Entering Saturday night’s contest at the Pepsi Center (a.k.a. “the Can”) both the Penguins and the Colorado Avalanche were on a bit of a roll. While Colorado had posted an impressive 7-3-2 mark in their previous 12 games, the piping-hot Pens had won four in a row and seven of their last nine.
Battling to keep pace in the chase for a playoff berth, the revved up Avalanche took the play to the Penguins during the early going. Leading the charge was Gabriel Landeskog, who launched five shots on Marc-Andre Fleury before the game was three minutes old. Fortunately “Flower” was razor-sharp, stopping February’s Rookie of the Month the equally dangerous Matt Duchene.
Having weathered the early storm, the visitors responded with some fire of their own. At 7:55 Craig Adams dished the puck to Arron Asham cruising down the right side of the Colorado zone. With Adams running interference, Asham beat Jean-Sebastien Giguere with a bomb to the glove side.
“We’ve got guys on every line who can score,” Asham said. “That’s how you win in the playoffs.”
Less than three minutes later the Pens were up by two. After gathering in a feed from Steve Sullivan at the Avs’ blue line, Deryk Engelland slipped a short pass to Jordan Staal and drove to the net. In one of the prettiest plays of the season, the rugged defender deftly poked a perfectly timed deflection under the crossbar.
“Those were big plays in the first for us,” Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said. “To get those goals was big.”
Shifting into high gear, the black and gold continued to pour it on in the second period. Early in the frame James Neal drilled a shot-pass by Paul Martin off the post behind Giguere. Evgeni Malkin outmaneuvered Avs defender Jan Hejda and swept the puck home for his 38th goal of the season. At the nine-minute mark Richard Park burst from the penalty box and burned Giguere on a shorthanded breakaway to make the score 4-0. Pascal Dupuis nearly added a fifth goal late in the period, but his spectacular spinning shot toward a wide-open net bounced harmlessly off the stick of Jay McClement.
Colorado finally got on the scoreboard at 8:58 of the final period, as former Bruin Matt Hunwick banged a backhander by Fleury. Inspired by their first goal in 115 minutes, the Avalanche turned up the heat. However, the Pens’ netminder stood tall, turning aside a shot at the left post by Paul Stastny after scuffling with feisty Steve Downie. With Giguere pulled for an extra attacker, Sullivan potted an empty netter to secure the Pens’ fifth win in a row.
Malkin (a goal) was named No. 1 star … “Geno” and Sullivan extended their points streaks to seven games … Asham (No. 2 star) fought Cody McLeod late in the first period … Brooks Orpik (two assists, five hits, plus-2) earned the No. 3 star … Martin (two assists) and Staal (an assist) were each plus-3 … Fleury made 35 saves … Colorado out-shot Pittsburgh (36-27) … The Penguins are 11-0-3 in their last 14 road games against the Western Conference. The Pens (81 points) tightened their grip on second place in the Atlantic Division (fourth in the Eastern Conference) … Ben Lovejoy dressed in place of Kris Letang (concussion-like symptoms) … Sidney Crosby, Dustin Jeffrey, Brent Johnson, Tyler Kennedy, and Letang were scratches.
The Penguins (38-21-5) return to the friendly confines of CONSOL Energy Center to face Phoenix (33-23-9) on Monday night. The Coyotes (75 points) lead the Pacific Division.
*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.