney Crosby, Tyler Kennedy, and Ben Lovejoy were scratches.
The Penguins (32-20-5) travel cross state to take on archrival Philadelphia (31-18-7) in a huge Atlantic Division matchup on Saturday. The Pens and Flyers are tied with 69 points.
*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.